20 top TV moments of 2020: From 'Jeopardy!' to 'Tiger King' and that wild election
In a year when the world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, television had many great moments.
Sure, many of your favorite shows have been put out of action by production shutdowns, and the virus dominated coverage. But creativity often triumphed when entertainment producers sought refuge. A wild presidential election set record highs for cable news networks. Many shows were filmed before the virus took its toll. and the age of streaming exploded with more newcomers. (And let's not forget that 2020 began with several weeks of relative normalcy.)
USA TODAY TV staff offer a look back at the ups (and downs) of a year we'd rather forget.
James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter participated in ABC's "Greatest of All Time" tournament for the best "Jeopardy!" Player in January.
A Happy Water Cooling Moment: What's the "Danger!" GOAT tournament?
Legendary "danger!" Masters Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter got a primetime leg for ABC's Greatest of All Time tournament in early January. The special event was a huge success and got the country talking. Jennings took the title three wins in four nights and announced TODAY to the US that he feared entering the competition, that it was "not as keen as it used to be," which it obviously wasn't. (Viewers will see the three champions again on ABC's "The Chase," which premieres January 7th.) Despite Jennings' success, the real star was host Alex Trebek, a game show legend whose fan base grew even larger during his fight was used against stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
NBC's existential comedy "The Good Place" ended in a satisfying finale after four seasons.
'The Good Place' has a high grade
In the January series finale of NBC's existential afterlife sitcom "The Good Place" everything was actually fine. The series ended appropriately, leaving the show's signature twists and play on words behind in favor of a sentimental farewell journey. "Good Place" had no more answers to life's big questions than we humans can provide. It was just like us: imperfect, chaotic, ambitious, loving, open-minded, funny and well-intentioned. At least it was the best version of us we could be.
Shakira and Jennifer Lopez appear at half time of Super Bowl LIV.
Jennifer Lopez and Shakira rock the Super Bowl halftime show
Although February feels like a few decades ago, there was a Super Bowl this year. And who could have guessed how infectiously joyful the combination of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira would be when the stars of the halftime show smile and dance their way through an energetic set that lacks over-the-top spectacle - there were no giant tiger dolls or soaring entrances - but there were tons of breathtaking choreographies, top 40 hits and festivals of Latin American culture.
Sarah Palin was revealed when the costumed bear hit Fox on March 11th "The Masked Singer". Just as the NBA season was canceled, Tom Hanks announced his COVID-19 diagnosis and all hell broke loose.
Sarah Palin rapped on "The Masked Singer" the day the pandemic became real
Many of us fully realized the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11th. That Wednesday night, the NBA suspended their season and Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced that they had tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Australia. Also on this day? Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was exposed as a colored, rapping (Alaskan) bear by The Masked Singer. Combining the serious with the surreal would set the news of 2020.
The remoteness of the awards shows
The pre-pandemic Golden Globes and Oscars went smoothly. But there was no red carpet for the Emmys and other awards shows during the year. Instead, stars looked stylish when they received an award - or lost, as Ramy Youssef (Hulus "Ramy") demonstrated at the virtual Emmy awards ceremony. We also had the (controversial) moment when Jennifer Aniston put out a real dumpster fire.
Netflix's "Tiger King" starring Joe Exotic became a pandemic must-see.
Reality TV from the time of the pandemic: "Tiger King", "Love is Blind", "Floor is Lava"
Thanks to the pandemic, we were a trapped audience and there was tons of mind-boggling television to keep us busy, especially on Netflix. "Tiger King" became a phenomenon. "Floor is Lava" recreated a children's game. Little did we know that Love is Blind would anticipate the 2020 dating: to be in two different rooms, all alone with plenty of wine. And "Too Hot to Handle" offered its own brand of supposedly gender-free quarantine.
Stephen Colbert's October remote-controlled interview with Dolly Parton became the new norm on CBS's "Late Show" and other late-night talk shows.
When the talk shows lost their audience (and then went home)
There was an odd, almost deliberately Dadaist will to Whoopi Goldberg who opened the March 11th episode of "The View" shouting "Welcome to" The View! " over and over again in an empty room. The next night, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon hosted episodes of their nightly talk shows in similarly deserted studios with no traditional laughs. The audience-free talk show, a pit stop en route to television quarantine from home in the early days of the pandemic, was a bizarre, absurd historical document about how the world was instantly changing.
