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Image: Conan O'Brien
Paul Drinkwater  /  AP file
After just a few months on the air, Conan O'Brien left the "Tonight" show with an enormous settlement, rediscovered himself in a cross-country concert-hall road trip, and finally ended up with a new show at TBS.
updated 12/28/2010 9:52:39 AM ET 2010-12-28T14:52:39

What began as a grand, highly promoted experiment in late-night, ended in a fiasco that made NBC a laughing stock and captivated the country.

In January 2010, NBC sought to displace its newly crowned "Tonight Show" host, Conan O'Brien, by restoring Jay Leno to 11:35 p.m. O'Brien, however, didn't go for the 30 minute shift, and the fallout made for one of the most public debacles in network history.

Allegiances were drawn, with many supporting "Team CoCo." In the end, O'Brien left with an enormous settlement, rediscovered himself in a cross-country concert-hall road trip, and finally ended up with a new show at TBS. Leno retook the "Tonight Show."

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The dramatic upheaval of late-night at NBC was chosen as 2010's entertainment story of the year, as voted on by Associated Press members.

There were 102 ballots submitted from U.S. news organizations that make up the AP's membership. The voters were asked to rank the top 10 entertainment stories of the year, with the first-place story getting 10 points, the second-place story receiving nine points, and so on.

The late-night saga received 797 points, almost twice as much as any other story.

Here are 2010's top entertainment stories:

1. NBC late-night erupts
NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker presented NBC's reshuffle plan in the first week of 2010, claiming something had to be done about the ratings for both "The Jay Leno Show" and O'Brien's "Tonight Show." The fallout lasted weeks before O'Brien left with millions in tow and a galvanized fan base. Equally surprising was his final destination — TBS, where his show "Conan" premiered in November.

Video: Laughing off late-night lineup shuffle (on this page)

2. 'Avatar' makes history
For a substantial part of 2010, James Cameron's sci-fi epic "Avatar" was playing to packed movie theaters. It smashed the record set by Cameron's "Titanic" and, by early February, became the highest grossing film of all time, domestically and globally. It took in nearly $750 million domestically, a number further padded by the later release of an extended cut.

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    4. Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
    5. 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom

3. Tablets unleash apps
Before Apple CEO Steve Jobs debuted the iPad in May, there was plenty of skepticism about the potential of tablet computers. But as people began to familiarize themselves with the device, it became clear that it had further unlocked an app universe of games, entertainment and media. Other tablets have since been released, and media companies have increasingly developed apps.

4. Internet, TV move closer
Netflix transformation from a DVD company to a streaming video company came at the same time that devices such as Google TV were pushing the Internet and television closer. By the end of the year, fears were growing that cable customers were beginning to cut the cord and depend on Web access for TV shows.

5. Simon leaves 'Idol'
Simon Cowell made his exit from "American Idol" official in January. He left to focus on his British TV hit "The X Factor," of which an American version is in the works.

Video: Simon says goodbye on ‘Idol’ finale (on this page)

6. Beatles come to iTunes
The most famous of the few remaining holdouts from iTunes, the Beatles, finally caved, signifying the end of a chapter in the digitizing of music. More than 2 million individual songs and 450,000 copies of Beatles albums were sold in the first week.

7. Prince William gets engaged
After years of dating, Prince William proposed to his girlfriend Kate Middleton with his mother's diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring. They'll be wed at Westminster Abbey this spring.

8. Bullock wins Oscar, divorces
Sandra Bullock had a remarkably eventful year, winning a best-actress Oscar, adopting a baby boy and divorcing her husband Jesse James after it was revealed that he cheated on her.

Slideshow: Celebrity scandals of 2010 (on this page)

9. 'Lost' ends
More than 13 million watched the ABC desert island mystery conclude after six seasons of twisted plot lines, alternate realities and stupefying cliffhangers.

