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The Book of Tens 2010

Book of Tens: TV's High Points (and a Few Lows)

Zombies Were the Fall's Biggest Surprise, and See You Later Simon Cowell and Jeff Zucker

Published on .

Credit: Meghan Sinclair/Team Coco
In late January, Conan O' Brien agreed to exit his much-desired perch on NBC's "Tonight" program after network executives asked him to move it back to midnight to give Jay Leno -- at the time, driving a flailing prime-time vehicle -- his old roost at 11:30. "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get," O' Brien said during his last moments on NBC's air. But TV viewers, station affiliates and advertisers at least thought they'd get better treatment from the network.

He may make fun of his new basic-cable perch, but O' Brien's debut on Time Warner's TBS, which 4.2 million watched -- and an average of 1.7 million watched the second week -- suggests TV viewers, especially the younger ones advertisers covet, see less of a distinction between the big broadcast networks and their smaller rivals.

We heard loads of talk about the big broadcasters investing in high-quality scripted drama, but then we saw many of those "quality" shows yanked off the air. So long, Fox's "Lone Star," NBC's "Undercovers" and "Outlaw" and ABC's "My Generation." We know quality when we see it -- on cable, that is.

Give Jeff Zucker this: He was never dull. After years of talking about the demise of broadcast TV, Zucker will be able to say "I told you so" if NBC Universal's new majority holder, Comcast, fails to make the Peacock fly anew.

Did Simon Cowell walk off with the value of Fox's "American Idol" franchise in hand last season? Or does the powerhouse show still have life left in it? We'll see what the ratings are like when J. Lo and Steven Tyler try to fill his shoes next year.

With the CW selling packages of TV and online ad inventory, Fox selling time on Hulu to marketers who missed their ratings guarantees on its network and Nielsen working to come up with a plan that measures viewers across TV and web viewing, we're close to a day when the TV is just one screen among many.

Three months before the kickoff of the 2011 gridiron classic, Fox sold the whole thing out -- and at between $2.8 million and $3 million per 30-second spot, to boot. Call it the gift of an improving economy, top ratings for CBS's broadcast of the event this year and sports audiences' desire to watch the game live, without skipping past the ads.

Yes, the channel represents a significant chunk of parent Time Warner's operations, but its "straight down the middle" approach has cost it ratings in the prime-time race against MSNBC and Fox News Channel. Piers Morgan's arrival in 2011 will be telling, since the new "Parker/Spitzer" has yet to prove itself.

We tune in to TV to watch, well, TV shows. But Spike took the opposite tack this year, breaking up brief flashes of "Entourage" with mammoth ad breaks lasting eight to 10 minutes in length. Ad Age's inquiry into the situation got State Farm and others riled up, and Spike did something it should have done all along -- cut its ad breaks down to size.

With only six episodes, AMC's "Walking Dead" could have just been an interesting miniseries, but it instead became a cult phenomenon. Forget vampires and superheroes. We want to watch monsters eating flesh.

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