Too much of anything is bad for you, as Stephen Fry once thundered, because that’s precisely what too much means: a quantity which is excessive. Too much water would be bad for you, because it would be too much. Fact.

Where TV is concerned, though, what’s excessive for one can often seem trifling for another. After years of plastering Who Wants to be a Millionaire? across its schedules, 2005 saw ITV1 casually perform an abrupt volte face and drop the show for months on end. True, its ubiquity had become as much its calling card as its emotional histrionics, but wielding the axe felt somewhat remiss given it was one of the few light entertainment shows the channel could boast of that still did good business and remained inherently watchable.

It was far from the only such instance this year of a network making highly-visible, highly-scrutinized calls over what, in its view, was the best way of judging how much is too much. 2005 witnessed the launch of more new channels than any in recent history, but also the failure of more programmes to retain a permanent place in the schedules than in living memory.

Family Affairs was killed off by five for being too much of a drain on its budget, yet it had performed no better and no worse in 2005 than any other year. A government-sponsored audit of BBC3 led to the channel’s daily news programme being axed for costing too much, yet a previous government-sponsored audit had ordered its very creation. ITV boss Charles Allen fretted over the need to “use the eyeballs we collect on ITV1 and stream them into 2, 3 or 4,” neglecting to first make sure the eyeballs were still watching 1.

Indeed, questions of excess seemed to alternately bedevil and delight programme-makers and audiences throughout the year. “Too much information” was the stated motive behind the BBC’s decision to rebrand the look of its TV weather reports. Too much visual emphasis given to the south of England, chorused the letters of complaint, led to a re-rebranding, tilting the country more in Scotland’s favour and a load of derision the BBC could have easily avoided. More4 was conceived to offset claims too much of Channel 4′s empire was concerned with the frivolous and far-fetched. It has turned out, so far, to be not frivolous enough, its line-up – Curb Your Enthusiasm aside – lumpen and bland, The Daily Show too US-centric to succeed, The Last Word resembling a dull trawl through the papers. Too many niche channels have attempted late night chat shows, while not enough have realized a chat show is the worst thing a late night programme on a tiny digital channel can offer, as nobody will ever appear on it.

Meanwhile ITV found its efforts to bag big audiences with sporting events undermined by the events themselves not boasting enough obvious appeal and immediate entertainment. On the other hand, the BBC used its re-acquisition of Premier League highlights for a sensible proliferation of coverage, epitomised by Match of the Day 2, the best football programme around thanks to presenter Adrian Chiles being the most affable man on telly.

Managing expectations of excess and confounding preconceptions of overkill were the twin motors driving the most successful programmes, and the most robust genre, of 2005. They were also responsible for delivering the year’s greatest and most welcome surprises.

There’s no better place to start than with the estimable figure of Noel Edmonds. The charge that there was too much Noel on the box used to get trotted out with the passing of each TV season. Now, thanks to Deal or no Deal, it’s quite clear there isn’t nearly enough. A killer format boasting a masterful host, it was self-evidently the best new game show since Millionaire, or possibly even Bob’s Full House before that. The reason was because, despite all the naysayers, Noel was back at the peak of his powers. It was as if he’d stored up a slew of presenting tricks and sleights during his five years off screen, so consummate was his control of the environment. The simple premise belied a flexibility in proceedings that also made the show one of the most unpredictable ever seen on afternoon telly.

By contrast, installing Dick and Dom at the helm of a relaunched and considerably revamped Ask the Family was a textbook example of having too much of a good thing. More successfully balanced pairings of personality and format could be found in Eggheads (with Dermot Murnaghan), Countdown (Des Lynam) and Strictly Dance Fever (Graham Norton).

Bestriding the schedules came a preponderance of authored documentary series, usually involving big names themselves exploring a clutch of continents and centuries. But these too defied an excess of subject matter and pre-publicity to deliver thoughtful assessments of landscape (David Dimbleby in A Picture of Britain, Nicholas Crane in Coast), icons (Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan – No Direction Home), foreign affairs (Holidays in the Danger Zone with Ben Anderson), wildlife (David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth and Bill Oddie’s Springwatch), architecture (Abroad Again in Britain with Jonathan Meades), gastronomy (Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners and Great Escape) and even hoofing (Bruce Goes Dancing).

