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Jonathan Storm: The year in television

It was an undistinguished 2010 for television, so ordinary it generated only nine significant events, four of them lowlights. The year started with a messy reversal of one of TV's worst programming mistakes and ended with the country paying far too much attention to a contrived dancing competition.

It was an undistinguished 2010 for television, so ordinary it generated only nine significant events, four of them lowlights.

The year started with a messy reversal of one of TV's worst programming mistakes and ended with the country paying far too much attention to a contrived dancing competition.

Perhaps most notable were the demises of three long-term, groundbreaking shows within a few weeks, and battles and uncertainty over TV signal delivery simmered and bubbled up throughout the year.

The whole world watched one heartwarming triumph, and American hearts were captured by the resurgence of an ancient and still sprightly talent.

Jay Leno won't go away. Late-night TV viewers had barely sobered up from New Year's Eve when NBC acknowledged that its weekday 10 p.m. strip of his show was a colossal blunder and came up with a solution that pleased Leno and his dwindling fan base, but nobody else.

Leno went back to 11:35 p.m. Conan O'Brien refused to go back to 12:35 a.m. and eventually wound up with his own 11 p.m. show on TBS. Hyped to the stars, Conan has settled in with a solid audience, and O'Brien and the cable network wound up the only winners in the deal.

Leno never recovered his old Tonight Show ratings, and NBC is still searching for a 10 p.m. series that people will watch.

Global sports. The Winter Olympics were in Vancouver, British Columbia, which made them easier for many Americans to watch than if they had come from Japan, but viewers still complained that some of the exciting daytime events weren't aired until prime time.

World Cup soccer was live almost all the time and suffered no such backlash, even if it did put a big dent in office productivity. Twenty-six billion watched, and that did not include 20 billion from Mars and Jupiter. In the finest tradition of TV hucksterism, FIFA, the sport's international governing body, came up with that number by multiplying each viewer by each game he or she tuned to for at least five minutes.

Not-so-special delivery. A handful of those viewers watched in 3-D, thanks to ESPN. But the new technology remained stuck in a catch-22. With so few of the expensive sets in homes, there's no incentive for cable channels and broadcasters to ratchet up programming.

Netflix and other streaming technology, on the other hand, became so pervasive that some executives worried about lost TV advertising and distribution revenue as people cut the cable cord. Premium channels went the other way, seeking means for verified subscribers to get paid programming everywhere, even on their shoe phones.

In a more mundane transmission corner, programmers and the cable delivery men battled fiercely over carriage fees. It got so bad in New York that Cablevision pulled the plug on Fox, and viewers had to go over the air to watch the World Series.

Meanwhile, the Comcast-NBC merger proposal passed its one-year anniversary as regulators hemmed and hawed over its merits.

An astounding rebirth. It started in 2009 when the Television Critics Association gave Betty White its Career Achievement Award. And, after an ever-increasing drumbeat that included a feature role in a Super Bowl Snickers commercial and a powerful grassroots campaign on Facebook, it reached its zenith May 8 on Saturday Night Live.

Despite initial worry by SNL boss Lorne Michaels that the 88-year-old, who had bowed on TV in 1949 and played Sue Ann Nivens way back in the '70s, might not be up to the grind, White hosted and appeared in almost every sketch. The show had its best ratings in a year and a half.

White soldiers on, on cable's TV Land, where she's the keystone in its popular new comedy, Hot in Cleveland.

And a triple loss. Not one, not two, but three popular and historically important series bit the dust in May, a blessed relief to most of the makers of two of them. The grueling work on Lost and 24 had drained actors, crew, and writers alike.

Law & Order? Not so much. The "Mother Ship" went down in a sea of tears, forever tied with Gunsmoke at 20 seasons rather than sailing into the sunset as the longest-running drama of all time.

CBS goes 5 for 5. The broadcast networks' rollout of new fall shows was pretty much a disaster. Hailed by many critics, Fox's Lone Star, about a Texas bigamist, was the first to go, after two episodes.

But the rich frequently get richer in TV, and top-rated CBS achieved one of programming's rarest feats. All of its new shows, Hawaii Five-0, Mike and Molly, The Defenders, Blue Bloods, even William Shatner's tooth-shattering $#*! My Dad Says, were picked up for the entire season.

A striking period piece. It may not top The Sopranos or True Blood for pure viewer power, but Boardwalk Empire, the Steve Buscemi starrer about crime and corruption in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, put HBO firmly back in the premium-channel race to quality.

They'll need one of those beer-barrel wagons to haul away all the awards Boardwalk will gobble up in 2011.

The world rejoices. One by one, the 33 Chilean coal miners, trapped underground for more than two months, were hauled from deep below the surface in that little capsule, in a miracle of engineering.

In a miracle of global communication, TV brought the planet together. There was a peaceful moment of marvel and pride at the capability of humankind until Jon Stewart started making fun of the coverage and some of the folks on Fox News complained that America should have gotten more credit.

The art (or lack thereof) of the dance. But perhaps nothing polarized the TV culture as much this year as the ability of Sarah Palin's daughter to do the hustle or the cha-cha on Dancing With the Stars.

Longtime fans wept that the show had let them down by letting clumping Bristol Palin, who seemed to work pretty hard and improve at least a little each week, advance so far in the competition. Liberals said conservatives had rigged the voting; conservatives said liberals were nuts to get so worked up.

And ever-smiling in the audience most nights was the Mama Grizzly herself, who launched her own reality show in November. People may debate her qualifications to govern, but few would question her ability to use television.