Best, worst in 2015 entertainment: Disappointments, debuts, major moments and farewells

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We round up the highs (Adele's album, the "Mad Men" finale), lows (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's "By the Sea," Iggy Azalea's disaster of a year) and in-betweens that made up the year in entertainment.

See what Newsday's movie, TV, music, theater and book critics have to say about the major moments, big debuts, worst flops and notable farewells in pop culture during 2015.

Debut: Jacob Tremblay

In his short life, this 9-year-old Canadian has
(Credit: A24 Films)

In his short life, this 9-year-old Canadian has worked in film and television, but his breakout performance in "Room" -- as a boy trapped in a makeshift prison -- has made him an awards-season contender. The Screen Actors Guild recently nominated Tremblay for best supporting actor alongside Christian Bale, Idris Elba, Michael Shannon and Mark Rylance. Tremblay reportedly celebrated the news with a banana split and chocolate fondue.

Debut: Bel Powley

After much television work and a barely-screened film
(Credit: TNS / Sony Pictures)

After much television work and a barely-screened film in 2013, this young actress made her major feature-film debut playing an intellectually advanced and sexually precocious high schooler navigating San Francisco during the 1970s in "Diary of a Teenage Girl." Powley's mix of teen awkwardness and adult sophistication was spot-on, and you'd never guess she was 23 -- and British. It's a terrific performance in a sexually frank and frequently troubling film that also marks the debut of director Marielle Heller.

Debut: 'Ant-Man'

This unlikely superhero -- he's really strong but
(Credit: Disney, Marvel / Zade Rosenthal)

This unlikely superhero -- he's really strong but awfully tiny -- proved to be one of Disney-Marvel's most appealing creations yet. Thanks to an endearing Paul Rudd in the title role and some highly inventive action scenes (think toy trains and bathtub drains), "Ant-Man" became a major hit with critics and moviegoers alike. With Michael Douglas as a wise old mentor and Evangeline Lilly as a potential crime-fighting colleague, "Ant-Man" introduced a super-fun franchise worth keeping an eye on. -- RAFER GUZMAN

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Debut: Caitlyn Jenner

Jenner was always Bruce Jenner -- a former

Jenner was always Bruce Jenner -- a former Olympic champion and one of the world's best-known celebrities until he slipped into the Kardashian orbit, where he wallowed as an eccentric and melancholic bit player on one of TV's most ubiquitous and self-replicating franchises. But as Cait, Jenner became a pioneer -- the world's most famous transgender woman who took the role of groundbreaker seriously on her new series, "I Am Cait." A star is reborn.

Debut: Tituss Burgess

As Titus Andromedon -- Kimmy's (Ellie Kemper) roommate
(Credit: AP / Eric Liebowitz)

As Titus Andromedon -- Kimmy's (Ellie Kemper) roommate on Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" -- Burgess might inhabit the funniest character on TV's best new comedy, or at least he's a toss-up with Kemper's Kimmy. Either way, he's a revelation: A physical, facile comic, he takes the written dialogue of Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Jack Burditt et al and turns it into something that often exceeds even "hilarious." Burgess is just great on this show.

Debut: Rami Malek

Obviously Malek (
(Credit: USA Network, AP / David Giesbrecht)

Obviously Malek ("Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb") is not "new" per se, but to many TV viewers he suddenly is -- as mysterious hacker Elliot Alderson on USA's freshman breakout series, "Mr. Robot." Malek was a standout in 2010's "The Pacific," as PFC Merriell "Snafu" Shelton, then came a long absence from TV. Just one quick glance at his dark, brooding, dangerous, exotic and seductive Alderson, and this question seems inescapable: What took TV so long to bring him back? -- VERNE GAY

Debut: Courtney Barnett

The Australian indie-rocker commands attention on the clever
(Credit: Mia Mala McDonald)

The Australian indie-rocker commands attention on the clever "Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit" (Mom + Pop) album, sometimes by roaring ("Pedestrian at Best") and sometimes by wistfully dreaming ("Depreston"). The charm offensive worked, landing her a prestigious Grammy nomination for best new artist.

Debut: Tobias Jesso Jr.

