TV isn’t just our profession — it’s our passion. So while coming up with a countdown of the 40 best programs, people, networks, moments and more from the year in cable was hard work (though not as hard as the jobs in #23), it was a labor of love. We argued and fought for our favorites with the ferocity of a Hip-Hopopotamus (see #9), and we didn’t earn nearly the paychecks of the two guys who fought in #16. And we did it all for you. And we’ll keep on doing it for you … if that’s what you’re into.
40. Trouty: Chicago’s 16th Sexiest Bachelor
He’s annoying. He repels the opposite sex. For some reason, he ranks 16th on a list of Chicago’s Sexiest Bachelors. And there about a dozen different explanations for how he got his name. But he can get you tickets to anything or get you into the most exclusive of nightclubs. We’re just happy Johnny Galecki reprised his role as Trouty when Season 2 of TBS’ My Boys aired over the summer.
39. Day Of The Underdog
We’re not exactly sure how Big Ten Network feels about the first college football game it broadcast in its history. On the one hand, it got to air possibly the biggest upset ever when Appalachian State beat No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sept. 1. On the other hand, it got to show just what a lousy year it was going to be for Big Ten football in general.
38. O.D. On MMA
Thanks to cable, there’s no shortage of guys and girls beating the bejesus out of each other. Mixed Martial Arts exploded on cable this year. Along with UFC on Spike and Pay-Per-View, we’ve got the International Fight League on FSN, Elite Extreme Combat on Showtime, the World Combat League and World Extreme Cagefighting on Versus, The Iron Ring on BET, and HDNet FiGHTS on HDNet.
37. “Your Tongues Can’t Repel Flavor Of That Magnitude!”
Seth Green and the minds behind Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken were at their fanboy best with the Robot Chicken Star Wars Special, introducing us to delicious Admiral Ackbar Cereal (now with brine shrimp!), the Max Rebo’s Greatest Hits album and the real story behind those two guys who make trouble for Luke Skywalker in the cantina.
36. Wrecks Games
For a while there, we forgot why we loved ESPN’s X Games so much. Then this reminded us.
35. The Lost Tomb Of Jesus?
Whether you thought it fascinating, blasphemous or just downright silly, Discovery Channel raised eyebrows with The Lost Tomb of Jesus back in March. This special, produced by James Cameron, postulated that remains discovered in Israel in 1980 may have been those of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. While it didn’t provide anything conclusive, the special raised plenty of debate and controversy, attracting over 4 million viewers in the process.
34. That’s One Big Sand Trap
GOLF CHANNEL business correspondent Adam Barr had an idea to help his longtime friend, Army Capt. David Sifferd, serving in Iraq. It seemed that Sifferd had everything he needed, except golf balls. He and the soldiers hit golf balls in the field behind their headquarters to relieve stress. The problem was, the balls were usually irretrievable. So Barr initiated a campaign that led to GOLF CHANNEL viewers and golfers across America to donate golf balls and other equipment to ship to Iraq. Manufacturer Top-Flite even donated 10,000 golf balls to the cause. Sifferd was able to construct a makeshift driving range for his troops. “The soldiers are very equipped to go back to their jobs after they come out here (to the range) and take out their anxiety on a few golf balls,” explains Sifferd. “They just feel a lot better. The generosity has been incredible. Every box of balls, whether it contains a couple dozen or hundreds has been a blessing.”
33. What’s Up, Dog(s)?
Although this isn’t the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar, you wouldn’t know it by the slew of canine cable shows unleashed this year. Of course you have the famed Dog Whisperer, but there is also It’s Me or the Dog (which even had a special called It’s Me or the Fat Dog); Divine Canine (with some monks helping train problem dogs; we guess you need the patience of a monk to handle some of these rowdy pups); the good old Puppy Bowl, the cute and fluffy answer to the Super Bowl; and the traditional dog shows like Westminster and Eukanuba Tournament of Champions.
32. Donnie Is The Most
Donnie Wahlberg had his CW series Runaway canceled last year, but in 2007 he hit the airwaves with a vengeance in two hot projects. Kings of South Beach was an excellent A&E original movie about the true-life takedown of a Miami club-owner with organized crime ties, while Spike’s The Kill Point was another crime thriller, this time a short-run series, about a hostage standoff during a bank robbery. A couple of runaway hits for Wahlberg to atone for last year’s premature departure!
