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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Howard Phillips, one of the main architects of the Moral Majority and, more generally, the American religious right, died Saturday at the age of 72. According to the Christian News Network, he had been suffering from dementia.
Phillips had a long history in conservative and right-wing movements, including three runs as a third-party presidential candidate. He sat on the board of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and worked on Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign. He then went on to get involved in the administration of Richard Nixon, who appointed him head of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).
According to left-leaning sociologist Sara Diamond, Phillips was convinced that the OEO was a vehicle for radical leftist recipients, so he encouraged Nixon to appoint other conservative activists from YAF and the American Conservative Union with the aim of eliminating many OEO programs. He launched a public relations campaign, eliminated the OEO’s regional offices, and de-funded anti-poverty programs — until a federal court ruled his actions illegal because his appointment had not been confirmed by the Senate, sparking Phillips’ resignation. Phillips went on to found or help found several key right-wing organizations and networks, including Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.
During the Reagan Administration, Phillips founded and headed the influential Conservative Caucus. He was a founding member of the secretive and influential conservative Council for National Policy, and served as a senior editor at the Conservative Digest. By the 1990s, Phillips had grown dissatisfied with the Republican Party (it wasn’t right-wing enough) and founded the U.S. Taxpayers Party in 1992. USTP later morphed into the still-extant Constitution Party, whose goal is to implement Biblical law in America and to “limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries” and on whose presidential ticket Phillips ran. The party platform includes pushing states to “proscribe sexually offensive behaviors” including homosexuality; calling on U.S. troops to protect states against invasion by immigrants; opposing abortion in any circumstance; banning pornography; abolishing the IRS and the Department of Education; preventing the federal government from restricting the acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of liberty, law, and government; and returning all lands “held by the federal government without authorization of the Constitution” to the people.
In the 1970s, Phillips converted from Judaism and become a believer in Christian Reconstructionism and a follower of the late R. J. Rushdoony (considered the father of Christian Reconstructionism, a theological doctrine calling for the imposition of Old Testament law on the United States). Rushdoony established the Chalcedon Foundation and was a slavery apologist (Phillips opposed the Voting Rights Act) who also supported the death penalty for gay people. The Chalcedon Foundation posted a brief blog about Phillips’ death, calling him a “longtime Chalcedon colleague and supporter, and close personal friend to R. J. Rushdoony.”
Phillips also attracted a following from the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. Texas Republican congressman Steve Stockman claimed on the virulently right-wing Free Republic website that Phillips’ work will live on through the “Constitutional government movement he helped build.” Chuck Baldwin, longtime Patriot pastor, has been tapped to speak at Phillips’ funeral in Virginia.
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.
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