If 2008 wasn't TV's worst year ever, I sure hope I'm not around when the bottom comes.

The writers strike kicked out the lone remaining leg holding up the rickety prime-time schedule.

Let's face it: Sitcoms are an endangered species. (When Two and a Half Men is the height of hilarity, we're clearly not living in the golden age of comedy.)

Reality shows are withering away. (Ashton Kutcher's highly promoted Opportunity Knocks was pulled after a single airing on ABC.)

Game shows are on life support. (The ratings for NBC's Deal or No Deal are the only things that dropped faster than your 401(k) this year.)

And with one foul swoop, Rosie O'Donnell killed the variety show.

The only asset left was a slate of unusually inventive and intelligent dramas. Then the strike choked off the spigot on those just as 2008 was getting its feet wet.

Fan favorites like 24, Rescue Me and Damages canceled their seasons entirely. Other popular shows, from CSI to Grey's Anatomy, from Lost to Desperate Housewives, closed up shop for months.

One of the reasons the Olympics did such monster numbers in the summer was viewer boredom. I ended up watching with glazed eyes the women's marathon for more than two hours. It was that or stare at my neighbor mowing his grass.

Since the networks reopened for business in September with a threadbare lineup of new shows, the audience reaction has been tepid, to put it mildly.

It's kind of amazing when you think about it: We're a country that is addicted to television. And the guys who produce it have somehow managed to drive away a captive audience.

Don't the networks deserve a bailout too?

A striking resemblance. The year proved beyond a doubt that God has a sense of humor. Consider the opportunity he handed Tina Fey.

In the middle of the most closely watched election of our time, John McCain pulls a convention surprise, naming as his running mate an unknown politician from Alaska.

Who even knew Alaska had government? Didn't you assume it followed the Law of the Tundra?

Then this wild-card character - charismatic, controversial, maybe even a little kooky - turns out to be a virtual clone of the country's most wicked TV comic?

Come on! It was as if the Soviet Union had announced an iron-handed leader to succeed Stalin in the '50s - and the guy who stepped up to the Politburo podium looked exactly like Jerry Lewis.

Somebody up there is having a laugh.

He's here all week, folks. That flapping noise coming from your flat screen? That's the sound of NBC throwing in the towel.

The network recently announced that next fall approximately 20 percent of its prime-time schedule will be devoted to Jay Leno.

The donkey-jawed comic joked at the press conference that his new show will come on at 10 p.m., just after the last hour of the Today show. A funny line, but it is also prophetic of the network's bankrupt programming strategy.

If CBS is the Tiffany network, NBC is Zales.

A mighty wind. Hindsight is delicious, isn't it?

For five weeks on HBO's Hard Knocks, the Dallas Cowboys and their eerie owner, Jerry Jones, crowed with mounting arrogance about their Super Bowl destiny. The regular season would merely be a formality to handing them the Lombardi trophy. All this bluster, of course, was in training camp, before a single down had been played.

Then things went unaccountably sideways and the Cowpokes didn't even make the playoffs.

Dagnab it! That's gotta sting some, don't it, Jerry?

Phantom tunes. The weirdest moment of the year, naturally, belonged to Paula Abdul, American Idol's free bird.

After a Jason Castro performance, Ryan Seacrest asked the judges for their reaction.

"Oh, gosh, we've never had to write these things down . . . fast enough," said a flustered Abdul. "Jason, first song, I loved hearing your lower register, which we never really hear. Um . . . the second song, I felt like your usual charm wasn't - it was missing for me. It kind of left me a little empty."

Us, too. Especially since Castro had sung only one song.

What instruments do they play on your planet, Paula?

And away we go . . . The most painfully surreal moment of the year was the opening of the Emmy Awards, when our hydra-headed host - Jeff Probst, Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandell - took the stage to inform us that they had no material. Seriously. Nothing. They just stood there for what seemed forever, twisting in the spotlight.

Who thought it would be a good idea to send out a gaggle of reality show hosts empty-handed? These are five people who don't sound very convincing reading off cue cards.

Television's biggest night and it stumbled out like a Samuel Beckett play. A fitting tribute to the void that was 2008.

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com.