31. Long-Lasting Larry
There have been kings throughout history who have ruled a long time, but this King has sat atop the entertainment throne for 50 years, changing with the times from radio to cable television. Larry King has talked to just about everyone from the worlds of celebrity and politics, and just keeps on going, even dealing with several divorces and heart problems. And those suspenders and glasses are an enduring part of pop culture. CNN honored the icon this year with a series of enjoyable specials commemorating his half-century of work, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he continues his legacy for several years to come.
30. Lasting Legacies
A couple of notable, and sad, commemorations were held this year for two of the most beloved celebrities ever – the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, and the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. The wide range of cable coverage had all angles of their lives covered, and showed just how much each of them touched the world. News shows, Lifetime movies and specials, even a TV Land marathon – they were all on hand with fitting tributes to these lasting icons.
29. Universal Appeal
This year The History Channel debuted a fascinating series, The Universe, made all the more fascinating that it was on that network. It was something you expected to see on Discovery or Nat Geo, but this series certainly dealt with history, covering nothing less than the vast history of the universe itself. Amazing special effects shots and live images, and terrific insights from scientists took us on a journey from the birth of the universe, all the way through speculations on how it might end, along the way covering the fortuitous events that led to the creation and evolution of a little planet called Earth. An educational, and entertaining, science series that shows cable can serve both purposes very effectively when it wants to.
28. Celebration Of Life
Ever since the invasion of Iraq nearly five years ago now, cable has been there with news coverage and specials about the war and its impact. But none have been so powerful and immediate as HBO’s Alive Day Memories, which featured several U.S. veterans of that war talking about their “alive days” – the days on which they were wounded in combat but made it out alive. The injuries range from lost limbs to mental illness, and show the incredible cost of war that goes beyond the dollars and cents. The special was heartbreaking in its depiction of youth who lost a part of themselves, sometimes literally, while overseas, but also inspiring to hear that they all have the courage to move on and adapt to their new lives. The simplicity of the special was appropriate – we mainly saw the veterans facing the camera and speaking, lending an intimate, conversational feel to this important story.
27. Pot Shot
To promote the third season of her Showtime series Weeds, Mary-Louise Parker posed for a smoking hot (but very tasteful) publicity photo wearing only a snake. Supposedly, Californication‘s David Duchovny was also in the ad, but we couldn’t look away from Parker long enough to confirm.
26. Great “Company”
Every year TNT delivers a summer film or miniseries that’s deserving of critical praise, and The Company was this year’s winner. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of you watched this dark Cold War thriller, which featured the talents of Alfred Molina, Michael Keaton and Chris O’Donnell. Why you missed it is the real mystery.
25. Paradise Island
Kind of lost in all the hype over Planet Earth was the National Geographic Channel special Galapagos, which used a smaller, but no less important, canvas, focusing only on one part of the world – the titular island chain made famous by Charles Darwin. This turned out be a nice addendum piece for those who watched Planet Earth, as these islands were among the few places the other series did not visit.
24. Three Letters: TCM
Since it arrived on the scene in 1994, Turner Classic Movies has built up a devoted following of viewers who have come to depend on it as a sort of haven for quality viewing. Regardless of what time of day or night, if you’re a film fan and you’re not watching, odds are good that there’s something you’re genuinely missing on TCM. From unforgettable vintage Hollywood moments like Casablanca and Some Like It Hot to celebrated directors like Roman Polanski and Sergei M. Eisenstein, from Silent Sunday Night’s films of yesteryear to Annie Hall, if it’s stood the test of time, you’ll see it here.
And sometimes, you’ll see a great film because of TCM. Earlier this year, the network premiered restored versions of six lost RKO films boasting performances by screen standouts Ginger Rogers, William Powell, Lionel Barrymore and others — an outstanding example of the network’s consistent commitment to film stewardship and preservation.
23. “I’d Like To Call In Sick Today … And Maybe Tomorrow …”
The work-injury clinic near our office would be salivating over the business they would likely receive from the “employees” of the latest – and one of the most entertaining – trend in cable programming that has arisen this year, that of the “dangerous job.” After the success of last year’s Deadliest Catch, we are now seeing Ice Road Truckers in action, fishermen engaging in Lobster Wars, and a man tackling most of the world’s Dirty Jobs. It’s wild enough that some of these guys are required to do these tasks for a living. But in another “dangerous” (but again, strangely fun to watch!) trend, some dudes actually seek out such hazards, as we see in the hit series Survivorman, Man vs. Wild and Edge of Existence. Still … it’s not quite as harrowing as that last management meeting we had.