The Canadian singer-songwriter is one of the best
(Credit: Sandy Kim)

The Canadian singer-songwriter is one of the best new piano men to arrive in years, thanks to his debut "Goon" (True Panther Sounds) and its blend of Billy Joel, Rufus Wainwright and Randy Newman. Adele quickly became a fan and cowrote her single "When We Were Young" with him.

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Debut: Shamir

If The Weeknd was, you know, um, fun,
(Credit: Amazon.com)

If The Weeknd was, you know, um, fun, maybe he could keep up with the frantic dance-soul of Las Vegas' Shamir Bailey on his debut "Ratchet" (XL). His single "On the Regular" introduces him as a nimble, clever rapper who can ride an electro-beat with skill and, yes, humor. -- GLENN GAMBOA

Debut: Cynthia Erivo

Few here even knew her name until December,
(Credit: Polk and Co., AP / Matthew Murphy)

Few here even knew her name until December, when the British actress brought the house down with her Broadway debut in "The Color Purple." When Celie, the abused Georgia woman, finally finds her voice in the second act of this scaled-down revival, Erivo showed audiences what a showstopper really means: a standing ovation in the middle of a show.

Debut: Robert Fairchild

The New York City Ballet star owns the
(Credit: AP / Angela Sterling)

The New York City Ballet star owns the stage in his Broadway debut in "An American in Paris" -- dancing, yes, but also acting and singing in Christopher Wheeldon's ravishing rethinking of the Hollywood movie. Fairchild has the all-American quality that the film's Gene Kelly had as the American GI who stays in Paris to paint after World War II. But Fairchild also has leading-man looks and a dance technique that devours vast expanses of the stage with dashing ease. If he wants to keep doing theater, he will be unstoppable.

Debut: Mark Strong

The British actor has a presence so authentic
(Credit: Jan Versweyveld)

The British actor has a presence so authentic it feels almost overwhelming in Ivo van Hove's stripped-down and downright stunning reconsideration of Arthur Miller's 1957 "A View From the Bridge." Strong, who won London's Olivier for his portrayal of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, viscerally embodies a man so comfortable in his skin that he can't begin to comprehend his catastrophic passions. -- LINDA WINER

Debut: Garth Risk Hallberg

With a $2 million advance from Knopf and
(Credit: Knopf)

With a $2 million advance from Knopf and a pre-publication movie deal with Scott Rudin, "City of Fire" was set to be the biggest literary debut of all time. When this saga of 1970s New York hit the streets at a whopping 944 pages, it proved equal to the hype, meeting with high praise.

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Debut: Lucia Berlin

The small-press collections of her stories published before
(Credit: FSG)

The small-press collections of her stories published before her death in 2004 slipped under the radar, but when the career-spanning anthology "A Manual for Cleaning Women" came out this year, the reading public fell in love with Lucia Berlin. If only she were alive to see her name on all those "Best Books of 2015" lists.

Debut: Aziz Ansari

This was the year of stand-up comedian Ansari,
(Credit: Penguin Press)

This was the year of stand-up comedian Ansari, whose success on television's "Parks and Recreation" and in his new "Master of None" was matched by the enthusiastic reception of his first book, "Modern Romance: An Investigation," which hilariously explores the effect of social networking and cellphones on our love lives. -- MARION WINIK

Disappointment: 'Aloha'

Cameron Crowe's unintentional parody of himself starred Bradley
(Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment / Neal Preston)

Cameron Crowe's unintentional parody of himself starred Bradley Cooper as an ex-military man caught between his ex-wife (Rachel McAdams) and a pretty young Air Force captain, Allison Ng, a native Hawaiian played by a clearly Caucasian Emma Stone. Filled with bizarre plot-points (including a nuclear warhead pulverized by the sound of rock music) and some of the worst pick-up lines outside the Meatpacking District ("Would you stop getting more beautiful?"), the movie was so poorly received that Crowe all but apologized for making it.

Disappointment: 'Rock the Kasbah'

In a premise that almost sounded promising, Bill
(Credit: Kerry Brown)

In a premise that almost sounded promising, Bill Murray played washed-up rock manager Richie Lanz, who discovers a talented young singer (Leem Lubany) in Afghanistan. Director Barry Levinson has mixed war and comedy before ("Good Morning, Vietnam"), but his portrayal of Afghanistan as a wacky hot-spot filled with colorful goofballs (Danny McBride, Bruce Willis) seemed shockingly insensitive.

