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An ‘insane’ year in television comes to a close

Channel 4 senior correspondent Rich Newberg retired, Channel 2 weather anchor Kevin O’Connell announced he plans to retire and Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret decided to delay his retirement.

They were joined nationally by the retirements of David Letterman, Bob Schieffer and Jon Stewart.

The retirements – which illustrated that change is in the air – were some of the big local and national TV stories in 2015.

All in all, it was a pretty insane year in television.

At least that was the word used by FX executive John Landgraf after he told the nation’s television critics a year ago that there were 353 scripted original series on television and that 180 were on cable, double what there was five years ago.

“The amount of competition is just literally insane,” said Landgraf.

Please remember this statistic the next time you ask me why your favorite series didn’t make my favorite TV series list. There’s a good chance I haven’t seen it.

In this review of the 2015 TV year, I mention only the smart, funny and insane moments I have seen. You can decide which is which. Let’s go to the videotape.

Reality Show of the Year: Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And just think it was only a year ago that The Donald told the nation’s television critics in Pasadena, Calif., that he was never going to run for governor of New York State despite what Western New York politicians might have thought. “I said right from the beginning, no,” claimed Trumpy. He added that he was considering a run for the presidency, which at the time was about as believable as the chances he would be the Republican front-runner.

Non-Sports Documentaries of the Year: North Buffalo native John Maggio was the creative force behind “The Italians,” a series that should be watched again now that political candidates are bashing immigrants. WNED-TV also aired a poignant special about Irish immigrants, “Buffalo’s First Ward.”

Trading Places: Channel 7’s Jeff Russo switched from anchoring sports to anchoring news. He now appears in position to be Keith Radford’s replacement when Radford retires.

Love, Hate Relationship: Western New Yorkers had to love the “30 for 30” documentary “Four Falls of Buffalo,” about the Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls and lost. Equally impressive was the “30 for 30” “I Hate Christian Laettner,” about the former Nichols and Duke star.

Paging Mike Wallace: Channel 2’s Danny Spewak wasn’t as confrontational as Wallace, but he was just as effective in revealing how little Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak knew about state guidelines regarding gender identity policy after addressing the issue following a Lancaster School Board meeting. As Channel 2’s cameras rolled, Wozniak walked away from the interview in silence after showing that she knew much less about the issue than the reporter. A classic interview.

Costumes of the Year: Garth Brooks was greeted by fans dressed in cowgirl hats and cowgirl boots and repeatedly told how wonderful he is at First Niagara Center. And that was by Channel 4’s Nalina Shapiro and Channel 7’s Katie Morse before his concert. It looked unprofessional to say the least.

Good Night and Good Luck: Channel 7 anchor Joanna Pasceri left after 22 years at the station and Channel 7 morning anchor Laura Gray left about a year after her return there. Channel 4’s Lou Raguse left for a job in Minneapolis along with his wife, Channel 4 reporter Emily Guggenmos. Channel 7 reporter Jason Gruenauer went to Denver, a Top 20 market. Kendra Eaglin also left Channel 7.

Praise, No Jokes: The list of promising young local TV anchors and reporters include Shapiro, Morse, Spewak, Brittni Smallwood, Jonah Javad, Dave Greber, Hannah Buehler, Erica Brecher, Joe Buscaglia, Matt Bove, Ed Drantch and Andrew Baglini. I would suspect Javad will be the first one to leave for a bigger market.

Jeff Glor Hits a “Home” Run: The CBS newsman returned to his hometown area to do a flattering story about Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula for Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports.” It was highlighted by Glor reading a letter from Kim’s adopted father from Rochester in which he remarked about how she went from being an orphan in Korea to one of the most powerful women in sports. Kim wasn’t the only one crying.

Cheers, No Boos: Channel 2 reporter Pete Gallivan did the best job asking former District Attorney Frank Sedita the right questions about the end of the Patrick Kane rape investigation that dominated local TV. How much did it dominate? On the night that Pope Francis came to America, the Kane case led local newscasts. On another night, Channel 4 broke into a Thursday Night Football game to show a few minutes of a news conference by Thomas Eoannou, the initial lawyer for Kane’s accuser. And Sedita held a daytime news conference that foreshadowed the decision not to prosecute.