10. Larry King quits
Larry King hung up his suspenders, calling it quits after 25 years of "Larry King Live" on CNN. The 77-year-old talk-show host made his last broadcast of the show in December. British talk-show host and "America's Got Talent" judge Piers Morgan takes over the time slot in January.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 2010’s biggest moments in pop culture

  1. Closed captioning of: 2010’s biggest moments in pop culture

    >>> "today" looks back 2010 is brought to you by mercedes bends.

    >>> back now at 8:18. as "today" looks back at 2010 , this morning the year in pop culture , from america's sweetheart betty white to the rise of the glee ks we have got rob chuter, he's with popeater.com. we have got lola who's an entertainment reporter for u.s. magazine. good morning to all of you. so you guys, welcome here. and betty white . it was the year of the whiteout. what happened here?

    >> she owned this year. she absolutely owned it. you couldn't turn around and not see betty on tv whether it was "snl" or doing commercials, it really was her year.

    >> i think the snickers commercial really set her back on the map and she owes a lot of the revival of her career to facebook.

    >> there's a lot of people who would like to be as popular as betty white is now.

    >> she's actually like leave me alone .

    >> she turns 89, i think in january.

    >> that's proof that it ain't over until it's over.

    >> that's right. that's good news for all of us.

    >> she's still working.

    >> she's america's new sweetheart. i don't know what we say about new jersey, or maybe our wildest uncle. what is going on with new jersey in terms of all the shows that have come out of new jersey? it's the entertainment capital of something?

    >> it is. jersey shore took everybody by surprise. it is the highest rated show that mtv has ever had. not just this year, ever. the ratings are getting bigger and bigger on the show.

    >> and it sort of defines pop culture as we're looking at it, it's a bit of a train wreck, it's a bit crazy and it also gives you a glimpse of a culture that no one knew about. this whole big hair , overtanning it took everybody by storm.

    >> and there are other shows too. you get the real housewives of new jersey, jersey-licious. even governor christy has become a sensation.

    >> he was on the sopranos, but he's back on top, it's shocking.

    >> and a lot of good people come from new jersey. not everybody owns that. let's look at the card dakardashians, they don't act, they don't sing. what do they do?

    >> it doesn't matter at this point. people have become obsessed with them they're household names. you have to give them credit for just building this empire.

    >> why on what?

    >> not since j-lo has somebody made so much money for having --

    >> that girl is really it in to win it. she has 45 million twitter followers and she works literally her butt off.

    >> and her whole family has ridden that backside.

    >> she's been in more magazines than anybody, it's remarkal.

    >> people are interested in their bodies, their diets, their love lives, their fashions, they can sort of do no wrong.

    >> i don't expect them to go anywhere. i just read that kim was on the cover of a law magazine. i think it was the biggest selling issue of the year and when she started selling this volume of magazines, everybody's going to keep putting you on.

    >> we're talking about sarah palin , because he she has got this big tv show. it the highest rated show on the learning channel . do you think it's fascinating because of the politics or the entertainment of sarah palin ?

    >> i think it's probably a combination of both. her politics are quite defined, she's very rigid about who she is as a politician. but as a celebrity, she's pretty disciplined about who she is. the gossip at the moment is that tlc is trying to renew sarah palin 's alaska for another season and sarah hasn't yet signed on, but the ratings are so good, no wonder they want to renew it. it's a huge hit.

    >> moving on to someone who may not want to be a big trend in 2011 , maybe because she feels she's been too much of one already. and that's lindsay lohan .

    >> i think she's done irreparable damage to her career, getting in a fight in rehab? i thought she would be able to make a come back. but i'm not so sure anymore. she might end up being our tatum o'neal.

    >> everybody's just waiting to see what happens when she gets out of rehab. next year will be a big year for her as far as how her career goes.

    >> one thing a lot of celebrities do not is this incredible talent. even though the packaging has been somewhat soiled and the market has been a little odd around here, she's really talented. if she makes the right moves, she could come back.

    >> but who's going to take a risk?

    >> it's hard to get insurance on her.

    >> some producers are afraid she just won't show up.

    >> one of the other trends is glee. oh, my goodness.

    >> everybody's dancing to glee and i think it surprised everybody, this musical.

    >> it's a combination of everything.