All the above carved out a profile for themselves thanks to their respective helmsmen telescoping topics into accessible, digestible chunks. Less palatable by differing degrees yet no less affecting were the worlds laid bare in Kilroy: Behind the Tan, Israel and the Arabs – Elusive Peace, and Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution. Each in their own way focused on scarcely comparable yet equally alien times and places, yet balanced the excesses of their subjects through low-key, underplayed narration.

Such a strategy didn’t always work. An entire season on BBC4, “The Lost Decade”, purported to challenge how little we knew about 1945 – 55 yet ultimately told us little of consequence. Alternatively the suite of programmes screened to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II made a proper effort to retell events from an original perspective, be it through looking at what happened After the War, what happened before in Hitler’s Children, or by talking to those who are still alive from the World War I in The Last Tommy, courageously shown in primetime on BBC1.

Meanwhile efforts like The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon, Animation Nation and Arena: Dylan in the Madhouse garnered credibility for doing precisely the opposite of The Story of ITV: The People’s Channel: treating popular culture for what it is and not trying to retrospectively elevate it into high art or earth shattering revelation. Real life needs to be explored on its own terms if it is to generate beguiling television. Too much hyperbole can turn even the business of cooking a meal or raising a child into an unappetising prospect.

Which is where so many programmes of 2005 slipped up. Given how “lifestyle” shows don’t really exist anymore, the genre having evolved into a concentrated if more superfluous pot pourri preoccupied with aspiration and self-improvement, the year witnessed a haul of formats old and new jettisoning any pretence of creativity and the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of it. Rather than simple emotional well-being and personal fulfillment, an emphasis now lay on associating everything with an accreditation of value. Hence Masterchef returned as Masterchef Goes Large, the art of good cuisine swapped for an obsession with aggressive time-keeping and shouting. Antiques Roadshow spun off into the 20th Century Roadshow, the emphasis on the commercial potential of everyday trinkets rather than obscure heirlooms. And David Dickinson felt the need to jettison his avuncular patter and comradely concerns to preside over squabbling wannabe traders and do a lot of swearing in Dealing With Dickinson.

Penney Poyzer’s No Waste Like Home merely confirmed recycling wasn’t going to be the next big thing, while The Nightmares Next Door proved to be a half-baked exercise in social engineering situating “troublesome” neighbours in a specially constructed village for little overall purpose other than to help That’ll Teach ‘em‘s Simon Warr further his media career. It’s Me or the Dog was at least honest in pitching itself as Supernanny for mutts, and The Bank of Mum and Dad proved just as appealing this year as last.

Make Me a Million forfeited its early promise – following three successful businesspeople each mentoring a company start-up – by delivering a climax that proved to be anything of the sort, the winner triumphing in spite of rather than because of her own efforts. Risking it All was more likeable and seemingly truthful, its host Martin Webb adopting a Sarah Beeny approach to advice, with Property Ladder-style mixed results.

Not even children could escape being quantified in wholly empirical terms. An excess of guidance created a too-many-cooks scenario, as the Little Angels brand seemed to proliferate across all channels. Worse was Honey We’re Killing the Kids wherein computer-simulation was offered as the one-stop shop for how to rear offspring. Bland, spurious and based on fear-mongering, it reduced the tricky task of parenting to a simple menu of dos and don’ts with an unconvincing, all-too convenient valedictory end sequence wherein junior was seen to grow into a slim-hipped, well-dressed adult thanks to mum cutting back on the beef burgers.

Out of all this, however, came something approaching landmark status: The House of Tiny Tearaways, hosted by Tanya Byron. On paper it looked unpromising stuff (a fusion of Big Brother and Supernanny) but in reality it offered perhaps TV’s best look at clinical psychology in practice to date. Seeking to explain and normalise seemingly abhorrent behaviour, it eschewed sensationalism for a somehow gripping banality, prompting the viewer to delight in small victories such as getting a food-phobic child to try a new taste, or a perennially restless toddler to settle on its own at night.