The NFL’s Christmas Gift: The NFL decided to have a one-year experiment ending blackouts of NFL games. Since the Bills practically sold the season out, it didn’t have much impact here.

Rest in Peace: Van Miller, the legendary Buffalo Bills play-by-play man and Channel 4 sports director, died. However, his voice lived on in “Four Falls,” which ended with Miller’s fantasy call of the Bills winning a Super Bowl. Radio legend Ray Marks, who mentored many local reporters, also died.

Surprise Comedian of the Year: University at Buffalo graduate Gary Vider made it all the way to the finals of “America’s Got Talent.”

Sports Upgrade: Channel 4 replaced sportscaster Steve Vesey and Lauren Brill with Josh Reed and Tom Martin. It was a big improvement. Vesey landed as a news anchor in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and Brill landed a job in Cleveland, a bigger market than Buffalo.

Sports Downgrade: Channel 4 dropped its regular 6 p.m. newscast, though it carries sports stories on the Bills and Sabres early in those newscasts.

The School of Fontana: SUNY Buffalo State graduate Kyle Bradstreet, a disciple of Tom Fontana, was a writer on one of cable’s top new series, “Mr. Robot.”

Paging Steve Harvey: They weren’t quite as embarrassing as naming the wrong Miss Universe, but there were a few notable live fumbles here. Channel 7 reporter Ed Drantch called the escape by prisoners David P. Sweat and Richard Matt “courageous” before catching himself. Channel 4’s Nalina Shapiro said jazz great Louis Armstrong walked on the moon instead of Neil Armstrong and quickly blamed the script. Channel 4’s Teresa Weakley suggested a cat that survived being buried should have been buried deeper and later apologized and said she was distracted when she misspoke.

Police Report: A few months after being named Kevin O’Connell’s heir apparent, Channel 2 meteorologist Patrick Hammer was arrested on a DWI charge and was taken off the air without pay. He still hasn’t returned, though he hasn’t been fired.

Channel 4 in the Dark: During the prison escape story, Channel 4 anchor Callan Gray asked reporter Jenn Schanz what she is seeing in a car ride on the way to the prison near Malone, N.Y. “We’re not seeing a lot,” said Schanz. “We’re seeing a lot of dark road.”

You Can’t Make This Up: “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams was suspended for making things up, but returned several months later to anchor on MSNBC.

Double Coverage: Channel 4 meteorologist Don Paul and his heir apparent Todd Santos do weather reports on the same newscast because Western New Yorkers never can have enough weather reports here.

Best Farewell Line: In Letterman’s finale, former “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus cracked during the final Top 10 list: “Thanks for letting me be a part of another hugely disappointing series finale.” Letterman’s and Stewart’s finales were outstanding.

Social Media Casualty: Airborne Eddy Dobosiewicz was dropped by both Channel 7 and WBBZ for sending out a racist tweet. His apology couldn’t save him.

Series Finales of the Year: The end of two of my favorite programs, “Mad Men” and “Parenthood,” couldn’t have been handled any better. New shows that deserve praise include broadcast series “Empire,” Blindspot,” “Quantico” and “Limitless,” cable’s “Fargo” and Netflix’s “Master of None.”

A Real Trooper: New York State Trooper Kelly Remington of Grand Island lasted for several weeks on “Survivor.”

That’s a Lot of Tacos: Lloyd Taco won a $250,000 investment on a CNBC reality show and later turned the money down and took out a loan to build its own restaurants here. Who knew that reality shows are fake and that their deals are so easy to break?

The Bills Make History: Despite their disappointing season, the Bills had record ratings this season. And they also were part of the first game streamed nationally and internationally – the loss to Jacksonville in London.

Sign the Apocalypse is Upon Us: All of the Republican debates were huge ratings winners. One outdrew the final of “America’s Got Talent” in Buffalo.

Happy Return: Channel 2’s Scott Brown returned to the air after months off dealing with a medical issue.

Inventions of the Year: Channel 2 sent O’Connell and its other meteorologists outside for “Rooftop Weather,” which seemed to be tough to top as a gimmick. But Channel 7’s “Ice Desk” had Radford and Pasceri anchoring the news while they froze outside. As I said, it has been an insane year.