The signal was there in the spring that 2007 would be a year to forget in the TV biz, when Sanjaya's brilliant teeth and luxurious locks were replaced as the top topic for TV talk by - a blank, black screen.
And things would only get worse. By early fall, changing technology made it tough for networks even to know what to charge for their ads. In November, the dream factory ground completely to a halt. Locally, too, the hot happening was negative, the possible flameout of a promising career.
But there was glowing in the embers. Fall's fantasy glut produced that rarest of TV treasures: a show that both critics and the public embraced. Another drama rose phoenixlike from a calamitous debut, and an old friend displayed new creative verve.
Cable flexed its muscles, too, producing a summer of chewy new dramas, including the year's best one, a show that turned fresh eyes on familiar territory, making it seem brand new.
1. The writers strike. It's like cancer. The walkout, which enters its seventh week tomorrow, won't have its first tangible impact till next month, when virtually every current scripted show will shift to reruns, and the reality river will start to flow with a vengeance.
But the disease doesn't stop there. Scripts for the pilots of next fall's new series would ordinarily be written now. If the strike continues deep into winter, as many are predicting, existing shows, even such fringers as Bionic Woman or According to Jim, get a much better chance at 2008-09 renewal. New ones would go on hold.
That could be just the seismic shift the networks have needed to transform the TV landscape completely, rolling out new shows continuously, once studio life resumes. If that model sticks, it would eliminate forever the furious fall premiere crush that started in the '50s, in part to please big-spending Detroit automakers, who introduced new models annually at that time.
2. Who is watching, anyway? Primarily pushed by cable companies, millions of homes installed digital video recorders. Now one in five families (and growing) has been released from TV's thrall, watching what they want, when they want, and more and more people are also getting TV from desktops, iPods and shoe phones.
How do you gauge a moving audience? Even brainy Agent 99 would have trouble sorting it all out. Networks and advertisers tried to low-ball each other, asking Nielsen to track viewers, recorders, play-backers and ad-skippers. There was only one implication for the future: economic confusion.
No, that's not a printing error, and the black screen at end of The Sopranos wasn't a mistake either, though thousands cursed and called their cable companies.
The merits of the ending, as Tony looked up at Meadow, who had survived history's tensest parallel-parking job, and Journey urged us not to stop believing, will be discussed on and on and on, yet another indicator that The Sopranos could be the best TV show of all time.
4. The summer of cable. The surprising run of new quality series started with USA's engaging semi-spy show Burn Notice and ended with Showtime's raunchy, and frequently funny, Californication. In between, TNT introduced Saving Grace, with Holly Hunter; FX had Damages, with Glenn Close; and even Lifetime got into the act, with two solid dramas, State of Mind, with Lili Taylor, and Side Order of Life.
Towering over them all, and over every other new series this year, was AMC's Mad Men, a pitch-perfect journey back to 1960, where the bad ad boys of Madison Avenue scurry to stay upright in their hard-drinking world and the women struggle to breathe as they prop them up.
Because of the strike, NBC has already announced it's transferring Monk and Psych over to the big network from cable partner USA. How delicious if a broadcaster could make a deal with AMC daddy Rainbow Media, and Mad Men followed close behind.
5. Fall fantasy. Bionic Woman, Journeyman, Moonlight. Different networks traveled different avenues to tap into the success of Heroes.
But only ABC succeeded, giving us Pushing Daisies, a fanciful take on love and death that's as sweet as the pies its hero bakes after bringing dead fruit back to life. No. 1 among critics, it also frequently wins its Wednesday time slot.
6. Death becomes you. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation again demonstrated that it takes more than blood and guts to produce one of history's most dominant TV shows.
As bleach brought down an obsessive serial killer, love came to a sad ending for two of the criminalists. Now another's career is threatened by a mob dinosaur, portrayed superbly by John Capodice, who's spent 25 years perfecting the role.
7. Unnaturally breathtaking. We've been watching nature shows for 40 years, but never has there been anything like Discovery's Planet Earth. From the depths of the Pacific to the top of the Himalayas, covering every habitat in between and showing things never before seen on TV, this HD extravaganza engendered more love than Al Gore for our extraordinary little sphere.
8. Hairy-hare. He couldn't sing, and he didn't win, but for two months, American Idol's Sanjaya Malakar, the Seattle-born son of a Hindu elder, proved that a boy with a winsome smile and fabulous hair could captivate America just as thoroughly as any drug-addled sexpot.
9. Resurrection. It started as a quasi-comprehensible mishmash of stars spinning unpredictably out of each others' gravitation. Then ABC's Brothers & Sisters added a new producer and even more actors (including Rob Lowe, almost astonishing on several counts), and emerged as the best nighttime soap opera since - well, maybe ever.
10. Perdition. Perhaps spellbound by her coanchor's iridescent, alien-green eyes, CBS3's Alycia Lane spiraled downward toward the exits. First, it was provocative photos sent to a former - and married - ESPN anchor. Then, she was linked to a married (though legally separated) New York TV anchor. And last weekend, she was charged with assault, accused of punching a New York City cop and calling her a nasty name.
Furrow that forehead, Mr. Mendte. There's no happy talk here.