Disappointment: 'By the Sea'

Brad and Angelina Jolie Pitt star as a
(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Brad and Angelina Jolie Pitt star as a writer and his wife who hole up in a French villa and confront problems in their marriage. Written and directed by Jolie, an otherwise solid filmmaker ("Unbroken"), this excruciatingly dull, pseudo-European drama shows the two stars mostly posing, smoking and trying to convey profound thoughts with their eyes. Audiences clearly sensed a stinker and stayed away in droves, leaving "By the Sea" to sink with less than $2 million at the box-office. -- RAFER GUZMAN

Disappointment: 'True Detective 2'

HBO's
(Credit: HBO / Lacey Terrell)

HBO's "TD 2" was such a letdown that it almost served as a corrective -- maybe "True Detective 1" had been over-praised (or overhyped) in the first place? Fans in fact had embraced the first installment of this anthology with so much passion that the second was guaranteed a backlash of some sort. Besides those expectations, "TD2's" noir LA detective storyline also found itself caught in the orbit of "Chinatown" -- Robert Towne's 1974 masterpiece about evil under the L.A. sun -- and to a lesser extent the orbits of James Elroy, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Wambaugh, Michael Connelly and a half-century of noir in film, television and novel. Without much new to say or add to an already saturated genre, "TD2"' limped along, then fizzled out.

Disappointment: 'House of Cards' Season 3

Who knew running the country with an Iago
(Credit: David Giesbrecht)

Who knew running the country with an Iago as commander-in-chief and Lady Macbeth as First Lady could be so... dull. Yup, Netflix's "House of Cards" postponed its sophomore slump to the third season. One obvious reason: Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as malefactor-in-waiting was more interesting than malefactor-as-POTUS. The season ended on a series of downers, too, with Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) leaving Frank, and Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) turning into a fully committed mobster-goon. At least a historic presidential election looms in the fourth season. What could possibly go wrong for Francis then?

Disappointment: 'Man in the High Castle'

This alternate history business is tricky stuff --
(Credit: Amazon Studios / David Berg)

This alternate history business is tricky stuff -- especially tricky when the Amazon promotion team undertakes the questionable strategy of plastering Nazi regalia on subway car seats in New York City. (Said tune-in promotion was shortly removed after passengers complained). But it is especially tricky when that which is historically reimagined -- the takeover of the United States by Germany and Japan following World War II -- is so somber, slow, deliberative and relentlessly depressing. To this disappointment I append, however, this asterisk: A promise to finally get around to watching the whole series through to conclusion, when I may even offer an alternate appraisal. In the meantime, please understand why that won't be coming anytime soon. -- VERNE GAY

Disappointment: Justin Bieber

The Biebs had a good year with a
(Credit: Def Jam Records)

The Biebs had a good year with a string of catchy dance singles, especially "Sorry." Beneath the repentant surface, though, are problematic flashes of anger -- a tantrum at the "Today" show, cutting a Norway concert short. And worse yet, much of "Purpose" really sounds like image-rehabbing marketing speak.

Disappointment: Iggy Azalea

I-G-G-Y's 2015 was bad. The
(Credit: AP / John Shearer)

I-G-G-Y's 2015 was bad. The "Fancy" rapper announced in June that she was scrapping her new album and starting over. Then, she canceled her entire arena tour. "Pretty Girls," her collaboration with Britney Spears, was so not pretty and ended in a Twitter beef. And she best back away from her beef with Ms. Badu.

Disappointment: Kid Rock

His
(Credit: Warner Bros / Wea)

His "First Kiss" (Warner Bros.) album may be 2015's laziest major-label release, as he offers up one bland lyric after another. How does he describe a love like Johnny and June Carter Cash's? "I like to watch you shoot your guns and I like the way you love having fun." -- GLENN GAMBOA

Disappointment: 'A Fish in the Dark'

How could Larry David, of all iconoclastic truth-tellers,
(Credit: Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images)

How could Larry David, of all iconoclastic truth-tellers, have written and starred in this decrepit sitcom? Stuffed with Jewish mother jokes and snickers about toilets, this could have been written by someone who hadn't seen a comic play since the '50s.