LeAnn Rimes was announced as the winner of "The Masked Singer" on December 16, but the crowd she cheered was borrowed from a previous season when Fox faked the crowd to simulate excitement.
Virtual viewers fill empty studios for "Masked Singer", other reality competitions
Without the audience being able to cheer on its participants, “The Masked Singer” borrowed footage from previous seasons to create the illusion of a shared experience. Not ideal as the network has never passed up the trick and gives the impression that it is breaking California guidelines by inviting an audience to the studio. America's Got Talent, America's Funniest Home Videos and other shows have done their best to make up for the lack of theater audiences with virtual viewers watching on camera from home.
View of a section of sections of dogs and cats in the northern end zone prior to a game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium.
... And also at sports competitions on television, as the pandemic restricts the crowd
The NBA also tried to do this to ensure that famous fans were seated in virtual court seats. Professional sports like MLB and NFL also tried to make up for often empty stadiums with can sound and even fans of cardboard cutouts (an alternative money maker during a pandemic) at baseball games. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than grilling. And a home run that almost beheaded a cardboard fan gave us a new way to enjoy the long ball!
NBC drama "The Blacklist" turned to animation to end a partially filmed episode after the coronavirus shut down Hollywood production in March.
Shutting down pandemic production is the mother of TV invention
When the pandemic ceased TV production in March, some broadcasters found creative ways to continue. Because the cast was confined to their homes, the CBS drama "All Rise" produced an episode that focused on a process conducted via videoconferencing, as some real world courts did, with the cast from home filmed from. NBC's "The Blacklist," which stuck to a partially filmed episode, used ingeniously flashy animation to create a memorable makeshift season finale. NBC's Parks and Recreation came out of retirement for a much-touted, socially distant reunion episode, a fundraiser to feed the hungry. Unfortunately, another great comedy, "30 Rock," had a much derided remote return for a deafening advertising campaign that stuck NBCUniversal. Blerg!
Peacock and HBO Max added to the already overcrowded field of streaming services, and some became enthusiastic about remakes of popular previous series like "Saved By the Bell" as simple marketing hooks.
The Streaming Service Club is getting bigger
Streaming neared saturation when two other big players in the industry, Comcast (Peacock) and WarnerMedia (HBO Max), joined Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video just months after Apple TV + and Disney + launched. When Disney + enjoyed early success with The Mandalorian and its stunning movie library, Peacock introduced a free, ad-supported service. HBO Max had a less than robust start - just over 12 million activated the service - but the success of "The Flight Attendant," discussed for season two, and the Christmas premiere of "Wonder Woman 1984" on the same day opens in theaters, offer a shot in the arm. In response to theaters closed by the pandemic, Warner Bros.'s decision to release its entire 17-movie schedule on HBO Max in 2021 could be transformative.
Say goodbye to the great, long-running, culturally connected sitcom
The Modern Family finale in April wasn't just the end of a hilarious, Emmy-laden comedy. The critically acclaimed ABC sitcom is possibly the last of the top-rated long-running sitcom hits on television a year after the exit of CBS juggernaut "The Big Bang Theory". With an audience fragmented by streaming and shorter, fewer seasons, it's hard to imagine that another series, no matter how good it may be, will become a permanent fixture in the cultural conversation. And that was before the pandemic, which threatens to accelerate trends that are pushing against a great, unifying comedy - we could all use something like this these days. At least we still have reruns of "Family", "Big Bang", "Friends", "Seinfeld" and "The Office" on streaming services, but there doesn't seem to be many newer shows at this level to join them.
"Schitt's Creek" says goodbye and sweeps the Emmys
The Emmys had no vacancies for "Schitt's Creek," the Canadian winner of Best Comedy from Obscure Pop TV - popularized by Netflix - which won the first comedy categories in April after six seasons. Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy won the lead while Annie Murphy and co-creator Daniel Levy took over the minor categories. With profits for writing, directing, casting and costumes, the roses were not a thorn in the side.
