12 Big Comebacks of 2010
1. Conan O'Brien
Very early this year Conan O'Brien, who is lovingly known among fans as "Coco," was in a rough spot. As the new host of NBC's The Tonight Show, replacing longtime ratings champ Jay Leno, he was not drawing the same viewership numbers. Meanwhile, Leno's prime-time talk show was tanking. When NBC came to O'Brien with a proposal to kick his show back to 12:05 a.m. and allow Leno to return to the 11:35 p.m. slot, he refused, taking a $40-million-plus buyout instead.
Jump forward almost a year and we find O'Brien in an 11:30 p.m. time slot, though on a different network - basic cable's TBS. Nonetheless, the new show, Conan, should do well for a network targeting the demographics that Coco draws: the young and hip. This is opposed to those who love Leno: the graying with hip problems.
2. Whooping Cough
Almost lost in our national concern about new diseases such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is the rising number of U.S. cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17,000 cases were reported last year, while many more went unreported.
The frustrating fact is that there is a vaccine that successfully immunizes children for this disease. However, some parents, fearful of the side effects of such immunizations, skip it or use alternative immunization schedules. The vaccine also fades in effectiveness after three years.
There is a three-to-five-year cycle to the whooping cough outbreaks, says the CDC. It looks like 2010 could be a peak in this cycle. There is a new tetanus booster, Tdap, that also contains pertussis vaccine. If you haven't had a tetanus booster lately, it might be good to have.
Way back in the waning days of disco, there was rock music, and there was the burgeoning new wave. But nobody had seen anything like Devo. Wearing flower pots for hats and hazmat suits, the group with a cult following went big after appearing on Saturday Night Live in 1978, and parlayed their tune, "Whip It," into a modest hit. The group then put out albums steadily until 1990, when their last LP, Smooth Noodle Maps, met with faint success.
Since then, leader Mark Mothersbaugh has become famous as a composer for shows such as Pee-wee's Playhouse and Rugrats. He must have still dreamed of the limelight, however. How else to account for Devo's unexpected return to the music world with 2010's album Something for Everybody?
And the music is good. Rolling Stone called it "frantic and wall-to-wall catchy," noting how the music world is now dominated by the synth sounds that seemed so ethereal when Devo used them decades ago.
4. New Jersey
Thanks to HBO's The Sopranos, the viewing public once had a firm grasp on the character of New Jersey citizens: morally conflicted, gruff, occasionally violent and strong on family values. Then the show ran its course and we were left with no touchstones to society in the Garden State.
Now thanks to hit reality television shows such as Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, we once again have a view of life there. And it turns out that the society has evolved into a petty, vain, and randy group, led by such dignitaries as Snooki and The Situation.
Sadly, as hard as politicians and New Jerseyites-of-good-will attempt to represent residents of the state as stand-up people, it takes only a few episodes of shows such as these to ruin those perceptions among the viewing public.
5. Dennis Lehane's detective duo Patrick and Angie
The bestseller list is usually packed with mystery novels following the exploits of a continuing character or characters (witness Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, or Lee Child's Jack Reacher). These characters are usually left hanging when the author dies (as John D. MacDonald did to Travis McGee, for example.)
That's why it was such a surprise when respected author Dennis Lehane abandoned his detective duo, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, years ago to write one-offs such as the highly successful Mystic River.
Thankfully and unexpectedly, Lehane revived his characters in 2010. Now married and raising a child, Kenzie and Gennaro get what most novel-series heros never receive; a satisfying conclusion to their careers. His novel Moonlight Mile should please any fans of his series fiction.
6. Betty White
After achieving fame in a show that appealed to the Boomer generation (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and one that registered with the aging population (The Golden Girls) many viewers assumed that Betty White had left show business to enjoy her own golden years.