Disappointment: 'China Doll'

After a string of bizarrely simplistic new plays,
(Credit: Jeffrey Richards Associates / Jeremy Daniel)

After a string of bizarrely simplistic new plays, David Mamet's latest makes it hard to avoid wondering what has become of the dazzling creator of such brilliant and cynical verbal style-shows as the Pulitzer winning "Glengarry Glen Ross." Despite the exhausting work of one of his all-time best interpreters, Al Pacino, this is lazy, pointless and seriously worrisome.

Disappointment: 'The Girl in The Spider's Web'

Three of the biggest franchises on the literary
(Credit: Knopf)

Three of the biggest franchises on the literary landscape went down in flames this year. Stieg Larsson, author of Lisbeth Salander trilogy, died before his books became bestsellers, so Swedish writer David Lagercrantz was hired to continue the series. Fans found the characters of The Girl In The Spider's Web to be shades of their former selves, trapped in a less exciting plot.

Disappointment: 'Grey'

The fourth installment of E.L. James'
(Credit: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

The fourth installment of E.L. James' "Shades of Grey" series retold the story of the first -- where Ana and Christian met and found happiness in the dungeon -- from Christian's point of view. Sadly, we liked him a lot less once we got inside his pervy sexist head.

Disappointment: 'Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined'

The urge to rehash from a flipped-gender perspective
(Credit: Little, Brown and Company)

The urge to rehash from a flipped-gender perspective also gripped "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer, who gave us her original story with a girl vampire and a human boy. The result was a thrilling triumph for the "find and replace" command. -- MARION WINIK

Major moment: Jennifer Lawrence and gender inequality in Hollywood

The issue of gender equity in Hollywood has
(Credit: Getty Images / Carlos Alvarez)

The issue of gender equity in Hollywood has been simmering for years, if not decades, but recently it's become tougher to simply ignore. One inciting incident was the omission of Ava DuVernay, the black female director of "Selma," from the nominees at this year's Academy Awards -- an oversight that many chalked up to entrenched sexism (and, perhaps, racism).
As it happened, this year saw an unusual number of female-made and female-driven movies -- from comedies like Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck" to dramas like "Diary of a Teenage Girl" -- and some earned healthy profits. Not for the first time, women began asking about equal pay.
Among the first to stir the pot were Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, stars of the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie," who told reporters that they earned the same salaries as their male supporting actors. Following a spate of bad publicity for Netflix, though, Fonda and Tomlin claimed to have been only joking.
Enter Jennifer Lawrence, who wasn't kidding when she discussed equitable pay in an October essay for Lena Dunham's newsletter, Lenny. Lawrence breached Hollywood etiquette by confirming that she had earned less than Bradley Cooper and other male co-stars in "American Hustle." (That information had been revealed in Sony's hacked emails the year before). What's more, Lawrence was mad as hell and not going to take it any more. "[Expletive] that," she wrote in her characteristically blunt fashion.
In response, Cooper pledged to make his salary transparent in the future. "Usually you don't talk about the financial stuff," he told Reuters. "It's time to start doing that." Cooper's solution may or may not become standard practice, but it seems clear that Hollywood must change. If and when that happens, Lawrence will be remembered for playing an important part. -- RAFER GUZMAN

Major moment: 'Mad Men' finale

Finales of beloved series are killers, but the
(Credit: AMC)

Finales of beloved series are killers, but the final scenes of those finales can be murder. No one's typically happy with them, especially harecore fans who aren't ready to say goodbye anyway and are in a fighting mood long before the final credits roll. Will the End affirm our devotion? Will it offer the key to meaning, resolution, or story? Will it even make SENSE?
"Mad Men" had long played with heads, starting with opening credits all the way back at launch in 2007. A man is falling toward the sidewalk... Metaphor? Or foreshadowing? "Mad Men" was the journey of Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) soul -- that blighted, complicated, lascivious soul -- so surely this journey would end in discord, or (worse) madness, or worse still (splat). Wrong, on all counts.
"Mad Men" essentially ended with a Coke and a smile, as Don's commercial inspiration ("I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony") flowered on a cliff high above the Pacific. In that singularly happy, hopeful moment, "Mad Men" disarmed the mob while reminding it (us) what the show had really been about the whole time. Oh, right -- advertising. -- VERNE GAY

