A glance back at the television of 2009 recalls a few unexpected triumphs and a major failure that virtually everyone saw coming.
Rarely does a single show become a wrecking ball for an entire network. NBC’s decision to air “The Jay Leno Show” (9 p.m., NBC) five nights a week easily ranks as the worst move of year. Cynical, shortsighted and flagrantly cheap, it reflects corporate “thinking” at its worst.
The best new show of the year, “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC) restored many viewers’ faith in the family sitcom and proved that the fake-documentary format could transcend the merely sardonic to celebrate a shared humanity.
Arguably, the most memorable moment of the television year did not air on American television at all. Susan Boyle’s lump-in-the-throat-inducing debut on “Britain’s Got Talent” became the YouTube clip seen ’round the world, launching a major career and signaling a new way many people consumed what used to be called broadcasting.
The Boyle moment showed how even the competition/reality-TV genre, with its emphasis on exhibitionism and cruelty, could produce a Cinderella moment. This sentimental trend also helped “Glee” (7 p.m. and 8 p.m., Fox), a fantasy series that celebrates high school’s outcasts, to become one of the more popular new series of the year.
If (like me) you consider Andrew Lloyd Webber ballads and glee-club performances more than a little cheesy, then 2009 was the Year of the Cheese. And the lactose-rich trend continued with the selection of Donny Osmond as winner of “Dancing with the Stars.”
The severe recession of the early 1980s will be long remembered as the time the government distributed blocks of cheese to the needy. This troubled year, viewers coveted some comfort food of their own.
But perhaps the mood transcends mere hard times. As much as programmers try to sell cynicism and mean-spirited stupidity (“Jon & Kate,” “Jersey Shore” and “Glenn Beck,” to name a few) to a fragmented audience, viewers the world over still respond to talent, common hopes and the old-fashioned notion that you’re never too old, too plain, too small town or too shy to follow your dreams.
• “POV” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) wraps up the year with “Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” a lushly photographed film that showcases a softer, reflective and frequently funny side of a woman best known as a strident punk.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Host Kevin Pereira celebrates “Women of the Web 2” (6 p.m., G4), the female personalities who have the greatest impact on the digital world.
• On four episodes of “The Office” (NBC), gossip undoes Michael (7 p.m.), Michael’s date shocks Pam (7:30 p.m.), an awkward double date (8 p.m.), Phyllis becomes Santa (8:30 p.m.).
• The gang ring out the old on “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown” (7 p.m., ABC), a holiday special from 1986.
• A wedding gown to die for on “CSI: NY” (9 p.m., CBS).
• An attractive new neighbor ignites sparks on “Eastwick” (9 p.m., ABC).
• Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the 1979 shocker “Alien” (12:30 a.m., AMC), died on Dec. 17.