11 TV Winners and Losers of 2019: From Fox’s ‘The Masked Singer’ to Jussie Smollett

And if you’re a “Game of Thrones” or Marvel TV fan, this really wasn’t your year

Last Updated: December 22, 2019 @ 2:41 PM

Once again we find ourselves nearing the end of another year full of plot twists, disappointments, and pleasant surprises. Take Jussie Smollett for example: He began the year as a well-respected actor on a popular TV show. But then came the threatening letter mailed to him at Fox, and the alleged racist and homophobic attack. For a moment, the entire internet rallied around him — and then the police investigation turned against him. He lost his spot on “Empire” and was indicted on 16 felony counts including filing a false police report, only to have the charges against him suddenly dropped. And all that happened before May.

Yeah, it’s been a long year.

Read below to see who we think had the best and worst year across the television industry.

Winner: Pro-Wrestling Goes Boom, Like “Dynamite”
There is so much wrestling on TV now. Just this fall, “SmackDown” moved from USA Network to Fox’s broadcast channel, TNT launched AEW’s weekly series “All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite,” Impact Wrestling moved to AXS TV, and “NXT” upgraded from one-hour pre-taped on WWE Network to two hours live on USA Network.

Amazingly, much of that happened within the same week. These days, a pro-wrestling diehard’s week is just that jam-packed 52-times a year.

Here’s what the TV schedule now essentially looks like for wrestling fans:
Monday: “Raw” at 8/7c on USA
Tuesday: “Impact!” at 8/7c on AXS TV
Wednesday: “NXT” at 8/7c on USA, “Dynamite” on TNT
Thursday: Breather (but really watch whichever one you chose to DVR on Wednesday)
Friday: “WWE Friday Night SmackDown” at 8/7c on Fox
Saturday: “New Japan Pro Wrestling” at 8/7 on AXS, possible AEW and NXT pay-per-views
Sunday: Possible WWE pay-per-views (once per month)

That’s either brutal or awesome, depending on whether you’re the fan or the spouse of the fan. What a time to be alive (and fake fighting).

Winner: Unmasking a Massive Success
“The Masked Singer” was the runaway ratings success of 2019, especially considering Fox’s big hit debuted on just the second day of the year. The oddball singing competition was 2019’s No. 1 new series among adults 18-49, and by more than a full Nielsen ratings point over No. 2, NBC’s “Manifest.”

In January, “Masked Singer” enjoyed the highest-rated unscripted debut on any network in more than seven years. That stat excludes post-NFL telecasts, which have an unnaturally large audience at the outset. And it hasn’t really slowed down since. By the end of that freshman run, “Masked Singer” was able to lay claim to television’s highest-rated reality show in four years, since “The Voice” back in 2014-15.

Fast-forward to fall and Season 2, the South Korean import became the first reality series to ever rank as the No. 1 entertainment program through the first 10 weeks of the broadcast season. It certainly helps that “Big Bang Theory” ended months ago, but that’s still a pretty darn impressive streak.

Losers: Where Have All the Awards Show Hosts Gone?
Blame Kevin Hart. After a swirl of controversy last December when Hart was named host of the 2019 Oscars and refused to apologize for his well-documented history of making homophobic jokes on stage, as well as off stage, ABC and the Academy ultimately chose to go with the safest option of all — nobody. And the result was, well, fine.

So fine, in fact, that the Emmys were quick to follow suit later in the year, opting instead for an opening montage and a bit involving Bryan Cranston, Homer Simpson and Anthony Anderson’s mom — it did not go as well.

Loser: Jussie Smollett
The Lyons are down a cub on the currently airing sixth and final season of “Empire” due the curious case of Jussie Smollett, who played Jamal Lyon — the openly gay son of Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Lucious (Terrence Howard) — on the Fox hip-hop drama up until he was written out of the final few episodes of Season 5 last spring. Smollett’s removal from the series came a few months after he claimed to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on the streets of Chicago in January.

An investigation was conducted, which revealed a connection between Smollett and brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who were initially persons of interest in the case and say that Smollett paid them to stage the attack. Smollett, who has maintained his innocence all along, was eventually arrested and charged with 16 counts of filing a false police report — though all of those charges were later dropped as part of a deal requiring him to forfeit $10,000 bond.

When “Empire” was renewed for Season 6 in April, the option was extended for Smollett to reprise his role, but Fox noted there were “no plans” for him to return. Not long after it was announced the sixth season would be the show’s last, “Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels said Smollett would not return to the series and Fox backed his claim, despite appeals from stars like Howard and Henson, who wanted Smollett to rejoin the show.

So while Jamal continues to be referenced off screen as “Empire” comes to an end, Smollett continues to fight Chicago in its attempt to recover $130,106 for the investigation the city conducted into his alleged false attack.