22. K-Fed’s Ex
Despite the fact that at presstime Shar Jackson had yet to deliver the cover of “PopoZão” that we’ve all been waiting for, we love that her skills as a contestant on MTV’s Celebrity Rap Superstar put her hip-hop flop of a baby daddy, Kevin Federline, to shame.
21. “Greek” Makes The Grade
With a young cast that includes Internet sensation lonelygirl15 (Jessica Rose) and the spawn of Frasier (Spencer Grammer) – and content that stretches the boundaries of the “family” genre – ABC Family’s freshman series Greek was more popular than a party girl at a frat house.
20. HBO Sports Keeps It Real
As the journalistic integrity of a certain four-letter sports network becomes ever more questionable, HBO continues to produce outstanding sports series and documentaries. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel gave unique insight on tough issues like dogfighting and steroids this year. And sports docs like Barbaro, Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush and Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry (Nov. 13) shed new light on fascinating stories.
19. Statuesque Actresses
Perhaps due to the success of Kyra Sedgwick in TNT’s The Closer, the quality and quantity of lead roles for actresses in cable projects exploded in 2007. And it’s no longer the case that Oscar-nominated film stars are shying away from the small screen. New starring roles are appearing for actresses over age 35, and stories about complex, strong and flawed female characters are finally being told. Here are the Oscar-nominated actresses who brought their credibility and creativity to cable in 2007:
- Jane Alexander (Tell Me You Love Me, HBO) Oscar-nominated for: The Great White Hope (1970); All the President’s Men (1976); Kramer vs. Kramer (1979); Testament (1983)
- Glenn Close (Damages, FX) Oscar-nominated for: The World According to Garp (1982); The Big Chill (1983); The Natural (1984); Fatal Attraction (1987); Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
- Minnie Driver (The Riches, FX) Oscar-nominated for: Good Will Hunting (1997)
- Holly Hunter (Saving Grace, TNT) Won Oscar for: The Piano (1993); Oscar-nominated for: Broadcast News (1987); The Firm (1993); Thirteen (2003)
- Queen Latifah (Life Support, HBO) Oscar-nominated for: Chicago (2002)
18. David Duchovny Bares It All
David Duchovny returns to the spirit of his Red Shoe Diaries days and bares more than his soul in Californication, a Showtime comedy series that is raunchy and thoughtful, often at the same time. As fans wait for yet another intimate moment gone terribly wrong, they hope that Duchovny’s Hank Moody gets what he wishes for the most – to reunite with his ex-common-law-wife and daughter – though that would likely mean the end of one of the freshest comedies on television.
17. CNN And YouTube Make Presidential Debates Fun
The candidates may have responded with the same old platitudes, but the questions posed by YouTube aficionados on The CNN/YouTube Debates: The Democrats were fresh and frequently funny. The debate also appealed directly to citizens just reaching voting age – a group notorious for skipping the voting booth. The winner was, of course, Billiam the Snowman, who may ask another question when CNN hosts the Republican YouTube Debate, scheduled for Nov. 28. Mitt Romney, will you answer it?
16. Worth The Wait
It wasn’t the most thrilling action in the ring, but “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s split-decision win over “Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya in their “The World Awaits” mega-fight became the highest-grossing Pay-Per-View boxing match ever. But it also proved to promoters and networks that if they make good fights, people will come back to the sport — as evidenced by a spectacular fall season of boxing matchups.
15. Fiery Personalities
It was good to see that people took to USA Network’s smartly funny spy series Burn Notice this summer (according to Nielsen research, it was the No. 1 new cable series of the year, beating out the likes of Army Wives, Saving Grace, Damages and Mad Men). Jeffrey Donovan delivers a very winning and witty performance as Michael, a spy who suddenly finds himself “burned” — thrown out of the biz without warning or explanation. Other can’t-miss performances come from the always-reliable Bruce Campbell as an old buddy of Michael’s, Gabriel Anwar as an ex-flame, and a hilarious Sharon Gless as Michael’s hypochondriac mother, whom he finds himself very reluctantly stuck with thanks to his “burn notice.” USA’s motto is “Characters Welcome,” and in this series, they have created several memorable ones to join the ranks of those already inhabiting series like Monk and Psych. Actually, this could also be the motto for all of cable, which regularly does “character” far better than its broadcast brethren.