Major moment: Adele's '25'

She had us at
(Credit: XL/Columbia Records)

She had us at "Hello."
Adele needed only a 30-second commercial during the British version of "The X Factor" on Oct. 18 to touch off a frenzy and the biggest album launch in music history.
Until that point, only a handful of people knew her album "25" (XL/Columbia) was finally finished, four years after the release of "21," the top-selling album of the 21st century. Until that point, few knew her plans -- the sound, the collaborators, the direction of her new album.
Then suddenly, it was clear. Adele's voice needed no introduction. Her style is so identifiable that people immediately knew who it was and that what they were hearing would likely be part of history. But no one could have predicted this.
Considering the dwindling sales of the music industry, hamstrung by Internet piracy and now the advent of streaming services, NSync's one-week sales record of 2.42 million albums in 2000 seemed permanently out of reach. Adele's "25" needed just four days to pass it, racking up an almost unfathomable 3.38 million sales in its first week. (She followed that with another record, selling 1.11 million copies the next week.) It immediately became the top-selling album of 2015, nearly doubling sales of the previous top-seller, Taylor Swift's "1989," for the entire year.
But the "25" phenomenon is more than just numbers. Adele's success offers hope for an ailing industry. Not only does it show that it is still possible to sell huge quantities of albums, but that it can be done without controversy, without extraneous flash, without break-the-Internet exploits. It can be done by singing great songs well. That may be hard to replicate, but the strategy is as simple as "Hello." -- GLENN GAMBOA

Major moment: 'Fun Home' at the Tonys

Is there anything that beats the what-took-so-long significance
(Credit: Invision, AP / Charles Sykes)

Is there anything that beats the what-took-so-long significance of the moment at the Tonys when composer Jeanine Tesori and writer-lyricist Lisa Kron became the first female team to win the Tony for best score? Their wonderful and boundary-breaking show, "Fun Home," also swept four other Tonys, including the big one for best musical.
For all the celebrations, however, there was something not quite right about this picture. Despite the enormous pleasures and importance of the show, CBS chose not to show the historic moment as part of the main part of the Tony telecast. Writers, you see, are not considered hot-stuff enough to interest the national audience and, unless there's a celebrity face involved, most starless categories are relegated to off-screen distribution.
In a Broadway season dominated by feather-light musical comedies and movie retreads, "Fun Home" broke the mold. The grown-up, disturbing, deeply hilarious musical had won just about every award for which it was eligible during its 2013 Off-Broadway premiere at the Public Theater.
And the show -- really a musical play -- lost none of its gripping enchantment in the transfer into a large in-the-round setting on Broadway. Based on Alison Bechdel's 2006 coming-of-age graphic novel, the piece, which is still running at Circle in the Square Theatre, centers on the conflicting family dynamics between Alison -- played by three remarkable actresses of different ages -- who comes out as a lesbian just four months before her increasingly erratic father, a closeted gay man, kills himself.
The omission of this important category spurred a high-profile protest, including a letter from the Dramatists Guild to CBS president Les Moonves about the shabby treatment of playwrights, lyricists and composers by the Tony telecast. Will anything be different at the next Tonys in June? We'll check again. -- LINDA WINER

Major moment: 'Go Set a Watchman'

Few books are more highly regarded or widely
(Credit: HarperCollins)