This was high-intensity telly by its scheduling alone (running Sunday to Friday), but in this instance the necessary investment on the part of the viewer into a project prioritising the mundane so far above the fantastical paid dividends. Other similarly prolific ventures were less rewarding, and far more shameless in seeking to turn the camera on real people in order to evaluate and audit rather than simply tell us about ourselves.

Like oil and water, twin brands of reality TV slurped their way through the year, one proving far more in abundance than the other, but both applied to near-saturation point. Drifting lazily to the bottom of the glass were celebrity-based endeavours. Celebrity Big Brother was, for concentrated incident, the year’s ultimate superstar ruckus, an angry, marauding rhinoceros (ditto its most voluble inhabitant John McCririck) devastating reputations and contrived geniality in its path. But it was also a turning point in the franchise thanks to the way it finally showed that famous people should be treated the same as any member of the public foolhardy enough to go on such a programme.

Comic Relief Does Fame Academy raised just as many hackles as it did cash. Scream If You Want to Get Off disappeared half way through its run and nobody noticed, while The Games was a precise retread of its former flat and unprepossessing self. The second series of Hell’s Kitchen, meantime, was plain rubbish, epitomised by the sight of an amiable Gary Rhodes trying to act hard in front of the least likeable bunch of contestants this side of a five romp. It won’t be coming back, unless in the guise of the US version that pitched ordinary people against Gordon Ramsay back at the hot plate and made for one of the best entertainment shows of 2005.

Then there was ITV’s grand triple-decker of trash, Celebrity Wrestling, Celebrity Love Island and Celebrity Shark Bait. Celebrity Wrestling was by far the worst, notable for the way everyone seemed to know before it began how it would be a complete flop. The ludicrous hype merely illuminated the appalling standard of the famous faces taking part and witless execution, helpfully persuading anyone who was to consider tuning in that they should promptly switch off. The programme’s swift demise led to the most depressing sight on television this year: ITV1 flinging out Beverly Hills Cop on peaktime Saturday night after all their other shows had died on their arse.

In contrast, rising effortlessly to the top of the glass were those reality efforts free from celebrities. Any programme that framed ordinary folk within the scenario of a life changing contest scored well whether in ratings (Big Brother), profile (Dragon’s Den) or as a national talking point (The Apprentice). But where the plight of everyday people took seed on the hallowed turf of light entertainment, this year delivered a less healthy crop than of late. The fact that all the headlines about The X Factor revolved around the judges and off-camera exploits summed up the show’s big problem: how the whole point of it seemed to have gone out of the window in favour of laboured stunts and set-pieces. It was forever a joy to see it beaten in the ratings by Strictly Come Dancing which, despite drifting into repetitiveness, boasted a sense of fun and pleasantness that made ideal family viewing, and spawned a spin-off that gave BBC2 early evening audiences not seen since The Simpsons.

The “new Millionaire“, The Big Call, turned out to be the new Vault, with its complete lack of atmosphere and hideously boring presentation. We must put on record the set, which with its five-storey desk rendered it quite the most ridiculous construction in television history. Worst of all ITV1′s terrible summer shows, however, had to be Rock Around the Block. With absolutely no point whatsoever – neighbours attempt to learn a pop song for no reason – and filled with the sort of “crazy” families you would leave a restaurant to avoid, it amply demonstrated the complete dearth of new ideas in contemporary light entertainment TV. Only Saturday Night Takeaway retained an essence of fun. Even if most of the stunts were hugely contrived – notably the show that went head to head with the first episode of Doctor Who, stuffed with every celebrity they could think of but still beaten in the ratings – it always boasted plenty of energy and thought put into its construction.

Not that the Beeb were any better at this kind of thing. He’s Having a Baby suffered the humiliation of ending two weeks earlier than planned as “it had achieved all it intended to”. Simply watching a bunch of uninteresting men cooing over their newborn children seemed a pointless exercise on a Saturday night, while host Davina McCall proved once again how she seems to have completely lost the power of speaking spontaneously. For more inspired light entertainment the BBC was equally brave in transmitting Jerry Springer – The Opera as it was The Two Ronnies Sketchbook: both unlikely propositions, but both surprisingly if contentiously well-received. Far less inspired was the treatment meted out to Top of the Pops, now playing out on BBC2 to an audience expected to stomach segues from Nirvana to Barbra Streisand. In its desperate attempts to cover all bases, TOTP has ended up pissing off everyone in equal measure: a sorry end to a once-towering institution.

