TV in 2007: Who were the biggest and best?

By Elaine Liner Archives
Cover image for  article: TV in 2007: Who were the biggest and best?

Foxtrots, poltical talks, Mad Men and mad chefs. 2007 was a big year in television for:
Mad MenThe best new drama on television sort of sneaked up on cable viewers. AMC did little to promote this cracklingly brilliant series about Madison Avenue and the male-dominated world of advertising in the early 1960s. It was left to critics, bloggers and viewer word-of- mouth to get momentum going. From the unique production design—period-perfect re-creations of clothes, offices and homes of the Eisenhower-to-Kennedy era—to the darkly elegant tone of the writing, this show looked and sounded like nothing else on TV this fall. Created by Sopranos writer-producer Matthew Weiner, Mad Men drew fewer than 2 million viewers most weeks, but it has been renewed for a second season in 2008. Some reruns this winter and spring could help snag new viewers who missed the first 13 episodes. Watch for lead actor Jon Hamm to turn up on lots of year-end best lists. A Golden Globe nomination is a strong possibility, too.
Dancing with the Stars—With more than 22 million viewers, ABC’s most-watched reality/competition series danced into our hearts by  appealing to part of every demographic group. Among the C-list celebrities willing to zip into sequins and tango on this twice-weekly show this season were names familiar to the over-50s (Wayne Newton, Marie Osmond), over-30s/40s (Jennie Garth of 90210 fame), soap watchers of all ages (Cameron Matheson of All My Children), sports fans (Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves) and teenagers and “tweens” (Sabrina Bryan, Mel B). Network programmers talk a lot about creating shows with “family appeal,” but it’s hard to think of another show with as much multi-generational appeal. It has everything: humor (thanks to host Tom Bergeron and head judge Len Goodman), glamour, good music, pretty people, wholesome competition, dramatic failure (Marie faints!) and achievement. It’s fun to see non-dancers gain confidence and turn out a thrilling performance. Finding out that Jennie Garth had raging insecurities somehow made us identify with her progress week to week. And Sabrina Bryan getting voted out early? A shocker that gave viewers some trust in the show’s voting system. By design or by accident, DWTS has become a monster success. Very simply, it’s gentle, happy, feel-good TV and we need more of that.
Angry chefs—Watch Gordon Ramsay on any of his many TV series on two networks and you may never send back an underdone steak again. Chef Ramsay is the Scottish-born, expletive-spouting star of BBC America’s Hell’s Kitchen and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and its similarly named American offshoots on Fox. Sheer force of personality makes sexy-scary Ramsay a great TV personality. He also gives us a guilty-pleasure peek into the workings of restaurant kitchens. The American version of Kitchen Nightmares has been especially tasty. Ramsay visits failing eateries and gives the place a dramatic menu-and-cooking makeover. In recent episodes he’s discovered busboys stealing liquor and chefs passing off frozen pizza as fresh, among other infractions. The chefs of Bravo’s reality cooking contest series Top Chef never boil as hot as Ramsay, but they come close. Like Iron Chef, the fun of Top Chef is watching professionals put together fancy meals from odd ingredients—like the time all they had to work with were the contents of an hors d’oeuvre tray. Even if you’re a non-cook whose TV stays warmer than your oven, the screaming chefs make for delicious viewing.
Keith Olbermann—Thanks to his intelligent “Special Comment” segments—well thought-out rants against President Bush and the long list of lies, hypocrisies and ill-conceived policy moves of the administration—ratings for Olbermann’s Countdown on MSNBC (8 p.m. ET, weeknights) have boosted the network’s numbers 25 percent over the previous year. Olbermann’s left-leaning opinion pieces rile Fox News rival Bill O’Reilly (frequently named by Olbermann “Worst Person in the World”) and they excoriate the righties in ways no other TV journalist s dare. Olbermann seems to be channeling Edward R. Murrow night after night, even signing off with Murrow’s “Good night and good luck.”  With CNN, Fox News and most of the network news-chats dominated by Bush apologists, Olbermann’s forthright commentaries have brought new (and thankful) viewers to MSNBC. This is what fair and balanced is really all about.
The Simpsons—Half a billion dollars at the box office worldwide? That’s a lot of “D’oh”! The Simpsons Movie, released July 27 and a global mega-hit, proved that Matt Groening’s characters, born on the Tracey Ullman Show 20 years ago, now are part of the fabric not just of American life but of multi-national pop culture. Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have whined and argued through more than 400 half-hour episodes on Fox TV—making it TV’s longest running sitcom and longest running animated show. They never get any older or wiser, their very timelessness keeping them fresh and relevant. The movie, 18 years in the making, was not a disappointment. It began with a revelation from God (Grampa has an epiphany that “terrible things are going to happen”) and went into sharply Simpsonian satire of the banalities of Middle American life, mixed with an inconvenient truthiness about an environmental disaster in Springfield. This wickedly funny franchise shows no signs of slowing down. More episodes! More movies!
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