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AS THE TUBE TURNS: THE YEAR'S HIGHLIGHTS, GOOD AND BAD

In the last month of 1997, two significant things changed the landscape of television in Western New York. No, I'm not talking about the Why Guy's appeal for a raise at Channel 4.

The two things are: 1) a November ratings book that documented huge audience declines from the Big Three network affiliates, and 2) the introduction of digital cable, which gives consumers here even more options.

Television won't be the same in 1998.

But 1997 was a year of more of the same.

Too many sitcoms, too much crime on the news, too much cable talk about unusual cases that exaggerated their importance.

Speaking of hyperbole, it's time for the annual Pergy Awards, which document the highs, lows and unusual happenings of the last season. Here we go . . .

May She Rest in Peace: Princess Diana's funeral wasn't the end of TV's exploitation of her. It will continue for decades. Ask Elvis, if you find him.

Doctors, No: NBC's much-ballyhooed live episode of "ER" was about as enjoyable as a GI (gastrointestinal, if you don't watch hospital shows) TV series.

Biggest Debate: Is "Seinfeld" losing it? The series started the season slowly, but Jerry Seinfeld explained that always happened, and "yada, yada, yada," things slowly started to improve.

Murphy Brown Vice President Achievement Award: To "Ellen" and star Ellen DeGeneres, who's fortunate that Al Gore is now the vice president instead of Dan Quayle. Gore publicly supported DeGeneres' weekly gay-theme message.

Much Ado About Nothing: Take your pick -- the debate over a TV ratings system and the new rules for children's television.

Quote of the Year: "A larger force, and I call it destiny, brought me in the door, moved my mouth and took the robe off and did it. The next thing I know, I'm looking at these incredibly airbrushed pictures of myself going, 'Oh, my God.' -- Jenny McCarthy, explaining how she became a Playboy bunny.

Research Question of the Year: Channel 4's Bill Vargas apparently came off so poorly in a research report that the station let him go. No problem. He'd rather be in Philadelphia, which is where he and his wife, Sue Serio, landed.

In 40 Years, He'll Look as Old as Van Miller: Dennis Williams, who looks young enough to star in the next "Home Alone" flick, was given Vargas' job and is Miller's heir apparent if Van ever retires.

Worst Bit of Cloning: "The Tony Danza Show" -- which was just canceled -- found our hero playing a single dad, just as he had in his last two series.

Hair-raising TV: Marv Albert's kinky sex case dominated the national cable channels and made you wonder about the value of the cable revolution.

An Offer Viewers Can't Refuse: CBS won audiences over with a decent mob miniseries, "The Last Don," and a laughable one, "Bella Mafia," that has inspired executives to consider a weekly mob series.

Dumbest Network Moves: NBC lumped four mediocre-to-poor sitcoms in a Ladies Night of programming Monday that viewers ignored.

Second-Dumbest Move: "3rd Rock From the Sun" is sinking like a rock after being moved from Sundays to Wednesdays.

Entertainer of the Year: Chris Rock, who wowed audiences on HBO, MTV and the Emmy Awards show and made you wonder why he didn't make as big an impact on "Saturday Night Live."

Thanks for the Release, Emma: In case critics didn't realize Emma Thompson was only playing a gay character on "Ellen," a Disney publicist sent along a release in which Thompson is quoted as saying she is heterosexual.

Educators of the Year: Montel Williams and (no relation) Nushawn Williams. The talk show host bused a group of Chautauqua County residents to his show after Nushawn Williams was accused of infecting several people with HIV.

Honorable Mention: NBC, which followed "Gulliver's Travels" with a watchable telling of "The Odyssey" even if the IQ was brought down.

Monstrosity of the Year: NBC's modern take on "Frankenstein" scared millions of viewers away.

He Inspired a Network -- and Maybe a Story Line: Brandon Tartikoff, the former president of NBC Entertainment who was a favorite of critics, died of Hodgkin's disease. That's the illness that Charley (Matthew Fox) is battling on "Party of Five."