One category where the BBC exceeded all possible criteria in terms of sheer relentless overkill was comedy – a genre where previously it had offered precious little, but where, in 2005, it delivered much. Too much.

It seemed somewhat disingenuous of Alison Graham to announce “the sitcom is dead” in Radio Times shortly after the same magazine had splashed Extras all over its pages. A massively hyped affair that was difficult to watch with an open mind, some moaned at Gervais for dwelling on the comedy of embarrassment, but that was a bit like criticising Tommy Cooper for doing another act based around a rubbish magic trick. Where the criticism became more valid was in Gervais’s use of obvious targets to fuel embarrassment.

But Extras merely led the charge for what turned into a mile-wide wind tunnel of wasted opportunity. Blessed managed to achieve the impossible by hiring likeable actors and making them thoroughly disagreeable by saddling them with scripts full of shouting and arguments. According to Bex saw Fred Barron, whose team-writing methods are supposed to be revolutionising the British sitcom, come up with something more old-fashioned and contrived than anything else on telly. While John Challis was dependable as ever in The Green Green Grass, its supporting cast were reduced to playing stereotypical yokel roles with “countryzoide” accents, despite the series being set in Shropshire. Like The League of Gentlemen before them, the Little Britain team seemed to fall into the trap of believing that the portion of audience which only wants catchphrases is the only one worth bothering about. Broken News amused for about the first five minutes of the first episode, while Dom Joly had nothing new to say in World Shut Your Mouth.

An unforeseen profusion of topical comedy was no better. Mock the Week was an unprepossessing run-through of dull gags, while the delivery of the eponymous host of What’s The Problem? with Anne Robinson meant the jokes came out as spiteful rather than witty, in turn jarring with her incessant flirting and giggling. Sidekick Marcus Brigstocke just looked depressed, and his own BBC4 series The Late Edition was equally unimpressive when it came to sending up the week’s events. A joke about Brian May’s hair was hardly going to bring down the government. Completing the set was The Bigger Picture with Graham Norton, which merely proved you can’t do topical reviews on a Monday night when the week has barely begun.

Then there was Nighty Night. If its first outing had been over-hyped but still pretty decent, not so the second series, which frankly looked as if actual episodes had been binned in favour of broadcasting the rehearsal footage. The multitude of supposedly over the top “talking points” failed to provoke any kind of strong reaction simply because they came out of nowhere. Structurally the series was to pot, while the cast were uniformly awful, Rebecca Front giving perhaps the most one-note performance in the history of comedy. You sensed there had to be a reason why it was so bad. Perhaps Julia Davis was forced into writing a second series when her heart wasn’t in it. Perhaps something catastrophic befell the production team during filming. Whatever it was, Nighty Night should never have been allowed to return to our screens.

Coming a close second behind the Beeb in terms of unfunny funny business was Channel 4. Nathan Barley was a self-indulgent joke-free mess that was simply too boring and alienating to be genuinely loathsome, while the channel’s much-vaunted purchase of The Simpsons amounted to no new episodes since February and repeats being beaten in the ratings by Eggheads.

It was once said that the reason sketch shows relied so much on running jokes is because low budgets meant they could only afford a few sets. Spoons, however, had loads of different locations and did the same jokes in all of them, which betokens lazy writing more than anything else. The fact the punchline to the final sketch in the final show was simply the word “cunt” was just depressing.

Some found 8 Out of 10 Cats surprisingly likeable (and certainly way ahead of Jimmy Carr’s other big gig, The Friday Night Project). Less unequivocal was the response to Balls of Steel, one of the most mean-spirited ideas for a television show ever witnessed. Ditto Meet the Magoons, which had the makings of an old school sitcom, but was informed by a frankly puerile scatological sense-of-humour and a Tarantino-esque penchant for just – well – talking shite. In order for something like this to work, viewers have to love the characters, but in this case the four friends at the core seemed sneery, facile and thoughtlessly homophobic.