    >> the moment was so right, as a nation, we just have to smile and tap our shoes and it makes you feel happy.

    >> plus in a world where everybody's voice is auto tuned, people like the idea that these kids have actual talent and they're watching people who are really talented perform.

    >> we used to gather around the water cooler to talk about what happened on lost the night before and now people go and talk about glee and which saongs they sang and which was the best song and it's something people can share.

    >> 13 million people tuned in to see britney spears . i want to get the last two, prince william and kate middle middleton and also sandra bullock is a big one as well. looking forward to 2011 , back after your local news.

Photos: Celebrity scandals of 2010

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  1. Kardashian Kard

    The three Kardashian sisters, Kourtney, Kim and Khloe, were quick to remove their name from a debit card when the card in question was called out by the financial press as having excessive fees. (Mastercard) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Desperate' times

    "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria filed for divorce from NBA star Tony Parker in November after three years of marriage. Media reports said that Parker had exchanged hundreds of text messages with the wife of a former teammate, who is now also divorcing. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Battling personal issues

    Teen actress and singer Demi Lovato left the Jonas Brothers world tour in the fall of 2010 to enter a treatment center for reported emotional and physical issues. (Victor Chavez / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A Hollywood breakup

    Courteney Cox and David Arquette separated in October 2010 after more than 10 years of marriage and one daughter. They still maintain a friendship and business relationship. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lindsay Lohan's woes

    2010 was a troubled year for actress Lindsay Lohan. She was cast as Linda Lovelace in the film "Inferno," but the role was later withdrawn while she was in court-mandated rehab. Lohan was criticized for wearing the obscene statement "F*** U" on her fingernails while in court but claimed it was not a message aimed at the judge. She served a 14-day jail term for violating probation, then after the rehab stint, failed a drug test. She later returned to rehab and is awaiting the next move in her court saga. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paris Hilton

    Paris Hilton is seen with her attorney, David Chesnoff, in court in September 2010. The hotel heiress had a number of run-ins with the law in 2010. She was caught with marijuana at an airport in Corsica in July. In August, she was arrested for cocaine possession and tried to claim the purse the drugs were in did not belong to her, later admitting she lied. She was put on probation and was refused entrance to Japan because of the drug crime. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lady Gaga's meat dress

    Singer Lady Gaga always draws attention for her outrageous outfits, but none were more controversial than this dress, made out of real meat. Gaga wore the dress (and shoe wraps, and headpiece) to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 12, 2010. Animal-rights organization PETA was, naturally, furious. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Snooki

    Nicole Polizzi, better known as "Snooki" from the MTV show "Jersey Shore," went to court on a disturbing the peace charge for bothering others at a beach. She pled guilty and was sentenced to a fine and community service. The judge in the case called her "a Lindsay Lohan wannabe." (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Any parties left to crash?

    Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C." launched in the summer of 2010. From left, the cast includes Catherine Ommanney, Stacie Scott Turner, Mary Schmidt Amons, Lynda Erkiletian and Michaele Salahi. But Salahi, who with her husband crashed a White House state dinner in the fall of 2009, is by far the most controversial. Even before the show premiered, the other women were griping about all the attention paid to Salahi. (Bravo) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston

    Although Levi Johnston said some nasty things about Sarah Palin, he and the former Alaska governor's daughter, Bristol, anounced their engagement to be married exclusively in UsWeekly in July 2010. The engagement was short-lived and was called off weeks later after Johnston reportedly told Palin that he may have fathered a baby with another girl. Palin and Johnston's son, Tripp, was born late in 2008. Bristol Palin then joined the cast of "Dancing With the Stars" while Johnston announced he would be running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and would be filmed for a reality show. Palin got all the way to third place on "Dancing," causing many viewers to claim fans of her mother were stuffing the ballot box for political reasons. (Us Weekly) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Voting scandal

    After her called-off engagement, Bristol Palin appeared on "Dancing With the Stars," where she and partner Mark Ballas placed third. Fans of the show went so far as to complain to the FCC, saying that political supporters of Palin's mother unfairly stuffed the ballot box for Bristol. (ABC viia AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Stamos in court

