Sunday, December 31, 2000

The Year In Review: TV & Radio

        The new millennium brought a new reality to TV — very popular and inexpensive reality and game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Survivor.

        How radically they have changed our TV picture will be evident in a few days, when the networks test reality series against original prime-time sitcoms and dramas.

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        But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before the year ends, let's look back at broadcasting, starting at the top with the biggest story of the year:

        1. Survivor: Sixteen people stranded on a South China Sea island captivated America — and Cincinnati — like no other summer series in TV history. Tristate ratings for Survivor were the second-highest in the nation(behind Norfolk, Va.). More than 51 million people watched the Aug. 23 finale when Richard Hatch won the $1 million prize.

        Not every reality show was a hit — namely CBS' Big Brother and Fox's disastrous Rick Rockwell-Darva Conger nuptials on Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?

        2. Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Regis Philbin's slick game show, which joined ABC's weekly schedule in January, also made TV history by finishing the TV season in May as the top three prime-time programs. Ratings have fallen since ABC added a fourth weekly program in October, so the network has upped the prize money by $10,000 for every show without a grand prize winner.

[photo] Richard Hatch, Survivor's $1 million winner
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        3. Malcolm in the Middle: Just when about everyone had declared the sitcom dead, along came Linwood Boomer's wacky family comedy about a genius child (Frankie Muniz) and his tough mother (Jane Kaczmarek), daffy dad (Bryan Cranston) and trouble-making brothers. It emerged as one of TV's best comedies, while new fall sitcoms starring Michael Richards, John Goodman, Katey Sagal, Gabriel Byrne and Jon Cryer vanished quickly.

        4. The West Wing: Forget about Thursdays. NBC's truly “Must See TV” show airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Martin Sheen stars as the president in Aaron Sorkin's romanticized White House drama, which won many major awards in a landslide. (And no recount!) Ironically, The West Wing's terrific veteran cast (John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff) made this the best drama in a TV year that was supposed to be dominated by teen dramas.

        5. Election night: The Bush-Gore ballot count was too close to call, but the networks called it anyway. They gave Florida to Al Gore before 8 p.m., then withdrew it by 10 p.m., and gave it to George W. Bush about 3 a.m. Years from now, TV coverage of Election Night 2000 will be remembered as one of those seminal events in U.S. culture that glued us to the tube. 6. The recount: The month-long battle over Florida ballots became TV's best live drama since George Clooney's Fail Safe broadcast April 9 on CBS. Cable news channels drew record ratings, and made overnight celebrities out of reporters, including CNN's Bill Hemmer, the former Channel 9 sports anchor and Elder High School graduate.

        7. Mister Rogers: After 33 years, Fred Rogers hung up his zippered sweater for the final timethis month, taping the last Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (to air in August). AFter 50 years on TV, he will redirect his energy to Internet resources for children and parents. (He started as a NBC page in 1951.)

        Other passages of note: Michael J. Fox left Spin City to battle Parkinson's disease; Kathie Lee Gifford ended 16 years with Mr. Philbin's daytime TV show; and Julianna Margulies left ER by having her character reunited with Doug (George Clooney).

        8. Radio static: The big got bigger on the radio landscape, with Clear Channel (owners of WLW-AM, WEBN-FM and six others here) buying AMFM, the parent company on longtime rival WUBE-FM. Clear Channel ballooned to 1,120 stations nationally, while breaking up WUBE-FM's four-station group here not long after B105 fired veteran morning DJ Jim Fox for soliciting sex from a minor on the Internet.

        CBS' Infinity got WUBE-FM (to go with WGRR-FM, WKRQ-FM, WAQZ-FM); religious Salem Communications bought WYGY-FM and WBOB-AM; and Blue Chip Broadcasting changed WUBE-AM into WDBZ-AM (to go with WIZF-FM).

        9. Norma Rashid: WLWT's Norma Rashid left Channel 5's anchor desk after 17 years in March after under odd circumstances. She said she was fired; the station said she quit. Both parties sued each other. Channel 5's musical anchor chairs ended earlier this month when meteorologist Byron Webre joined Anne Marie Tiernon (September) and Ken Broo (February).

        WCPO-TV (Channel 9) ended Clyde Gray's solo stint at 11 p.m. in May by adding Stacy Case to the desk. WKRC-TV (Channel 12) didn't make any changes — and remained No. 1 all year.

        10. WNOP-AM signs off: All that jazz ends on WNOP-AM (740) tonight, ending a 40-year tradition. It has been sold to Sacred Heart Radio, which will broadcast Catholic programming after midnight. Here's hoping that WNOP-AM goes off the way it signed off for many years, with Lou Rawls' soulfully hip rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Oh, yeah.


- The Year In Review: TV & Radio
The Year In Review: Theater
The Year In Review: Popular Music
The Year In Review: Film
The Year In Review: Dance
The Year In Review: Classical Music
The Year In Review: Visual Art
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An appreciation
Disabled Tristaters moved forward in 2000
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