Was it all really that bad? The least hyped efforts were usually better, and better for being under-hyped. Arrested Development remained a barrage of laughs, Help benefited from two old hands Chris Langham and Paul Whitehouse who needed neither the money nor the exposure but simply had a show they wanted to make, and Ideal‘s unlikely combination of Johnny Vegas and storylines about drug dealers seemed to work to strong effect.

Vegas’s solo endeavour, 18 Stone of Idiot, scored well at least as a kind of modern day freak show, the highlight undoubtedly being the pre-filmed inserts from some godforsaken lock-in during which Vegas and his celebrity drinking companions got absolutely mortal. Still, if it was a difficult series to watch, at least you got a sense that Vegas was at least trying hard to produce something of interest. Conversely OFI Sunday showed just how bad such a programme can be when the presenter is convinced the most ill-thought out or incidental bit of business is guaranteed to raise a laugh simply due to its inconsequentiality. OFI was the 2005 equivalent of those comic montages in which a piece of film is continually played backwards and forwards – once upon a time they might have been hilarious, but everyone’s got the joke now and so we never need to see it again.

A world away in imagination and wit was the comedy of the year, The Thick of It. While all the press seemed to concentrate on the camera work and the swearing, the important fact was it was incredibly funny. It managed to make a series about politics seem relevant and amusing to everyone, rather than trading in media in-jokes or being reduced to Rory Bremner-style smugness. Yet it still made serious points about what goes on in government, the performances were uniformly exceptional, and the improvised structure and team writing seemed to give it real energy and sparkle. It appears that Armando Iannucci has his own seat on the BBC’s “comedy board”, and that he has his own self-contained unit at TV Centre, which is the one of best ideas the Beeb have ever had.

Soap opera, that most intemperate of TV genre both in terms of quantity and substance, rustled up something of equal stature in the shape of Ray Langton’s return to Coronation Street. The soap highlight of 2005, it seemed designed to show EastEnders exactly how to bring back an old character. There was admittedly little of the baggage to contend with that came alongside the excavation of Dirty Den, but nonetheless Langton was allowed to reappear as a fully fleshed out character and not an exaggerated caricature of his previous self. His story, that of his gradual decline towards death, was well chronicled, allowing the soap to dig deep into its emotional past, but in a quiet way that didn’t require the addition of family feuds or gangsters.

That aside, it wasn’t a particularly vintage year for Corrie. The Charlie-Shelley storyline demonstrated subtlety but in the end went on for too long, while Fred Elliot, for a long time the best character, lost some of his complexity in favour of exuding moral outrage whenever anything threatened his beloved family. Still, the Sally Webster affair storyline was quite a well-plotted exercise, and uniquely for a soap, she sort of got away with it.

Elsewhere Emmerdale continued a potent showing in the ratings thanks to strong storylines and probably the best all-round cast in British soap, while EastEnders lolled around in the doldrums. After celebrating its 20th birthday with one of the worst written, poorly executed episodes ever, the producers embarked on a quest to woo back yet more old characters and appearances from famous faces. If all this was meant to portend to a promising future, it still couldn’t hide the lamentable present state of Albert Square, which felt truly disposable as a TV proposition for the first time in its history.

Conversely, as a mark of its indispensability, The Bill mounted another live episode for the centrepiece of ITV’s 50th birthday celebrations. Aside from a couple of missed cues it went very well, despite the actor playing DC Terry Perkins having a problem with his false teeth which meant he was reduced to covering his mouth to try to keep them from falling out.

For all their finely-honed swagger, however, neither The Bill or its soap stablemates could deliver the greatest amount of new, exciting and entertaining television of 2005. That honour goes to the oldest genre of them all: drama. Such an achievement would have been laughable, if not frankly impossible, a mere five years ago before Greg Dyke and his team restoked the BBC’s fortunes with bags of cash and optimism. That investment is still paying dividends even though Dyke and most of his gang have moved on. In fact, it delivered the goods in 2005 like never before.

