Dave Hiltbrand's 2011 in TV: What a freaky year

2011 has left us as numb as a Hoarders marathon. Oprah, Larry King, Mary Hart, Andy Rooney, and Regis all turned in their cue cards. It's like TV's Mount Rushmore crumbling to the ground.

And what did we get in return? Chaz Bono. Surely the TV gods are mocking us.

Even the fictional personas we got attached to were torn from us too soon, like Ned Stark on Game of Thrones and Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire.

Actually, HBO set up incest subplots on both series and then killed off our favorite characters. Yikes!

You know we pay a stiff tariff for your programs, HBO. Don't give us reason to rethink that decision.

At least, we got some spectacle this year with two majestic, highly rated royal weddings. You may question how much genuine romance was involved in either union, but you can't deny that, commercially, the Windsor and Kardashian dynasties made out like bandits.

Certainly, we can all celebrate the fact that a pair of ruthless despots were deposed in 2011: Moammar Gadhafi and Kate Gosselin.

On the other hand, smarm-marm Ann Curry assumed the Today show throne. On a related note, Dunkin' Donuts barely avoided bankruptcy as all of America began sleeping in.

Snooki, DJ Pauly D, the Situation, and the rest of the Jersey Shore crew flew to Florence, Italy, setting off brief but intense celebration as people mistakenly assumed that Team GTL had been deported.

Remarkably, being in Italy had no effect on the gang's lifestyle. They did what they always do: wake up at the crack of noon, snipe at each other, go out to brunch (with cocktails) as soon as their hair gel set, snipe, preen, go clubbing, drunkenly fight with each other, collapse, repeat.

As for Florence's trove of history and art, the Garden State All-Stars waited until the last afternoon of their visit to sample it.

Seeing Michelangelo's masterful sculpture David, JWoww said she wasn't too impressed with his package but she might throw him a mercy smush.


Several hit shows tried to soldier on with varying success after their stars departed. The Office and Two and a Half Men are suffering, but American Idol has thrived.

The replacement judges who saved Idol, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, took advantage of their raised profiles in different ways.

Tyler wrote a memoir, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? and reunited with his band Aerosmith for a tour during which he fell in a shower, blackening his eyes and knocking out his front teeth.

J.Lo divorced her cadaverous husband and hijacked the American Music Awards by using her stage time as a blatant commercial for Fiat cars.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell, the man responsible for turning Idol into TV's top-rated instrument of torture, had gone on to start another prime- time singing competition, The X Factor.

But this one was totally different from Idol.

How, you might ask. Well, for one thing, the talent wasn't as good.

And The X Factor is more soap opera than voice contest. The singers apparently want to be judged not on merit but on their hard-luck stories:

"I just want to buy my momma some teeth. Top and bottom!"

"If I win I'm getting my family indoor plumbing."

Rescuing your folks is a lot of pressure to put on a 13-year-old. No wonder Rachel Crow bawled her eyes out when she got eliminated. That was the biggest meltdown we've seen on TV since Jimmy Swaggart begged our forgiveness.

Yeah, quite a year. Can't look back. Don't want to look ahead. In the very first week of the new year, ABC gives us Work It, which may be the worst sitcom I've seen in a decade.

I give it two episodes. Then again, as you know by now, I'm an optimist.

Contact television writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552, dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or @daveondemand_tv on Twitter. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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