Even before the writers' strike split this TV season, some of TV's biggest shows were trying things that risked angering loyal fans. Programs brought on new characters, cast off old ones, dabbled in the world of time travel and relied on the ever-popular love triangle in an effort to keep things interesting.
The results came off a little choppy, on the whole, and the strike didn't help matters. Once the shows returned, their writers were forced to quickly wrap up the loose ends that they'd created. Some risks worked, some didn't.'Grey's Anatomy'It seems like forever ago that George and Izzie kissed drunkenly for the first time on but that third-season cliffhanger returned with a vengeance this year. "Gizzie" became an item, before, during and after George's divorce from Callie, and to call the relationship a failed experiment would be the understatement of the year.
The good news is that the writers appeared to have realized the mistake and eventually broke George and Izzie up. What remains to be seen is whether the fix is enough. Since the breakup, there's been a clear and concerted effort to pull George and Izzie back to where fans once loved them.
Since the loss of her late fiance, Denny, Izzie has lost her sense of what it means to be a compassionate and caring doctor. But she's pulling back on track — in the season finale, Bailey even put her in charge of the clinic named in Denny's honor.
George, once the shaggy-haired go-getter, started falling off the rails when his father died. Viewers watched him turn slowly into a relationship disaster, wedding Callie impulsively and then cheating on her even while she was planning children with him. Lately, though, he's worked on living more positively and working twice as hard at the hospital to impress the chief. The haircut is still a little too neat, but the new old George, racing around the hospital just wanting to be noticed, is a welcome return.
With George and Izzie moving on and Meredith and Derek apparently back together and happy, "Grey's" is back on track.'Lost'
The third-season finale was a transformational moment for ending with the revelation that Jack and Kate, at least, appeared to have safely left the island. That big twist left fans wondering which course the show would taken when it returned. The question was answered in the fourth season, as fans learned that a half-dozen survivors, dubbed "the Oceanic Six," made it back home.
Instead of continuing to flash back, the show started flashing forward, into those characters' off-island futures. The result was the most suspenseful and eye-opening season of the show since its premiere run.
Since "Lost" is already planned for seven seasons, this year served as a perfect midpoint. The flash-forwards make current life on the island even more meaningful as viewers pick up hints that not every character (beloved daddy-to-be Jin, for one) will have a happy ending.
With a focused end in mind, this season will prove to have been a critical launching pad for the remainder of one of the most innovative series TV has seen.
'House'Entering its fourth season, at the peak of its ratings, and with a writers' strike looming, shook up the bulk of its cast, dumping the three doctors who'd helped the titular doc solve every case and bringing in a new team. But who's ever known "House" to avoid risks?
This show is still trying to work things out — Cameron, Chase and Foreman sometimes fit well into the plots, and sometimes their use feels forced. But overall, the show has been only freshened as a new batch of underlings try to decipher the show's true enigma: Dr. Gregory House. Some of the new doctors' backstories are a little overwrought — one has a degenerative disease, one was a philanderer, and one was orphaned at age six. But if there are writers on TV who can make it work, it's the ones who work on "House."
'The Office'With executive producer Greg Daniels vowing not to play the "will-they-or-won't-they?" card too long, NBC's "The Office" took the plunge by putting beloved pair Jim and Pam together. At the same time, Ryan the former temp moved to Dunder-Mifflin's corporate office in New York and became Michael Scott's boss. Each move served the show tremendously for very different reasons.
Fans were glad to have Jim and Pam finally together, and while challenges may come their way they're unlikely to get "Ross-and-Racheled" on this smart show. Jim and Pam bring just the right amount of sanity to an otherwise insane workplace. Meanwhile, newly stubbly Ryan's promotion, innovation, and ultimate downfall was one of the greatest sub-sub-subplots on TV this season, and it was wrapped together wonderfully with his arrest for fraud being posted on YouTube. Loved Oscar's final quip that Ryan's real crime was the beard.'CSI'In its eighth season, "CSI" remains TV's most dominant crime procedural. But the Vegas edition of the show is now suffering the loss of some longtime and favorite characters. Jorja Fox's decision to leave and take the character of Sara Sidle with her was the first and the (played by Gary Dourdan) in the season finale was the second big blow.
The procedural format gives the writers more flexibility to work characters in and out. Star William Petersen has taken off weeks at a time for theater commitments and is scheduled to do it again in coming seasons, and Fox could return for guest spots — but the long-term loss of Fox and Dourdan could prove to be a pivotal turn in the course of the franchise's original-recipe version.'My Name Is Earl'After a fantastic debut season, "My Name Is Earl" has become decidedly less confident about its identity. The second season faded a bit on the quality scale and in the third season the show tried a couple of tricks that made for a split reaction.
At the end of the second season, Earl took the fall for a crime ex-wife Joy actually committed, starting the third season off behind bars. What could have dragged down the show instead made for a terrific combination of character and place. Earl knows a lot of folks in prison, and his efforts to continue working on his list while in the hoosegow were a lot of fun.
But then the show tried a less-successful twist, having Earl slip into a coma and begin dreaming that his life was a 1950s sitcom. This theme was about as unfunny as the laugh track that accompanied the 1950s scenes. A show this funny shouldn't need gimmicks to stay afloat.Victor Balta is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.