There was The Quatermass Experiment, proof that remakes can be done for the right reasons and an exhilarating glimpse of how electrifying live drama can be. There was Space Race, combining dramatic recreations of real-life events and factual narration to a powerful degree. To the Ends of the Earth was an astonishingly visceral swashbuckling romp. Hiroshima delivered a numbingly lucid recreation of the sprawling tragedy of the first atomic bomb, while Derailed was an equally affecting dramatisation of the 1999 Paddington train crash. Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky was a masterpiece of slow-burning atmosphere and moving revelation. Matthew Kelly turned in a brilliant turn for the Sunday night epic Egypt. Funland was amusing and disturbing in equal measure, peeling back layers as the weeks went on to uncover more and more disturbing concoctions of comedy and revelations of child abuse and incest. And Casanova was simply a triumph on all counts.

Compelling without ever being innovative or even especially original, all the dramatic devices employed by Conviction were well worn, but it didn’t really seem to matter. It was almost as if the series could withstand any attempts to kill it by encumbering it with creaking plotlines and clichéd set pieces. In fact such elements only added a sense of archetypal grandeur. Bodies played out with equal verve and aplomb. Although obviously pigeon-holed into the role of archetypal middle manager, Patrick Baladi turned in a measured and intelligent performance as Roger Hurley that lent the series a welcome degree of complexity, rendering it an exploration into how occasional short-term sacrifices for the supposed long-term greater good can simply be a tool used by those less scrupulous to get you to do their bidding.

Meanwhile a host of reworked Shakespeare plays, coupled with a multi-part, multi-cast adaptation of Bleak House, turned BBC1′s autumn into a rich brew of worthy dramatisation. Even though the Beeb threw everything into the Dickens adaptation, its melange of rust colours and barely lit sets were a hugely soporific concoction. Still, it was good to know it was out there. Indeed, even though the Corporation notched up a few proper misses – The Rotters Club, Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, The Girl in the Café, Rome – when placed against such triumphs listed above these hardly matter. Even returning series performed well, demonstrating how formats like Hustle, 55 Degrees North and Spooks could be retuned to stay robust. It all smacked of sparkling self-confidence, and helped BBC1 garner OTT’s nomination for channel of the year.

Against such a massive accomplishment, ITV’s drama could only look tatty and tiresome. The usuals returned – Footballers’ Wives, Bad Girls, Doc Martin – as did a string of singularly one-note dark and dreary chillers: Vincent, Jericho, Secret Smile, Cold Blood, Class of ’76 and Afterlife. Vincent epitomised this movement, with its down-at-heel private eye making ends meet in a nastily-depicted Manchester whiffing of the channel’s most credible attempt yet at revisiting the success of Cracker, which is returning to our screens in 2006 anyway. Unique for being new yet upbeat was Distant Shores, with Peter Davison as Dr Bill Shore (do you see?) who moved to the distant (ditto) fictional island of Hildesay off the Northumbrian coast. Needless to say, the locals were presented as “weird” as is the norm for isolated communities on mainstream ITV1.

Channel 4 vaunted itself as a place to rediscover new drama, but The Government Inspector aside, all its flagships were either one-joke knockabouts (Shameless, A Very Social Secretary, Sugar Rush) or hugely conventional period epics (Elizabeth I, The Queen’s Sister). The Ghost Squad, for all its smoke and mirrors, seemed 10 years old. Those oh-so-’90s bluffs and double-bluffs failed as Le Carre-esque excursions into the more unsavoury fringes of public life, instead appearing as just expedient devices to pad out the plot. Elaine Cassidy leant the show verve, but when each episode ends up with three characters sat around a tiny table explaining the previous 60 minutes, a radical overhaul must precede any second series.

As for imported drama, Nip/Tuck was cautiously championed in last year’s review, but come 2005 its extended metaphors and predilection for violence and group sex began to feel just plain seedy. A storyline preposterously placing its lead characters in direct conflict with a serial killer was a clichéd and transparent attempt to inject more overt jeopardy into the show, undermining any remaining sense of reality and cutting characters adrift to become ciphers, reacting whimsically to the week’s over-arching theme. Now they were punctuation-points rather than people. At least 24 remained consistently entertaining, even if the cliffhangers often came a beat too late.