    Two people were convicted of conspiracy and extortion in a July 2010 case involving actor John Stamos. The couple allegedly tried to blackmail Stamos by saying they had photos of him with cocaine and strippers and would sell the photos to the tabloids if he didn't pay up. Stamos says the photos never existed. (Danielle Lehto / The Mining Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Horrible breakup

    Actor Mel Gibson left his wife for Oksana Grigorieva, who gave birth to their daughter in 2009. Now the couple has split, and ugly recordings have emerged of what appears to be Gibson ranting and cursing his ex-girlfriend. He uses racial and sexist slurs, as well as violent threats. (Juan Medina / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Trouble for Jones

    Actor Jeffrey Jones, who played dean of students Ed Rooney in 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," was arrested in June 2010 for failing to register as a sex offender in Los Angeles. Jones' sex offender registration is required because he was convicted in 2003 of taking nude photos of a 14-year-old boy. He pled guilty and was sentence to community service and probation. (Chris Weeks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Tonight's' not the night for Conan

    Conan O'Brien hosted "The Tonight Show" on NBC for just seven months. The network had moved former "Tonight" host Jay Leno to an earlier time slot and when ratings were poor, decided to put Leno back behind the "Tonight" desk. O'Brien's final "Tonight Show" aired Jan. 22, 2010, and he later announced a deal with TBS. Fan support fell heavily on O'Brien's side. He reportedly earned $45 million in his exit deal, with $12 million designated for his staff, who moved from New York to Los Angeles specifically to work on the show. His new show, "Conan," began airing in the fall of 2010. (Paul Drinkwater / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Can Tiger change his stripes?

    Golfer Tiger Woods is seen on Feb. 19, 2010, making his much-covered public apology after his reported infidelities were revealed. Woods' scandal began on Thanksgiving night, 2009, when he was in a one-car accident at his Florida home and refused to speak about the reasons for his crash. He took a 20-week break from golf and returned to the sport in the 2010 Masters on April 8, 2010. He and wife Elin Nordegren divorced in August. (Joe Skipper / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Blindsided

    Sandra Bullock and husband Jesse James looked happy enough on March 7, 2010, when Bullock won the best actress Oscar for her role in "The Blind Side." But it was later revealed that James allegedly had cheated on Bullock with tattoo model Michelle "Bombshell" McGee (inset photo), even while Bullock and James were in the process of adopting a baby boy. Their divorce was finalized in June 2010, and Bullock continued the adoption of her son, Louis, without James. (AP, Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Playboy interview backfires

    Singer John Mayer, seen performing in New York on Dec. 11, 2009, found himself in the headlines in February 2010 after he gave an interview to Playboy in which he used a racial slur and compared his penis to white supremacist David Duke. Mayer tearfully apologized later. In September, Mayer shut down his Twitter account, which he had used to defend some of his actions and statements. The account had 3.7 million followers. (Jason Szenes / EPA file) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Kate's last dance

    Kate Gosselin was a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" spring 2010 season. The mom of eight didn't prove to be a natural dancer, but she also didn't do herself any favors by snapping at professional dance partner Tony Dovolani in taped footage shown on the show. (Adam Larkey / ABC via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. An early exit

    Corey Haim, seen here in a scene from "Crank: High Voltage," was a 1980s teen heartthrob thanks to his roles in "Lucas" and "The Lost Boys." His career was blighted by drug abuse, but his death on March 10, 2010, at age 38, was ruled due to pneumonia and other causes, not drugs. (Lions Gate Entertainment via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Family woes

    Charlie Sheen arrives at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen, Colo., on March 15, 2010. Sheen was arrested on Christmas Day 2009 after his wife, Brooke Mueller, called 911 and said he threatened her with a knife. Later in the year, in October, police were called to the Plaza Hotel in New York, where Sheen had damaged a room. An escort, Capri Anderson, was locked in the bathroom and some reports said Sheen had accused her of stealing his watch. Days later, Sheen filed for divorce from Mueller. (Rick Giase / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A childhood secret