When she reappeared in a hilarious Snickers ad during the 2010 Superbowl, however, the public reaction brought her opportunities to show that - at age 88 - she still has that delightful combination of acerbic wit and feigned innocence. White has made the most of her return by hosting Saturday Night Live, and appearing in yet another television series, Hot in Cleveland, as well as several movies.
She's even become an honorary fire ranger, which makes sense since where there's smoke there's fire, and Betty White is smoking hot in 2010.
If the ancient Chinese game of mah-jongg brings to mind images of ladies' gaming parties in the '60s, you obviously haven't seen the game in its latest incarnation. The tile game is enjoying a newfound popularity and it's not your grandparents' game anymore.
In fact, board games in general seem to be coming back; Hasbro, the maker of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, saw a 22% jump in revenue from its games and puzzles section in the second quarter of this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Rare is the coffee house that doesn't stock games, and many are busy on weekends with gamers huddled over a board game such as mah-jongg. Could it be that people enjoy the company of real companions at least as much as electronic-game avatars?
8. American International Group
Back in the darkest days of 2008, the threat that mega-giant insurance firm AIG could collapse had people fearing the entire economy would follow. Thus the Bush administration decided to extend a huge chunk of public funds to save the company, and we ended up owning 80% of it.
Today, AIG is back on its feet (although still shaky) and beginning to pay back the $180 billion it borrowed. Although it could be a long time until the U.S. government recoups the entire amount, AIG has paid back $80 billion to date, and the company president recently told CNBC that it intends to repay the entire debt.
Many people blame John F. Kennedy for killing the hat industry in the U.S. by appearing hatless at his 1961 inauguration. Others might point to the trend growing at that time among young people toward wearing their hair longer and without hair oil, a look that hats would ruin. Either way, hats, so popular from the 1920s to the 1950s, fell out of fashion.
Today, however, led by some trendsetting celebrities and helped by TV hit Mad Men, hats are reappearing. In particular, the fedora is showing up on the pates of hipsters from San Francisco to Brooklyn.
Is it a trend with legs? Perhaps. Many men now wear their hair short, and no longer worry about a bit of muss; in fact, mussy hair is also in fashion. Such a head of hair is perfect for a snazzy chapeau.
10. 3-D Entertainment
3-D movies enjoyed a brief life in the 1950s, when films like House of Wax frightened theaters full of kids stoked on Coke and Raisinets, but it never really became more than a niche in the industry.
Not, that is, until James Cameron decided to adopt it for his latest blockbuster, Avatar. When studios saw it breaking all attendence and gross-income records (and allowing theater owners to charge premium prices), they scrambled to release 3-D versions of films in production, such as Tim Burton's hallucinogenic Alice in Wonderland.
By early in 2010, the television market began to include 3-D sets for home use. Like it or not, our future could be seen through polarized glasses.
11. The Moon
The Moon has never gotten as much attention as it did on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to step onto its surface. After five more landings, we more or less wrote it off as a barren wasteland convenient only for its low gravity.
However, it came back into the limelight this year as scientists examined the results of a 2009 experiment in which a rocket was crashed into the Moon at over 5,000 miles per hour. The experiment showed that there is a great deal more water locked up in the Moon's soil than previously thought. The water, at around twice the concentration of that found in the Sahara Desert, might even be enough to sustain a permanent colony.
It also found potential fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia and methane locked up in the soil that could help fuel further space exploration without the need to lift it from the gravity well that is Earth.
Now we're dreaming over the Moon again.
12. Leg Warmers
Perhaps it's a response to wilder weather patterns that the U.S. has seen in recent seasons, but probably not: Fashion rarely follows such mundane trends as weather. Regardless, those females who often find themselves chilled in the winter when baring their legs might be glad to learn that leg warmers are back in style.
The look accompanies a movement to recapture fashions of the 1980s, when leg warmers were an important dress element. Of course, today's leg warmers are redesigned to be worn over jeans, with skirts or shorts, and a variety of shoe styles. Redesigned, by the way, means that you won't find them at 1980s prices.