December 31, 2013 12:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
Best of 2013: The Top 10 TV Stories of the Year That Was
Glee bid farewell to one of its best and brightest stars, AMC sent Breaking Bad off on a high note and Syfy created a pop culture phenomenon. Those were among the 10 biggest television stories of 2013. Check out The Hollywood Reporter's review of the small-screen stories that had the town talking.
1. Glee's Cory Monteith dies at age 31. The actor, who played lovable quarterback Finn Hudson and proved to be the emotional anchor of the Fox musical, was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room July 13. An autopsy revealed that the singer-actor died of a mixed drug cocktail involving "intravenous heroin use combined with the ingestion of alcohol." Production on Glee's fifth season was delayed, and the series used the third episode of the season -- titled "The Quarterback" -- to say farewell to its friend and co-star. The episode, which did not (and the show likely won't) reveal just how Finn died, was well-reviewed and earned the show its best ratings in a year. Meanwhile, showrunners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (who directed the Monteith tribute episode) said the character's death "resonates throughout the year." Eagle-eyed viewers will continue to spot the memorial on the wall in New Directions' choir room.
2. AMC's Breaking Bad says farewell with a record-breaking final run. The drama from Vince Gilligan went out on top creatively and with more than 10 million viewers, outranked only by The Walking Dead as AMC's most-watched original broadcast to date. Thanks in part to strong word-of-mouth and a streaming deal with Netflix, all four of the final episodes of the Bryan Cranston-starrer set new records as THR chief TV critic Tim Goodman called the series one of television's greatest dramas, ranking it at No. 2 on his list of the top five dramas of all time. Meanwhile, Gilligan and AMC are prepping spinoff series Better Call Saul, with a Netflix deal firmly in place.
3. Netflix emerges as an original programming threat -- and more. With awards season original scripted fare including House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange Is the New Black, the streaming service has proven to be a formidable force for broadcast and cable networks alike. The streaming service nabbed 14 Emmy nominations, including best drama for Cards; Netflix took home just one of the major awards (David Fincher for directing Cards). Meanwhile, the Kevin Spacey political drama tied with HBO's Behind the Candelabra for four Golden Globe nominations, while Arrested Development picked up two SAG Award noms in the comedy categories. Beyond the critical raves and awards season buzz, the streaming service also helped propel shows, including Breaking Bad and Scandal, to new highs as viewers were able to binge watch ahead of the new original seasons. Looking ahead, Netflix already has inked a deal with AMC to stream Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul -- which is in the early stages of development -- shortly after its broadcast stateside, and is prepping four original Marvel scripted series as well as a mini.
4. NBC sings with The Sound of Music. Produced for close to $9 million, NBC captivated the country with its long-in-the-works live production of The Sound of Music. While Carrie Underwood generated as many groans for her acting chops as Broadway veteran Audra McDonald did cheers for her stellar performance, the three-hour live showing clicked, drawing a whopping 18.5 million viewers, and tied with The Big Bang Theory in the demo with a 4.8 rating among adults 18-49, a success no matter what the reviews said. Meanwhile, NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt is already mulling what the network's next live performance will be, as NBC looks to boost its bottom line with returns from CD, DVD and international sales. If only NBC's other live experiment had been half as successful.
5. Mike Darnell exits Fox's top reality post. Darnell, now at Warner Bros. TV, was among three of the Big Four's top unscripted executives to exit their post since May. Joining him out the door were CBS' Jennifer Bresnan and ABC's John Saade. Their departures represent a telling sign of the softening state of the network reality TV business, which in 2014 saw American Idol, Dancing With the Stars and The X Factor all down year over year. Outside of NBC's The Voice, which returned September with a 5.1 rating among adults 18-49 and took home its first Emmy for outstanding reality series, the networks have failed to generate a new unscripted hit in years, despite big spending and heavy promotion.
6. The Bible opens the door for more religion-themed series and the event series is reborn. Following its massive ratings haul for History, broadcast and cable networks alike have looked to miniseries to draw eyeballs, top talent and awards cache in a bid to bring live viewers (read: DVR proof). NBC picked up A.D., Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's The Bible follow-up, and the married couple also has siege of Masada mini The Dovekeepers in the works with CBS. Not to be outdone, History is revisiting one of the most successful minis of all time with Roots, and networks from Discovery to FX and HBO are all readying other high-profile minis.
7. The Walking Dead leads cable's charge. The zombie drama based on Robert Kirkman's comic series continued to soar to new heights in its fourth season (under its third showrunner Scott M. Gimple), frequently topping NBC's Sunday Night Football in head-to-head competition in the adults 18-49 demo. The first eight episodes, which concluded in December with even more shocking deaths, averaged a whopping 13 million total viewers, with 8.4 million in the demo -- the highest-rated series in cable and the top TV show in the demo. Over on the unscripted side, A&E's Duck Dynasty ranked as the biggest reality show on cable, with Phil Robertson poised to return despite controversial remarks about gays and African Americans. Meanwhile, former showrunner Frank Darabont -- who developed The Walking Dead for TV -- filed suit against AMC over profits from the zombie drama.
8. ABC's Scandal skyrockets. The political thriller from Grey's Anatomy's Shonda Rhimes started its second run in 2012 as a British-style limited series and quickly was expanded from 13 to 22 episodes. While the fast-paced Kerry Washington-starrer saw both critical praise and ratings gains, the last nine episodes delivered Scott Foley and a storyline that proved so captivating that it became part of must-tweet TV, capturing scores of new viewers including Oprah Winfrey, Lena Dunham and more. Season three saw the series -- which earned Washington an Emmy nomination and Dan Bucatinsky a win for guest actor in a drama -- regularly top lead-in Grey's Anatomy in the all-important 18-49 demographic and total viewers. And the fast-paced fixer drama shows no signs of letting up, scoring a SAG Award and Golden Globe nom for Washington and landing on several critics' best TV shows of '13 lists.
9. Dan Harmon proves you can go home again and returns to NBC's Community. A year after he criticized NBC and producer Sony Pictures Television, Harmon was rehired to run the fifth season of the low-rated critical darling. The news came after Harmon's turbulent history with the series, which included an unflattering voicemail from former co-star Chevy Chase, calling NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt "Darth Vader" and noting his Sony bosses were "not human." It marked a rare second chance for the voice many critics deemed irreplaceable.
10. Syfy takes a bite out of pop culture with Sharknado. The low-budget TV movie starring Tara Reid and Ian Ziering became a social-media phenomenon in early July when everyone from Damon Lindelof to Mia Farrow took to Twitter to live-tweet the insanity that comes when a tornado of sharks nearly destroys Los Angeles. With 1.4 million tuning in and the campy pic dominating water-cooler conversations, Syfy quickly announced an encore broadcast (2.1 million viewers), a New York-set sequel, big-screen showings and merchandising.
What are your top TV stories of 2013? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.