    Actress Mo'Nique won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as a sexually and physically abusive mother in "Precious." The actress' brother later admitted that when Mo'Nique was between the ages of 7 and 15, he sexually abused her. The two are no longer in contact, and Mo'Nique was reportedly unhappy about his decision to talk about the abuse on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on April 19, 2010. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Sins of the son

    Michael Douglas and his ex-wife, Diandra, are seen leaving court in New York on April 20, 2010, after their son, Cameron, 31, was sentenced to 5 years for possession of methamphetamines with the intent to distribute. Michael Douglas took some of the blame for his son's actions, saying he was more focused on his acting career than on his family when Cameron was young. Michael Douglas was later diagnosed with advanced throat cancer. () Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Bieber Fever boils over

    Teenage singing sensation Justin Bieber has seemingly taken the music world by storm, but not without incident. These fans were showing their support for the singer before a planned outdoor concert in Sydney, Australia, on April 26, 2010. But the show was canceled after 5,000 people camped out waiting for the performance and several fans were crushed by crowds and had to be hospitalized. (Graham Denholm / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Behind closed doors

    Former porn star Jenna Jameson and former Ultimate Fighting Champion Tito Ortiz made headlines in April 2010 when Ortiz was arrested for domestic violence against Jameson, the mother of his year-old twin sons. After the incident, both parties recanted the abuse allegations. . (Getty Images, AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. King of divorce?

    Talk-show host Larry King and his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick, filed for divorce in April 2010, but reunited and called it off in May. This would have been the 76-year-old King's eighth divorce, as he married and divorced one woman twice. (Ethan Miller / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Yes, I cheated

    "Bones" star David Boreanaz announced May 4 that he had been unfaithful to his wife, Jaime Bergman. Alleged Tiger Woods mistress Rachel Uchitel says she had an affair with Boreanaz, that he was the one who pursued her, and that she has a video he made in which he professes his love for her. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Plastic is fantastic

    Heidi Montag is just 23, but "The Hills" star told People magazine that she had 10 plastic surgery procedures done in one day and called herself "obsessed" with cosmetic surgery. She has said she wants to enlarge her breasts even further, from an F-cup to an H-cup. Montag and husband Spencer Pratt have also been in the news for other reasons, including a May 2010 report of Pratt calling Montag's mother "just a vagina," and charges that Pratt is keeping Montag almost as a prisoner in an unkempt home. In July 2010, she reportedly filed for divorce after 15 months of marriage, only to call it off in September. () Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Trouble for L.T.

    Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who has appeared on "Dancing With the Stars," appears in Ramapo Town Court in Suffern, N.Y., on May 6, 2010. Taylor was arraigned on rape and prostitution charges in an assault on a 16-year-old runaway who police said was brought to his suburban New York hotel room against her will. His lawyer has said "Lawrence Taylor did not rape anybody." (Seth Harrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Keeping the beat behind bars

    Rapper Lil Wayne served eight months in jail after pleading guilty to a gun charge. He got in trouble with jail officials on May 13, 2010, after they found a charger and headphones for a digital music player hidden in a potato-chip bag in his cell, but was still released four months early. (Louis Lanzano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Troubled couple

    Actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi Quaid have been in and out of court in 2010. First came charges that they defrauded a California inn out of more than $10,000. In September, the pair were charged with illegally living in a California home they once owned. They were released on bail and later sought protection in Canada. They have made numerous paranoid-sounding statements, including that "star-whackers" are after them and that Heath Ledger and David Carradine were also murdered by this same supposed conspiracy. (Steve Malone / Santa Barbara News-Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. The rules apply to everyone except me

    Actor Josh Duhamel was kicked off a flight in December 2010 for refusing to turn off his BlackBerry before takeoff. The actor reportedly laughed at the flight attendant who asked, and eventually an entire planeload of travelers was delayed as the aircraft had to turn around on the runway to return to the terminal so Duhamel could be removed. He later apologized, saying "lesson learned." (Ray Tamarra / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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