New Faces of the Year: "Ally McBeal" creator David E. Kelley was baffled when critics suggested that star Calista Flockhart looks like his wife, Michelle Pfeiffer. But she has been embraced by the nation, along with Jenna Elfman of "Dharma & Greg."

Sign that Marv Albert Will be Forgiven: TNT's compelling miniseries "George Wallace," which forgave the former Alabama governor for his racism.

Soap Opera of the Year: Frank Gifford's philandering was the latest trial that Kathie Lee Gifford has had to endure. A trouper, she went through with her Christmas special and even allowed the Giffer to walk on at show's end. It was a painful sight.

The V-Chip Cable Twins: HBO's "Oz" and Comedy Central's "South Park" are certainly nothing like anything you've ever seen on broadcast television.

Perhaps It Should Move to Cable: The Miss America Pageant sparked puritanical controversy when it decided to allow contestants to wear two-piece suits if they wanted.

Apology of the Year: No, not Latrell Sprewell. Danny Aiello of "Dellaventura" apologized for several things, including having some old tattoos. "This one here, in case I get amnesia, that's 'Danny,' " he said as he pulled up his sleeve during an interview.

That's What Friends Are For: Channel 2 fired Mike DeGeorge, who gave a tape of a player interview to his best friend in Philadelphia, Gary Papa, who is a sports anchor for an affiliate there. The NBC affiliate in Philadelphia protested that DeGeorge was helping a competitor, which led to his ouster. DeGeorge landed on his feet at Empire.

An Eye for an Eye: Channel 7 Eye-team reporter Steve Brown resigned two days after the station ran a clarification about a story. Channel 7 said it had stated incorrectly that Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur Eve endorsed Mayor Masiello in the Democratic primary and that candidate James Pitts was referring to Eve in his primary night comments about "Uncle Toms" who didn't help his campaign. The station added that Pitts later told Channel 7 he wasn't referring to Eve.

Scene of the Year: The explosive first 10 minutes of "Brooklyn South" were as good as television gets.

You Can't Go Home Again: Cinemax carried a documentary, "Wonderland," that made fun of my wonderful Long Island hometown. Worse, it won a cable award.

Strange Timing: Channel 7 changed its anchor teams before the ratings were announced. It remains No. 1.

Verdicts of the Year: In the high-tech '90s, the verdicts in the O.J. Simpson civil case and the Timothy McVeigh trial had to be relayed through hand signals and cards because the trials weren't televised.

"1984" Award: Channel 7's Linda Pellegrino's audition for a job in Dallas was discovered when the station there put her appearance on the Internet.

Flop of the Year: ABC wasted a bundle on a sitcom starring Arsenio Hall that was only slightly better than Tony Danza's show.

Farewell of the Year: Bills quarterback Jim Kelly had a poignant retirement show in which he concluded that it was time to go. Now that he's reportedly considering a comeback, Perhaps he should look at the tape again to remind himself why he retired.

Must-See TV: For apparent political reasons, Channel 7 declined to carry a tape of an accident scene that ended in an altercation between police and a Channel 2 cameramen that resulted in an arrest.

Runaway Scenes: Channel 49, the family-friendly station, made a mistake and carried an unedited, profanity-laced movie, "Runaway Train," on a Saturday afternoon.

The Jerry Maguire Show Me the Money Award: Passed on from the cast of "Friends" to the cast of "Seinfeld" this year and to the cast of "ER" next season.

The Special Stuff: "Nothing Sacred," "Cracker," "Cinderella," the puppy episode of "Ellen," "Homicide," "King of the Hill," "The X-Files," "Law and Order," "NYPD Blue," "Frasier," "Seinfeld," "Meet the Press," "Sportscenter," "The Larry Sanders Show," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "The Simpsons," "Ally McBeal," "The Practice," "Party of Five," "Miss Evers' Boys."