Few books are more highly regarded or widely read than the Pulitzer Prize-winning "To Kill A Mockingbird," published in 1960, followed in 1962 by an equally beloved film. Because Harper Lee never wrote another book over the next 55 years, her decision to publish a second novel made front-page news in February. But was it really her decision? As the complicated story behind "Go Set A Watchman" unfolded, a controversy caught fire.
It turned out the book was written before "Mockingbird," and that Lee's editor at the time had sent her back to her desk for a complete overhaul. This first draft was put in a vault, where it stayed for decades. In 2007 Lee had a stroke, which affected her memory and mental acuity, and in 2014 Lee's sister, Alice, who had acted as her manager, died. At this point, Lee's lawyer, Tonja Carter, announced that she had discovered a never-published prequel to "Mockingbird" in a safe-deposit box and that the author had agreed to its publication.
A media frenzy -- at least by book world standards -- ensued, fed by the publisher's decision to embargo the book until publication. The hullabaloo resulted in the book's selling more than 1.1 million copies the July week it debuted, unaffected by negative reviews from critics and speculation that HarperCollins had taken advantage of Lee's diminished mental state in what was essentially a money grab.
As the dust settled, defenders of the novel appeared, finding that the Atticus depicted in "Watchman," a far cry from the noble defender of civil rights in "Mockingbird," adds verisimilitude and complexity to the story. For better or worse, "Watchman" has found a place on high school and college curricula... and probably also inspired a rash of first-draft-burning by other novelists. -- MARION WINIK

Farewell to: 'Paranormal Activity'

Two hugely popular film franchises said goodbye this
(Credit: AP )

Two hugely popular film franchises said goodbye this year, and they couldn't be more different.
One is "Paranormal Activity," the low-budget horror flicks from Blumhouse Productions. The series began in 2007 with a haunted-house movie that had no stars, the slimmest of scripts and a bunch of slamming doors instead of special effects. Presented as found footage from surveillance cameras in a San Diego McMansion, "Paranormal Activity" was a good old-fashioned chiller with a modern twist.
Five more films spelled diminishing returns, but there was something comforting about the format, which never changed. With the release of this year's final film, "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension," we've lost a dependably enjoyable franchise, and a dependably profitable one, too.
According to BoxOfficeMojo, the whole series cost $28 million to produce and took in $888 million at the box office.

Farewell to: 'The Hunger Games'

The other franchise to leave us was

The other franchise to leave us was "The Hunger Games," a series of big-budget spectacles whose marketing campaigns alone could have funded a hundred "Paranormal" films. Based on the best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games" introduced us to a dystopia called Panem where children were forced to battle each other to the death -- at least until the rebellious Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stepped in. The first film, in 2012, turned Lawrence into a superstar and promised a new kind of teen flick, one that combined brutal violence with sharp social commentary.
Alas, the series never quite rose to its potential, but don't tell that to its fans, who have shelled out $2.7 billion (and counting). The ensuing mania for teen-dystopia films is with us still, in the form of the franchises "Divergent" and "The Maze Runner." They're not quite the same thing, though, largely because there's only one Jennifer Lawrence.
And guess what? Lionsgate recently hinted that "Hunger Games" prequels are a possibility. It's so hard to say goodbye. -- RAFER GUZMAN

Farewell to: David Letterman

TV, like life, goes on. Right? The departure
(Credit: CBS / John Paul Filo)

TV, like life, goes on. Right? The departure of a giant personality doesn't usually mean the end of his or franchise. Someone else steps in. The show goes on. Life too -- and also for the personality. Johnny Carson effectively expunged his public profile after "Tonight," disappearing behind his Malibu compound walls. He wasn't "Tonight," after all. He had his own life. He was done.
Instead of walls, David Letterman disappeared behind his beard. You may have seen the pictures: A huge flowing white personality unto itself, which Letterman likened (accurately) to Charles Darwin's. But Dave's evolution from the world's most famous late night host to hirsute private citizen has been experienced by all of us in other ways. "Late Show" was taken over by Stephen Colbert -- clean-shaven, and still feeling his way into a new personality and style so different from his "Colbert Report" one. In Letterman's absence, the rest of late night TV seems more polite, less attuned to the tumultuous political landscape. Jon Stewart also left last year so late night is definitely more polite and less attuned.
But the difference between Jon and Dave (plus beard) is that the former will be back, on HBO. The latter is gone for good.
Those words, "gone for good," are sobering: For 33 years, David Letterman -- along with Carson -- was TV's dominant entertainment personality.
Whether you were a fan or not -- clearly, I was -- he made TV better and culture more interesting. His worldview was funny, acerbic and humane. He formulated a way for us to look at the raging bonfire of vanities, and apparently -- or subliminally -- many of us absorbed his worldview too.
Now that's gone. Maybe television isn't like life after all. When a giant leaves the stage, the stage just gets smaller. TV, too. -- VERNE GAY

