Published December 29. 2009 4:00AM Updated December 29. 2009 4:08AM
It was a larger-than-life year for television, in part because of a death.
The death of Michael Jackson from a cornucopia of prescription drugs administered by his private physician set off a media storm of coverage that we haven't seen since A.C. Cowlings slowly drove OJ down the I-5 on June 17, 1994.
The 24-hour cable coverage of Jackson's death could not be surpassed by the networks, obviously, although the nets certainly did try, devoting entire episodes of their nightly news broadcasts to the pop star's passing, the world's reaction, and the subsequent investigation.
Jackson died June 25, and the non-stop coverage lasted long after his July 7 funeral.
The other huge story in 2009 was Oprah announcing her retirement from her daytime talk show on Nov. 20, and even though it won't take effect until the spring of 2011, it sent shock waves through the TV corporate world. The conglomerate that is "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is a media giant that has its toes in every pop culture pool. Love her or hate her, there will never be another Oprah.
Two other notable things happened in our world this year: the most welcome return of the sitcom to the prime time network schedule, and what has become known as "The Leno Experiment."
Six new sitcoms debuted this fall, adding to the existing CBS Monday and Wednesday and NBC Thursday night lineups of funny. It's been great. Among them is "Modern Family," the funniest show in the history of the world (maybe).
As for the "Leno experiment," in which NBC moved its king of late night to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, well, the ratings are close to abysmal (but still profitable). A tangent to this, of course, is the "Letterman Scandal," in which dear old Dave was blackmailed over the fact that women on his staff actually agreed to have sex with him. Dave's got the best ratings he has had in decades, and he beats Conan every week. Leno remains Leno, which is to say not funny.
"Lost's" penultimate season was a roller coaster of story lines, mind-boggling developments and tantalizing set-ups for the coming conclusion (returns Feb. 2).
"Chuck," of course, ended its season without knowing if it was coming back, and now not only is it coming back, but with additional episodes! And Chuck's got super powers, friends. Awesome (returns Jan. 10).
"Friday Night Lights" also had a killer season, which we network-watchers had to wait for, but it was so worth it. The new season doesn't start until summer (unless even more goes wrong with the Peacock's schedule), but I can't wait to see what happens with Coach Taylor's new team. Go East Dillon!
As for series-enders, nothing may ever match the way FX's stellar cop drama "The Shield" closed out its magnificent run. The heart-wrenching conclusion of the Shane-gone-bad story, and Vic's final comeuppance (but was it?) left me shaking for a week.
From the debacle that was the addition of Kara to the judges' panel to the great finale between polar opposites Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, to the resignation of Paula Abdul, to her replacement with Ellen DeGeneres, to Lambert's eyebrow-raising performance at the American Music Awards ... it was a huge year for Idol. Except in the ratings, which were down about 10 percent.
Shows I miss: "The Unusuals," "Terminator," "Pushing Daisies" and "Life."
Shows I'm so over: "Grey's Anatomy," "House," "Dancing with the Stars," "Entourage," "Glee" (almost) and "Tori & Dean."
Shows I love so much I want to raise them as my own: "The Closer," "Burn Notice," "Dexter" and "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List."
Shows that are breaking my heart: "Project Runway," "Amazing Race" and "So You Think You Can Dance."
Shows I watch with my kids: "Man v. Food," "Top Gear," "Amazing Race," "Survivor: Samoa" and "Dance Your A$% Off."
Shows that died: "CSI." COD: Lack of Grissom.
"Jon & Kate Plus Eight." COD: infantilism.
"Guiding Light," which had its plug pulled by CBS on Sept. 18 after 72 years on the air (radio and TV). Of course, getting Reva and Josh together at the end made it all OK with me.
Shows that came back from the dead: "Bones." I figured this was toast for sure after the horrific "fantasy" season finale in May that ended with the news that Booth had amnesia. Toast with butter, maybe! The show returned in September with its old whiz-bang feel, and the amnesia-changed Booth (and the ripple effects in his relationship with Brennan) have been great.
"Law & Order." It is knocking me out in its 20th anniversary season, as the detective duo of Lupo and Bernard find their stride, the breast cancer of Lt. van Buren strikes just the right chord and the relationship between Cutter and Rubirosa gets interesting.
Speaking of dead ...
There were some big deaths in the TV world in 2009, besides Michael Jackson:
Farrah Fawcett, who had the misfortune of dying the same day as Jackson, and Bea Arthur, who broke more ground for women in television than anyone, and King of the Sidekicks Ed McMahon.
Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," bid farewell, as did David Carradine, whose "Kung Fu" paved the way for a new kind of TV show.
Plus, screenwriter David Lloyd, who wrote the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," one of the funniest episodes in the history of TV; Soupy Sales, Pat Hingle (he played Commissioner Gordon on "Batman"); Patrick McGoohan ("The Prisoner"); Ricardo Montalban (Mr. Rourke from "Fantasy Island"); Bob May (he was the Robot on "Lost in Space," back in the good old days when you need a guy inside the robot suit); Ken Ober, who hosted MTV's first game show, "Remote Control"; and Capt. Lou Albano, who helped make professional wrestling in the 1970s and '80s what it was. Not to mention music videos.