Loser: “Game of Thrones” Fans (hear us out)
“Game of Thrones,” HBO’s epic tale of the battle to become the ruler of Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms, came to what many viewers considered to be a less than epic conclusion with its series finale this May. While the eight-episode final season was nominated for 32 Emmys and won 12, “GoT” fans certainly weren’t winners themselves, as they not only lost their show, but lost it in a way that still has some of them taking their anger out on series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss on a daily basis, six months after the show ended. (And let’s not forget that petition.)

Adding insult to injury, the untitled Naomi Watts-led “GoT” prequel that many fans were looking forward to got scrapped after production wrapped on the pilot. However, what is dead may never die and “House of the Dragon,” one of the other five “GoT” spinoff series that HBO had originally put into development before the OG series ended, was ordered straight to series in October. So if you weren’t happy with how Daenerys Targaryen’s story ended, you can take comfort in the fact you might enjoy learning how her family’s story began — and the fact that D&D have nothing to do with this new show.

Winner: Cord-Cutters
After years of hearing announcement after announcement about projects in the works for Apple and Disney’s respective streaming platforms, cord-cutters had their patience rewarded in 2019 with the eagerly anticipated launches of both Apple TV+ and Disney+ last month. Yes, this was certainly a banner year for people who aren’t interested in paying for cable, but are OK shelling out $4.99/month for Apple’s Golden Globe and SAG Award-nominated “Morning Show,” among other original Apple series, and $6.99/month for Disney’s extensive library of movies and TV shows, plus new originals like Baby Yoda — er, “The Mandalorian.” And cord-cutters are on a roll heading into 2020, which will bring with it the launches of WarnerMedia-owned streaming service HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

Losers: These Losers
2019 didn’t see the same level of #MeToo fallout as last year, but as the decade drew to a close, echoes of the movement were still being felt throughout the industry. From “NCIS: New Orleans” executive producer Adam Targum to “The Chi” star Jason Mitchell, 2019 continued to see men face professional consequences for inappropriate behavior.

Meanwhile, even longtime FX mainstay and “Mayans M.C.” boss Kurt Sutter lost his job at the network following Fox’s acquisition by Disney. Accounts differ as to why — Sutter received numerous complaints of unspecified bad behavior, which Sutter himself described as being “an abrasive dick” — but he also attributes his firing to overbearing oversight by Disney.

Winner: PWB
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had a whirlwind year. She burst onto the scene with the second season of her Amazon comedy “Fleabag.” PWB wrote the series and starred in it opposite Andrew Scott’s Hot Priest. Their chemistry was so intense that it caused the internet (and the Television Academy) to fall all over themselves in adoration of her. Her writing is so revered that she has since been hired to help polish the script for the next Bond film, “No Time to Die,” and signed an overall deal with Amazon Studios shortly after snagging them all those Emmys for “Fleabag.”

Winner: Media-Merger Consultants
The entertainment industry ended this decade by bulking up. A year after AT&T swallowed up Time Warner and turned it into WarnerMedia, two more major media couplings took place. Though it may seem like Disney and Fox agreed to that deal long ago (they’d be right! It was first hammered out in 2017), the deal finally consummated in March. And in December, after years of starts and stops, Viacom and CBS finally got back together.

In Disney’s case, not only did it acquire Fox properties like FX, Nat Geo and “The Simpsons,” but it also gave Disney control of Hulu, to go along with its newly-launched streaming service, Disney+. And that’s really the point of all of this: To have as many assets as possible for the new streaming era.

Loser: Simply Not Marvel-ous
In hindsight, it wasn’t a good start to 2019 when Netflix and Marvel decided to end their creative partnership, with “Jessica Jones” formally closing the book on the streaming service’s “Defenders” universe this summer. But then the hits kept coming for Marvel TV fans: “Agents of SHIELD” announced it will wrap up next summer, “The Runaways” ended in December, and “Cloak & Dagger” was canceled after two seasons on Freeform.

The biggest shoe-drop came in October, when Marvel TV was moved under Kevin Feige, effectively ending the division as it gets absorbed into Marvel Studios. But it’s not all bad: There’s still a few more Hulu shows coming and “Avengers: Endgame” finally acknowledged the MCU’s TV universe exists (albeit briefly).

Winner: Your Parents’ Favorite Sitcom
The streaming era has led to an insatiable appetite for library content (no, not for you Apple), and this year that meant an all-out land grab for the rights to classic TV sitcoms. And it wasn’t cheap. “Seinfeld,” which last aired a new episode during the Clinton administration, commanded a hefty $500 million-plus deal to move from Hulu to Netflix in 2021. It wasn’t the only TV show no longer in business that got a huge payday in 2019: “The Big Bang Theory,”Friends” and “The Office” were other old shows that garnered major dollars.

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