Six Feet Under turned in a brilliant finale after spending years abandoning off-the-wall humour in favour of dull explorations of characters’ relationships. But it was ruthlessly sidelined by C4 and dumped onto E4, while newcomers Desperate Housewives and Lost received far more publicity and a far higher profile. Both played heavily on the instigation of a central mystery as a way of hooking an audience, yet there was a trap here, into which forerunners The X Files and Twin Peaks both fell: namely, making such ongoing ambiguity sustain itself in the long term. For Lost this meant storylines slowing down to ensure information wasn’t revealed too quickly, causing plot to be sidelined in a manner that not only seemed unconvincing but undermined the importance of the revelation in the first place. Still, with enough intriguing narrative options still open to it, the show could withstand a second series, but surely no more.

Almost buckling under the weight of its million pound promo, it neatly embodied the dilemma that faced so many programmes in 2005: alighting upon the correct formula to match expectation yet defying over-estimation. Those that solved the equation ended up the year’s greatest, yet also most unexpected, successes.

So even though The Apprentice carried huge promotional baggage and the lazy stigma of being “another reality TV show”, adroit casting served up contestants with more about them than simply naked ambition. Admittedly some were a trifle dull (Sebastian), not quite plucky enough (Raj), or just cringe inducing (Lindsay with her semaphore, and Rachel’s appallingly misguided belief that a crap collage and some awful skirt swaying constituted a marketing campaign). But that was all part of the fun, as were the cleverly conceived challenges which worked both as tests of the candidates’ calibre and excellent TV-friendly trials, plus of course the bizarre blinking and outrageous sales patter (“You buy one and I’ll buy you one”) of the greatest reality television contestant ever, Paul Torrisi.

And even though Dragons’ Den was saddled with a daft name (surely it should’ve been either “Dragons’ Lair” or “Lions’ Den”?), completely overshadowed by The Apprentice and looked as though it could be one business/reality contest too far, its vitality helped it triumph. 49 Up shrugged off a half-century’s worth of back-story and the pressure of providing the ballast for ITV’s wayward 50th birthday festivities to end up the most perfectly-poised, personally-affecting documentary of the year. Make it Big, meanwhile, repeated the trick of last year by defying convention and showing its youthful participants as occasionally foul-mouthed, argumentative, work-shy and sporadically creative – just like all kids, really.

There were those, of course, that tried to solve the equation and forgot to balance both sides. First Gordon Ramsay proved himself unable to match last year’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares by failing to uncover an archetype of filth to match the ill-fated (and now out of business) Bonapartes from series one. But then he failed again, and even more spectacularly, with The F Word – a show that was neither one thing nor the other, with changes made to its format every week, contrived linking devices (“So Gordon, tell me how your campaign to get women back in the kitchen is going”), an irritating macho voice-over to accompany the recipes (“Done”) and just too many disparate and inconsistent elements.

The finest coup of them all, and the biggest surprise to boot all lay within that most unlikely and uncompromising genre, the revival. Captain Scarlet had pace and pizzazz, but was thrown away on Saturday mornings. Roobarb and Custard Too was similarly well-crafted, but buried at breakfast time.

The show that ultimately triumphed was the one that played for the highest stakes, and the one that had most to lose from too much expectation.

In terms of a TV resurrection, Doctor Who‘s popularity was simply unprecedented. The true measure of its success was how it managed to go beyond the assured headlines of merely being brought back, to maintaining the interest of both the viewers and press. It took canny stage-managing from Russell T Davies, sure, but with Doctor Who he proved he really knew what it took to make popular television in this country, fusing soap, sci-fi and surprise to create a show that was variously funny, thought-provoking and – at times – awe inspiring.

And yet the one element he couldn’t quite get a handle one was the Doctor himself. While primary-coloured cinema hits seem to suggest the public have an appetite for heroes, Davies has so far kept the Time Lord a step removed from the action, never initiating nor even driving his adventures. It’s almost as though Davies feared the Doctor would actually sink the series if ever he regained the command he had over it in the old days. Nonetheless, Davies managed to write in a snog between the Gallifreyian and his companion and nobody complained. Miraculous.

From what we’ve seen of David Tennant’s first forays in the TARDIS, it looks like the best is yet to come. And for anyone who cares about television anywhere in the world, that is quite the finest thing of all.


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