14. Doing A Body Good
National Geographic Channel really focused on the body this year – human and otherwise. If Americans have traditionally been a little embarrassed about discussing anatomy, hopefully by the end of 2007 NGC did a little bit to ease that. The year started with a couple of great follow-ups to last year’s pioneering In the Womb special. In the Womb: Multiples used cameras and some CGI to show us developing twins, triplets and even quints, while In the Womb: Animals used the same techniques to explore the development of young inside of a dolphin, an elephant and a Golden retriever. By year’s end, NGC had moved up into exploring the entire adult body, with more jaw-dropping specials: Inside the Living Body and Incredible Human Machine. A number of other cable networks this year showed us new things on the planet and in the universe; National Geographic Channel completed the picture by drawing back and taking us into the equally wondrous world of “inner space.”
13. Henry VIII’s Extreme Makeover
Could young Henry VIII have really looked as hot as he did in Showtime’s series The Tudors? Was Anne Boleyn that gorgeous? Did Thomas More deserve sainthood? Did Cardinal Wolsey die under those circumstances? Does it make a difference, when the cat-and-mouse game between the king and his mistress, and the intrigues of Henry’s court, were so wonderful to watch?
12. Don’t Tune In – Log On
Thanks to ever-increasing capabilities and speed of broadband Internet, this year more networks made it easier to watch clips and even entire shows over the Web. Some nets not only transferred their TV shows over to online, but also created online-only series as well. If you have not yet upgraded to broadband, you’ve been missing a lot. Cool launches this year included:
- ngcwild.com – Watch episodes of National Geographic Channel programs and see clips of dangerous moments from nature
- hgtv.com/carolduvall – See entire episodes of The Carol Duvall Show, with one of HGTV’s most popular personalities
- scifi.com – While it’s website is not new, as you might expect, SCI FI Channel continues to be a leader in developing Web series. In addition to adding many of their popular shows online, this year they launched SCI FI Drive-In, which allows users to see full-length retro cult films and serials like The Giant Gila Monster, Metropolis and Attack of the Giant Leeches.
- bravotv.com – Another website that isn’t new, but which added a number of interesting new Web-only series this year. A couple of popular personalities from hit Bravo series ended up with their own Web series on the network’s site. Carlos Fernandez from Top Chef presents zesty Latin recipes on Miami Spice, while Lee Anne Wong, also of Top Chef, demonstrates the winning recipe from the previous night’s episode of Top Chef with her series The Wong Way to Cook.
11. All Those Scandals!
Let’s face it: We all love a good scandal once in a while, and 2007 marked the year that Hollywood delivered big-time. News and entertainment nets quickly capitalized with ratings “Ka-Ching!” Below we showcase a few of the biggest tabloid turners who ultimately got what they deserved.
- Lindsay Lohan – Arrested twice this year for alleged DUI, she’s made it clear that her “Herbie” days are over as she takes the fast track to career suicide.
- Paris Hilton – The privileged partier got busted on a probation violation and the judge made her a celebrity poster child by sentencing her to prison. Thankfully, we haven’t heard all that much about her since her release.
- Britney Spears – If only she had cared a little more about her big “comeback” on MTV’s Video Music Awards, she could have spared herself the public ridicule and humiliation. It was bad enough following her parenting blunders, head shave and K-Fed fiasco; now it’s just plain sad.
- Don Imus – MSNBC and CBS Radio showed no tolerance for a vulgar remark he made about an accomplished group of Rutgers athletes. For someone who’s always been so politically smart, that was disappointingly stupid.
10. Smoke Gets In Our Eyes
AMC gave Sopranos producer Matthew Weiner full creative control for its flagship original series, Mad Men. In turn, he’s given them more bygone-era sexism and chain-smoking than anyone’s seen on TV in years – and we have to admit, we’re entranced. Weiner’s Madison Avenue ad men and the women who make their worlds go round mix like a top-shelf martini, making Mad Men almost as smooth.
9. We Fancy “Flight”
If we compiled a list of the 10 funniest TV moments from the past year, almost half would be from the HBO series Flight of the Conchords. If we have to pick a favorite, though, it was the “Hip-Hopopotamus vs. the Rhymenocerous” rap. Who’s the motherflippin’?
8. An Epic Film Of America’s Expansion
It won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Made for TV Movie, and August Schellenberg, Anna Paquin and Aidan Quinn were all Emmy nominees for their supporting roles in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, HBO’s epic drama about the tragic effects of America’s westward expansion on American Indians. Watching Schellenberg’s Sitting Bull realize that his entire culture is dying as he faces down a by-the-book Army officer over his food ration provided one of the most poignant moments on television.
