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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Michael Hastings — the take-no-prisoners journalists with an admirable tendency to challenge authority — will be remembered for many things. The reporter, who died tragically in an L.A. car crash this week, will likely be remembered most in the public eye for his Polk Award-winning Rolling Stone piece, “The Runaway General,” which led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, the International Security Assistance Force commander, in 2010.
In its obituary for the journalist, however, the New York Times towed a line peddled by the government at the time of the McChrystal scandal by casting some doubt on Hastings’ reporting. The journalist’s widow, Elise Jordan, has been swift to take issue with the Times obit. As HuffPo reported, “Jordan did not take kindly to the Times’ remembrance, and in an email to Times’ editor Jill Abramson, asked the paper correct its report before printing it in the morning paper. Abramson sent the note to Bill McDonald, obituaries editor, who rejected the request.”
HuffPo’s Ryan Grimm and Jason Linkins side with Hastings’ wife, noting of the Times’ obit, “it’s unclear whether the Times’ reaction to Hastings’ story is rooted in professional jealousy or a knee-jerk defense of the establishment. The inspector general’s report said it could not confirm some elements of Hastings’ reporting, but that was to be expected. Hastings quotes the general and his aides making disparaging remarks about their civilian superiors. Such people would be unlikely to acknowledge having said such things, especially considering that Hastings allowed some of them to remain nameless.”
Below is the letter from Jordan to Jill Abramson:
Dear Jill, I was shocked and saddened to read a blatant mischaracterization of my late husband Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone story “The Runaway General” in his obituary.
The obituary states: “An inquiry into Mr. Hastings’s article by the Defense Department inspector general the next year found ‘insufficient’ evidence of wrongdoing by the general, his military aides and civilian advisers. The inspector general’s report also questioned the accuracy of some aspects of the article, which was repeatedly defended by Mr. Hastings and Rolling Stone’s editors.”
If a reporter at the Times actually would read and properly analyze the Pentagon report, they would find exactly the opposite. The report clearly states: “In some instances, we found no witness who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported. In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.”
As Rolling Stone stated in response to the Pentagon report, “The report by the Pentagon’s inspector general offers no credible source — or indeed, any named source — contradicting the facts as reported in our story, ‘The Runaway General.’ Much of the report, in fact, confirms our reporting, noting only that the Pentagon was unable to find witnesses ‘who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported.’ This is not surprising, given that the civilian and military advisers questioned by the Pentagon knew that their careers were on the line if they admitted to making such comments.”
Unfortunately, the mischaracterization in the obituary reflects a longstanding -– and ongoing –- misrepresentation of the facts in and surrounding this story by the Times. Your archived story of the Pentagon report, for example, still carries the headline: “Pentagon Inquiry Into Article Clears McChrystal and Aides,” even though the report did no such thing. Insufficient evidence to prosecute is not the same as “clearing” someone of a misdeed. It is as if a district attorney had found no witnesses to prosecute a suspected murderer – the only other witnesses being his accomplices -– and the Times ran a story headlined, “DA Clears Alleged Killer.”
I personally transcribed and have all the tape recordings of Michael’s interviews during his time with McChrystal and his staff. I can personally verify that some of the most damning comments were made by McChrystal himself, and many others made by his aides in his presence were greeted with his enthusiastic approval. Michael refused to give further evidence to the Pentagon investigators, even though he could have directly attributed a host of insubordinate comments to others on the general’s staff, in part because he believed that it was not the role of a journalist to open his notebooks to the military, and in part because he felt that what was needed when it came to the war in Afghanistan was not a change in personnel, but in policy.
I trust you’ll make these corrections online and before you print tomorrow’s paper.
The Times rejected the request while offering condolences, responding:
As the report stated, “Not all of the events at issue occurred as reported in the article. In some instances, we found no witness who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported. In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article.” In other words, as the obit states, “the inspector general’s report … questioned the accuracy of some aspects of the article.” I don’t know how else you could interpret the passage quoted above (“not all of the events occurred as reported,” incidents occurred “not in the exact context described”). I think it’s also clear that it’s not The Times that is questioning the article’s accuracy; it was the Defense Department. We’re simply reporting what it publicly said, while noting that your husband received a Polk Award for the article and was vigorously defended by Rolling Stone. So we see no reason to change the obituary.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org. More Natasha Lennard.
"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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