The Year in Talk: 2009's 19 Most Pivotal Moments
From Carrie Prejean to Balloon Boy, Glenn Beck to Miss O., a Letterman confession to Cramer’s dressing-down courtesy of Jon Stewart, we bring you the best moments from talk television in 2009.
Joaquin Phoenix Walks the Line…between Crazy and Psychotic
David Letterman has seen many a wacky incident on his show, from Drew Barrymore’s booby flash to Crispin Glover’s arm-wrestle challenge. But few rival Phoenix’s bizarre appearance as his hip-hop alter ego last February, while “promoting” the film Two Lovers. As usual, Letterman handled the incident with his usual tact, capping off the interview with the brilliant kicker, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”
Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer
In a much-hyped battle of cable TV hosts, Jon Stewart took on Mad Money’s Jim Cramer last March, giving the financial loudmouth a surprisingly merciless beating for his dubious financial advice. The feud raged on in the days following the interview.
Carrie Prejean Sits in Stony Silence
Former Miss California Carrie Prejean’s rise to tabloid fame was full of cringe-worthy moments—do I hear an “amok?”—but it wasn’t until she appeared (or chose not to appear) on Larry King Live that Prejean sealed her fate. “Inappropriate” much?
Oprah, Sawyer, Dobbs Seek Out Greener Pastures
“Change” may have been the buzz word of 2008, but TV sure saw a lot of it in 2009. Miss O. shook the country with her announcement that she would film her last show in 2011—before launching OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. Lou Dobbs left CNN after nearly 30 years to pursue “other opportunities.” And Diane Sawyer filmed her last episode of Good Morning America, before replacing Charlie Gibson as anchor of ABC World News.
Poetry Jam with William Shatner, Palin-Style
First Star Trek alum and master thespian William Shatner took on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s resignation speech, giving a recitation on The Tonight Show to the laid-back rhythms of bongo drums. Then he turned his attention to Palin’s Twitter account—and we’re glad he did. The joke didn’t end there, though: In December, Palin made a surprise appearance on The Tonight Show to give Shatner a dose of his own medicine.
David Letterman: I Did Have Sex with that Woman
While no one wanted to imagine America’s favorite funny uncle fooling around with female Late Show staffers, the truth was revealed this year, when David Letterman became the target of an alleged $2 million extortion scheme. In the end, however, the fiasco only seemed to boost the host’s likeability, as he beat the media to the punch and addressed his “transgressions” head on.
John Phillips: Not Such a Good Papa
Mackenzie Phillips, TV star and daughter of the Mamas and the Papas’ John Phillips, shook the country when she revealed in September that she’d engaged in a 10-year sexual relationship with her father. The incident may have led more than a few to ask: How much information is too much?
The Year of Glenn Beck
If for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, then the rise of Barack Obama must have spurred the meteoric rise of Fox News host and provocateur Glenn Beck. Whether clowning around in his Nazi uniform or proposing outlandish theories at his trademark chalkboard, Beck inspired both adoration and hatred this year—all while racking in a cool $23 million, as of June.
Elizabeth Edwards Feeds Herself to the Vultures
On her much-anticipated Oprah appearance last May, Elizabeth Edwards did not mince words about Rielle Hunter—labeling the “other woman” a “fame seeker” and saying that “women need to have more respect for other women.” Unfortunately for Edwards, the holier-than-thou approach won her few fans.
Letterman vs. Palin
She hunts, she’s a hockey mom, and she can see Russia from her house. Shouldn’t comedians have learned by now that they shouldn’t mess with Sarah from Alaska? Unfortunately, David Letterman had to learn it the hard way. After Letterman made off-color jokes about Palin’s daughter, the former governor launched a weeks-long feud. Watch Letterman’s apology here.
Stephen Colbert Gets Buzzed
Stephen Colbert has a unique genius for pulling silly stunts on set, but he pulled off perhaps his best ever far from his Manhattan studio—in Iraq. While visiting American troops last June, Colbert allowed General Ray Odierno to shave his head, giving him a sportier, more patriotic ’do.
The Blago Blitz
Not one to go quietly into the night, maligned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich milked his 15 minutes for all it was worth this year. In stating (or perhaps, overstating) his case, Blago compared himself to Gandhi on Today, swung by GMA to woo Diane Sawyer with poetry, and allowed the The View ladies to tousle his formidable mane. And that’s before his appearance on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here with his wife.
Levi Johnston Dishes About His ‘Huge Things’
Last year, Levi Johnston was just Bristol Palin’s baby daddy, but in 2009, he created a brand for himself: down-home sophisticate, Playgirl centerfold, and yes, Sarah Palin-basher. In an interview on CBS’s The Early Show, Johnston pulled back the curtain on the Palin household in a way few political exes have.
Kanye’s Big Apology
So ashamed was Kanye West after storming the stage and raining on Taylor Swift’s VMA parade, he appeared on the premiere of The Jay Leno Show and told Jay he was “taking some time off.”
Taylor Swift Speaks, Nails It
Less than two days after Kanye grabbed the mic from country star Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards, Swift stopped by The View—where she responded publicly for the first time, winning over a few more fans with her humor and grace. “My first thought was, ‘Cool haircut,’” she told her hosts. Nice going, Taylor.
Late-Night Hosts Say Goodbye, Hello
It was a year of change on late-night television, too, as comedians played musical chairs: Conan O’Brien said goodbye to Late Night, as Jimmy Fallon stepped in to fill his shoes. Jay Leno bid adieu to The Tonight Show—for his new, beleaguered 10 p.m. show—as Conan stepped in to fill his shoes. Follow that? Here’s the most compelling of these transitions.
Al Roker v. Speidi
Alone, they were Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt—but together, they became the force known as “Speidi,” reality TV stars detested and feared across America. While the couple secured their reputation as obnoxious on The Hills, they took it to new heights in 2009, as demonstrated in this infamous exchange with Today weatherman Al Roker. (That jerk.)
Sarah Palin Goes Rogue (All Over Network TV)
After more than a year of being picked apart by the media, in November Sarah Palin finally had an opportunity to answer questions like: Do you read magazines and newspapers? And has Levi’s Johnson caused you any trouble? Her responses were less “rogue” than canned.
‘We Did It for the Show’
These words may forever be burned into America’s collective brain, as perhaps we recognize something about ourselves and the decade just completed. After the Heene family of Colorado captivated the country with reports that little Falcon “Balloon Boy” Heene had been carried away in a flying saucer-like device, the hoax was up when the rescued 6-year-old confessed on Larry King Live that it was all an act. Hours later, he barfed on live television. Is it 2010 yet?
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