That wasn't the start of the TV season
By mid-September, it's usually time for the (declining) TV business to bring out a number of new and recurring series. This custom goes back to sponsorship by automakers to bring out their new car models every fall. However, the production interruption caused by the pandemic led to a staggered rollout: some shows arrived in late October, others in November. And two whole networks (Fox and CW) will wait until 2021 to roll out their programming brackets.
While Maya Rudolph's return as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was welcome, it was Jim Carrey's turn when Joe Biden fell flat and the actor pulled out of the role in December, saying it was temporary.
'SNL' returns with a masked audience (and Jim Carrey's bad version of Joe Biden)
In a year as tumultuous as 2020, the writers of “SNL” made valiant efforts to broadcast spring shows from afar. Season 46, which features hosts like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, was more of a whimper, however, especially when it came to coverage of Election 2020: Jim Carrey's Joe Biden impression fell flat in a year the news was running Stranger than anything sketch comedy writers can come up with. He resigned and was replaced by Alex Moffat on December 19.
Anya Taylor-Joy beats the competition as chess wonder Beth Harmon in Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit".
The Netflix hit "The Queen’s Gambit" triggers a chess mania
Who would have thought chess could be so cool? Anya Taylor-Joy's lively performance as (fictional) champion Beth Harmon in what Netflix called the most popular limited-edition series that debuted in October made the old strategy game more attractive than ever and boosted chess game sales. While it's easy enough to grab a fancy set and try your hand at the game, it's a little harder to replicate Beth's genius.
Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are calling Pennsylvania November 7th and voting for Joe Biden.
The 2020 Election (aka The Never Ending Story)
Who needs a fictional drama? The presidential election, and the way that TV news covered it, offered thrills, chills and thrills that will get everyone talking until the next presidential contest. The first presidential debate was one for the ages, largely because of President Donald Trump's runaway interruptions. Trump had problems with CBS's Lesley Stahl and NBC's Savannah Guthrie. Fox News' Tucker Carlson and NBC News got into a dogfight days before the election. and the race was too short to call election night as the news departments had predicted. Network anchors seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Joe Biden brought back a more traditional tone a few days later after news organizations discovered he had the votes to be elected president. But Trump still managed to cover claims of a "rigged" election even after the electoral college sealed Biden's victory.
Alex Trebek, the "Jeopardy!" since his syndicated resuscitation in 1984, died in November after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Legendary "danger!" Host Alex Trebek dies after a courageous fight against cancer
The fans cheered Trebek as he continued "Jeopardy!" until October as participants offered emotional testimonies. The host provided great service and spoke publicly about his stage 4 pancreatic cancer while setting a wonderful example with his life. Unfortunately, on November 8th, the disease claimed the life of Trebek and led to tears and honors. Fans will see his final episodes in the week of January 4th, a hint to the right question: what's a happy yet bittersweet way to start 2021?
"Supernatural" brothers, played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, didn't just hunt demons. You have accomplished an otherworldly feat: 15 seasons in a brutal network TV environment.
'Supernatural' says goodbye after 15 (!) Seasons
Few prime-time shows last a decade and a half - you can count "Grey's Anatomy", "Law & Order: SVU" and "NCIS" on the one hand - but the long runtime of CW's "Supernatural" is a truly paranormal feat. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padadecki have played demon-fighting brothers since 2005 (the first season aired on the previous WB before CW even existed). The series had a special relationship with its social media savvy fans, including USA TODAY film critic Brian Truitt, who wrote that the series enabled him "to escape my own purgatory and with two guys who kept going in." to dive into a demonic world ". no matter what."
Brandon Mitchell (Jonathan Bennett), right, and husband Jake (Brad Harder) await a call about the adoption of their first child while they travel to vacation with Brandon's family at Hallmark Channel's "The Christmas House".
Vacation films are becoming more integrative
As the TV specials (and the outlets for them), from Mariah Carey to Carrie Underwood, from Rugrats to Snoopy to Minions, skyrocketed, the TV Christmas Movie, a program program from Lifetime, Hallmark (and more recently Netflix time) more diverse characters, including LGBTQ couples, after the pressures of representation. "It feels like progress," said gay actor Jonathan Bennett, who appeared as half of a same-sex couple on hallmarks "The Christmas House".
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Top TV Moments of 2020: Election, 'Jeopardy!' and remote awards shows
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