7. Cable’s Summer Victory Over Broadcast
Over the years, the broadcast networks have learned to stagger their premieres, letting some of their new shows see light in summer, but it’s still not their time to shine. Cable networks have seized the moment and not only delivered record ratings, but also outplayed their broadcast counterparts with more breakout hits for the season, like Lifetime’s Army Wives, The History Channel’s unexpected success Ice Road Truckers and Showtime’s newest addition to its flowering array of original series, Californication. Just how big is cable these days? Check out the ratings for some of summer’s biggest hits …
Program — Network — Rating*
- High School Musical 2 (Aug. 17) — Disney Channel — 17.2
- The Sopranos Series Finale (June 10) — HBO — 11.9
- Hannah Montana (Aug. 17) — Disney Channel — 10.7
- The Closer (June 18) — TNT — 8.8
- The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (Aug. 17) — Disney Channel — 8.0
- NBA Playoffs: Pistons vs. Cavaliers (June 2) — TNT — 7.4
- 2007 Video Music Awards (Sept. 9) — MTV — 7.0
- Home Run Derby (July 9) — ESPN — 6.8
- Saving Grace (July 23) — TNT — 6.4
- BET Awards (June 26) — BET — 6.4
*In millions Source: Nielsen Media Research
6. The Joy Of Ex
A bit of a guilty pleasure despite 10 Emmy nominations, USA Network’s miniseries The Starter Wife was vibrant, fun and soapy as it told the story of a Hollywood wife who finds new life after being dumped. It also gave Debra Messing a fresh start of her own after eight seasons on Will & Grace.
5. Cable Goes Green
While Congress was still debating whether global warming existed, cable networks began giving viewers information on climate change. Among the year’s notable offerings were the airing of a two-part special on climate change, Planet in Peril on CNN; Green Me Up on DIY, which revealed how much money an environmentally friendly lifestyle can save; a green wedding episode of Get Fresh With Sara Snow on Discovery Health Channel; and Living With Ed on HGTV, in which Ed Begley Jr. reveals his radically green lifestyle. Sundance Channel launched the special eco-friendly programming block “The Green” early in 2007 and tied it to its website, where people could send in their own ideas on how to save the planet. This month, The History Channel airs A Global Warming?, a look at experts tracking climate change past and present, while The Science Channel premieres the new series Invention Nation on Nov. 19. And early next year, Discovery Networks will launch Planet Green — the first network devoted to environmental news and Earth-friendly living.
All this information has led to a better-informed public, which in turn may be one of the reasons that the environment has finally become a hot political issue. Mother Earth, how about a smile?
4. Let’s Make This Clear
At the beginning of 2007, some people referred to the upcoming months as “the year of HD.” Looking back, it seems that prediction was fairly accurate. A slew of new HD networks launched – and no, they weren’t only sports networks. If your only hesitation in not getting HD was worrying that there was not enough non-sports programming, your concerns are over. In addition to the usual high-quality movies and series, as well as sports, more and more programs were added this past year.
Some Things That Made HD Great In 2007
THE YEAR OF HD
New HD Networks Launched In 2007
Any episode of Sunrise Earth — Discovery HD Theater
Planet in Peril — CNN HD
Regular coverage of NASA launches — HDNet
Britney’s VMA flop in crystal-clear HD (if you can stand it) — MHD
Seeing films the same day (or even before) they come out on DVD or in theaters — HDNet Movies
Ordering box office hits in HD in your own home — Movies on Demand HD
Cheering (or cursing) your home team on your local HD affiliate — FSN HD
Complete (22 hours) Live Earth international concert coverage in HD — Universal HD
3. “Earth”ly Delights
The amazing Planet Earth series was seen by over 65 million viewers, which is certainly impressive. But while the show’s ratings were important to Discovery Channel, its impact was even greater to those watching its wonders unfold before them. Never before had many of the places and creatures captured by the show’s cameras been seen by the average person (or even, in some cases, by scientists). Do you really think a broadcast network would have given up the years and budget it took to create this artful and important snapshot of our world?
2. “HSM2” Beats, Like, Everything
Disney Channel’s High School Musical 2 officially holds the record as the most-watched cable TV show of all time (17.2 million) and the No. 1 rated basic cable movie of all time. It also gets props for being the only cable movie that’s been released in more than 37 countries, has produced six teen superstars and is the most over-merchandized, over-marketed (both pre- and post-airing) film we can remember.
1. Don’t Stop Believin’
Maybe you loved it. Maybe you hated it. Maybe you thought there was something wrong with your TV and were completely confounded. Either way, HBO’s The Sopranos series finale will go down as one of the all-time great finishes in television history. But if you’re one of those people who hates abrupt, open-ended conclusions, then you can just …