CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The New Year is just around the corner, and instead of looking back on this year, why not look ahead to 2013?
I was originally going to make this a column of 10 things to look forward to, but that was a little hefty, so I've split it into two weeks of five. This week, here are five show-specific things to celebrate when the calendar flips:
1. Return of 'Breaking Bad'
This will be bittersweet because when the show does return this summer it will be for the final eight episodes ever. Still, in those final eight episodes, we'll get to see what I expect could be some of the greatest television ever made.
Creator Vince Gilligan set up a pretty big cliffhanger (which I won't spoil for the sake of those of you not caught up yet) in this year's last episode, and I have full confidence in his plans to resolve it and all the other story lines in play. He hasn't disappointed me yet, and it doesn't sound like he will now. On Nov. 26, Aaron Paul tweeted, "I just finished reading the first episode of the final season of Breaking Bad and words can not express what I just experienced. Holy shit."
The only good thing about the agonizing seven-month wait is that those of you who haven't yet seen this amazing show have more than enough time to get caught up on the 54 episodes to date. (Season five isn't out on DVD yet, but I'm sure it will be with plenty of time before the premiere.)
2. More 'Talking Dead'
When "The Walking Dead" returns from its midseason break on Feb. 10, so too will the live aftershow, "Talking Dead." Except now, it will truly be an aftershow, immediately following each new premiere episode's broadcast instead of the encore broadcast, as has been the case up to this point.
Also, when the show returns, it will expand to a full hour. This will give host Chris Hardwick and his guests more time to discuss the week's episode, take fans' questions and comments, dish on behind-the-scenes happenings and mourn the dead in the week's "In Memoriam" segment.
If you're a "Walking Dead" fan and you're not watching "Talking Dead," you need to start. I was skeptical of it at first and didn't tune in until the penultimate show last season (when "Chuck" star Zachary Levi was one of the guests). I really enjoy it now, though.
Generally, at least one guest each week is directly related to the show, and hearing his or her insider knowledge and perspective on what happened in the week's episode is interesting. Some of my favorite non-show guests have been nerd extraordinaire Wil Wheaton, actress Yvette Nicole Brown ("Community") and TV producer Damon Lindelof ("Lost"). Even if you're not interested in the talk show aspect, it's worth tuning in for the episode trivia and behind-the-scenes features.
3. Longer 'Game of Thrones'
There will be more for "Game of Thrones" fans to love when the show returns for season three on March 31 -- roughly an hour more. It's the first of two seasons that will tackle the gigantic third book in George R.R. Martin's series (the 973-page "A Storm of Swords"), and all 10 episodes in it will have a few minutes extra to them.
Showrunner Dan Weiss told Entertainment Weekly earlier this month that HBO has no set runtime for shows as long as they're no less than 50 and no more than 60 minutes. His co-writer/producer David Benioff added, "Last year we had a lot of 52-minute episodes. This year is a lot of 56, 57."
Also in March, HBO and Brewery Ommegang will release Iron Throne Blonde Ale, the first of four "Game of Thrones"-themed beers. The second is set to go on sale in the fall, and the two others will debut in conjunction with future seasons.
4. Joss Whedon's 'S.H.I.E.L.D.'
Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" was the highest-grossing film of 2012, and ABC hopes to bring some of its superhero superpower to the small screen by tapping him for this Marvel TV series that it hopes to have for the 2013 fall season.
Although S.H.I.E.L.D. (or the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) was in "The Avengers," the series isn't a spin-off of that, so don't expect to see Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth or Scarlett Johansson on your TV every week. Instead, according to Disney, which owns ABC and Marvel, "Any connection between the TV project and the feature film would be loose, using some of its themes and feel, but not necessarily the same characters."