Farewell to: Nassau Coliseum

Yes, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum isn't dead.
Buy photo
(Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Yes, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum isn't dead. A smaller, more modern version is scheduled to open this time next year, following a $261 million renovation. But it won't be the same.
The 43-year history of the Coliseum was special, in part, because of its size. Its existence was a testament that Long Island could support a huge concert venue and major league sports team just like its massive neighbor to the west. And sometimes, the 18,000-plus arena would feature events New Yorkers could only see on Long Island, like the numerous Grateful Dead concerts or the emo explosion of Taking Back Sunday's homecoming, or Billy Joel's 32 unique hometown shows over the years.
Joel ended this Nassau Coliseum era with a three-hour spectacular on Aug. 4, packed with local references and songs drenched in Long Island history. He even called special guest Paul Simon "a fellow Long Islander," a distinction only Long Islanders would understand about the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from Queens.
It was a tough night, punctuated with cheers of "Let's go Islanders!" and boos for Gov. Andrew Cuomo as fans said a reluctant goodbye to The Barn, in all its cavernous glory.
For his part, Joel offered one more Nassau Coliseum memory, a chance for fans to boast about being there the night Joel wailed like Robert Plant on a version of "You May Be Right" that segued into Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll." And of course seeing the original Nassau Coliseum era fittingly close with "Only the Good Die Young." -- GLENN GAMBOA

Farewell to: 'Mamma Mia!'

(Credit: Getty Images / Andrew H. Walker)

"Mamma Mia!," there you go again -- but this time, for good. The feel-good ABBA musical, which defined "guilty pleasure" in our imaginary encyclopedia of pop-culture shamelessness, closed Sept. 12 after 14 years on Broadway. It was the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history, and, just possibly, the dopiest.
It came to New York in 2001 after a London smash and proved itself to be a grandiose yet modest, disarmingly sweet glob of neo-nostalgic brain candy. It offered a few painless, mindless hours of improbable romantic comedy with the bone-deep, disco-friendly resonance of the infectious '70s Swedish pop group.
This was no mere musical revue. It was one of the first jukebox shows to collaborate with a playwright (Catherine Johnson) on a genuine, old-fashioned book musical into which they plugged or amusingly shoehorned their hits.
The karaoke/intergenerational family story was made into a 2008 movie starring Meryl Streep, with the same author and the same British director, Phyllida Lloyd, who went immediately back to directing serious opera and theater, including Broadway revivals of "Mary Stuart" and fascinating all-woman productions of Shakespeare.
Broadway producers were originally wary of the show's American impact. In London, the catchy bubblegum tunes and pleasantly regular backbeat rhythms of "Dancing Queen," "Winner Takes It All" and "Take a Chance on Me" were considered part of the national DNA. American producers were wrong. -- LINDA WINER

Farewell to: James Salter, last of the Hamptons literary boys' club

With the deaths of literary lions James Salter
(Credit: AP / Ed Betz)

With the deaths of literary lions James Salter (pictured) and E.L. Doctorow this year, and Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton and Kurt Vonnegut not long before, the celebrated literary boys' club of Hamptons writers has closed down for good.
Every group of writers has a bar and this one had theirs at a Bridgehampton steakhouse described by writer and editor Willie Morris in The New York Times in 1974: "Most of us who live more or less in solitude deserve a place of our own, outside the house, to visit when the gloom of home deepens with the early dark... That place for me is a saloon named Bobby Van's," he wrote. Others who joined him there were Joseph Heller and Truman Capote, who is rumored to have finished "In Cold Blood" at one of Bobby Van's tables.
The pioneer of the group was Matthiessen, who came out east to fish and hunt in the late 1950s. Over the next decades John Knowles, Irwin Shaw, James Jones and Robert Caro were among those who joined him, along with Knopf's Jason Epstein, who edited Matthiessen and Doctorow, and Random House's Robert Gottlieb, who still edits Caro. From the 1970s on, this gang assembled not only at the bar, but for beach barbecues, tennis matches and touch football.
As their ranks thinned with age, Salter and Mattheissen remained close friends, meeting every evening at Gibson Beach for a swim. Now, with the last of them gone, the only place to find this fraternity on the East End is on the shelves at Canio's Bookstore. -- MARION WINIK

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