- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

The top entertainment stories of 2008, as voted by U.S. newspaper and broadcast editors surveyed by the Associated Press.

1. Heath Ledger dies: When the Australian actor was found dead Jan. 22 at age 28, shock and confusion over the circumstances of his death followed. The autopsy concluded Mr. Ledger’s death was accidental, the result of a toxic combination of prescription drugs. The Oscar nominee’s legacy continued, though, in a roundly acclaimed performance as the Joker in the year’s biggest box office hit, “The Dark Knight.”

2. Writers strike ends: The Writers Guild of America took to the picket lines Nov. 5 last year. The strike played havoc on the industry, from award shows to network TV schedules, and didn’t conclude until Feb. 12. When an agreement finally was reached, the Academy Awards were saved and scripted television slowly returned to the airwaves.

3. Boffo box office for ‘The Dark Knight’: As the release of Christopher Nolan’s second Batman installment neared, anticipation over Mr. Ledger’s performance mounted. The film went on to gross $528 million domestically, second all-time only to 1997’s “Titanic.” Unlike most blockbusters, it also appeared on many critics’ top 10 lists.

4. Political comedy shines: The long presidential campaign was highlighted by late-night hosts (David Letterman chastising John McCain for missing his scheduled guest appearance), satire veterans (Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression on “Saturday Night Live”) and new media sensations (“Obama Girl”). “SNL,” “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” all charted their best ratings.

5. Britney Spears’ downward spiral: By year’s end, Miss Spears had rebounded with a new album and successful TV appearances, although 2008 started at a low point for her. After a custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, the pop princess was hospitalized and held for psychiatric evaluation. The chaos eventually subsided, and in November, she released the aptly titled album “Circus.”

6. Paul Newman dies: Mr. Newman, one of the most beloved actors of the 20th century, died Sept. 26 at age 83 after a fight with lung cancer at his longtime home in Westport, Conn. In the days after, tributes were paid to the charismatic actor in his various worlds: theater, movies, auto racing and philanthropy.

7. TV networks embrace the Web: Online video turned pro in 2008. Networks increasingly embraced the Web, making many of their most popular shows available to stream online. News Corp. and NBC Universal banded together to create Hulu.com, while ABC and CBS continued to beef up their sites.

8. George Carlin dies: Posthumously honored last month with the Kennedy Center’s annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the truth-telling comedian - widely considered one of the greatest ever - died June 22 at 71. “He was more than just a comic,” said fellow funnyman Paul Rodriguez. “His routines became part of the American lexicon.”

9. Tim Russert dies: Reaction to the unexpected June 13 death of Tim Russert at 58 was widespread and felt throughout Washington by Republicans and Democrats. Tom Brokaw delivered the news live on NBC and later temporarily took Mr. Russert’s spot on “Meet the Press.” David Gregory recently became the full-time moderator for the show, the longest-running on TV.

10. Jennifer Hudson’s family tragedy: Days after the release of her film “The Secret Life of Bees” and her first album, tragedy befell the family of the Oscar-winning (“Dreamgirls”) “American Idol” finalist. Her mother, brother and nephew were killed in a shooting at their Chicago home. Police have charged William Balfour, the estranged husband of Miss Hudson’s sister Julia, with the murders.

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