TORONTO — The year 2011 in television will go down as one of spectacular departures. TV icons who achieved single name status, such as Oprah, Regis and Lloyd, all left the scene.
It was the departure of Charlie Sheen, however, that made the most headlines. His messy exit from Two and a Half Men was 2011’s most sensational real life soap opera.
It happened in a year when one of TV’s longest-running soap operas — ABC’s All My Children — finally faded to black.
Besides Oprah Winfrey (back on a new show on her OWN network in January), Lloyd Robertson (who departed The CTV National News anchor desk after 35 years) and Regis Philbin (gone from Live! after 28 years), other big names moved on in 2011. Katie Couric gave up her anchor seat after five years at The CBS Evening News. Mary Hart left Entertainment Tonight after 29 years.
Behind the scenes there was also a changing of the guard. The guiding force behind CTV for 18 years — Ivan Fecan — handed the keys to the new Bell brain trust. Fecan’s trusted programmer Susanne Boyce also took her leave in 2011.
The few viewers who still relied on analog signals in Canada were faced with saying goodbye to TV itself as the nation switched to digital transmission.
Among the show cancellations in Canada in 2011, none was more shocking than the recent decision not to renew Combat Hospital.
The series had a spectacular summer run on Global but was not renewed after U.S. partner ABC passed on their involvement in the series. The result was the impression of a Canadian hit being cancelled by an American network. The shutdown of So You Think You Can Dance Canada after four seasons also took many observers by surprise.
The year also saw the passing of several TV personalities, including fitness guru Jack LaLanne, longtime TV Ontario movie host Elwy Yost, MASH favourite Harry Morgan, 60 Minutes fixture Andy Rooney and Air Farce comedian and co-founder Roger Abbott.
Some TV shows can come back to life. A happy example was the fate of Murdoch Mysteries. Despite a guest appearance by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (jolting ratings to 700,000 viewers), Rogers announced they were cancelling the historical detective drama after a fifth and final season. CBC stepped in and made a deal with producers Shaftesbury Films to extend the series to a sixth season at least.
Another Canadian series, Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, made the 2011 Best & Worst TV list. Best in that the Bob Martin/Don McKellar comedy was hailed by critics. Worst in that few Canadians — perhaps confused by the title and a mid-season scheduling change — watched it.
Other TV Bests in 2011:
Curb Your Enthusiasm had a stellar year, especially the impressively redeeming Bill Buckner episode.
Community has never been funnier — or more daring when it comes to testing a show’s premise. Each episode is its own comedy special. Too bad ratings are so low NBC has shelved it in the new year.
Enlightened is an HBO Canada gem that sneaks up on you with Laura Dern redefining what it is to be a heroine in a mad, mad world.
Steve Buscemi’s “Nucky” Thompson finally got interesting on Boardwalk Empire when he ruthlessly declared in the season finale that, “I’m not looking for forgiveness.”
Heartland is another showcase for the talented Claire Danes.
American Horror Story, along with The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, are proof that a lot of us are dying to be creeped out by edgy television.
Other positives in 2011: Steven Tyler made a surprisingly likable and effective talent judge on American Idol.
The Kennedys was way better than forecast.
King and Lost Girl were big success stories on Canadian specialty television.
The departure of nerdy boss Michael (Steve Carell) on The Office was the last great moment on that series.
And Zooey Deschanel remains irresistible on New Girl thanks to her fresh and funny trio of male co-stars.
Among the Worst TV stories on 2011:
Despite all the hype, The X Factor was so seen-it-before.
Soft ratings for Cover Me Canada and Canada Sings also seemed to indicate that the talent search craze is pretty played out.
Watching a know-it-all robot beat humans on Jeopardy! left viewers asking: “What is a show-killing moment?”
Speaking of which, the strange departure of Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) from House took the heart out of that medical series.
And teams of scientists are still trying to figure out the Trailer Park Boys’ bizarre follow-up The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.