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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
Few presidents have been as religiously observant yet reluctant to discuss their faith. He never raised the subject with [advisor Ted] Sorensen, leaving him wondering if his attendance at mass was motivated by “political necessity.” But he would banter about religion with Jackie’s dressmaker Oleg Cassini, once telling him, “I’d better keep my nose clean, just in case He’s up there,” and scolding him for questioning Papal infallibility, saying, “The weakness of man should not weaken the image of God.” Jackie insisted that he had not been an atheist or an agnostic, and “did believe in God,” but sometimes wondered if his bedtime prayers and faithful attendance at Mass was a way of hedging his bets. “If it [the afterlife] was that way,” she said, “he wanted to have that [his adherence to Catholic ritual] on his side.”
Sometimes one could glimpse his faith. During his first congressional campaign he astonished his aide Mark Dalton by impulsively ducking back into a church where they had just attended Mass so he could light a candle for his deceased brother. He was sensitive about being the first Catholic president and avoided public displays of piety, but when he attended Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe during a 1962 visit to Mexico City his emotions trumped his political caution. As Jackie brought a bouquet of red roses to the altar he was so overcome that he crossed himself and the congregation to burst into applause. While recuperating in Palm Beach from a 1955 back operation that had almost killed him, he jotted down some ideas for Profiles in Courage, including this passage from Job, “Oh that one would hear me! Behold, my desire is that the Almighty would answer me.” A tense 1961 summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna left him so shaken that on the plane returning to Washington he scribbled, “I know there is a God–and I see a storm coming; If He has a place for me, I believe I am ready,” a quotation he often used in campaign speeches and attributed to Abraham Lincoln. (Evelyn Lincoln found the paper on the floor of Air Force One and squirreled it away with the other notes and doodles that she was constantly rescuing from wastebaskets.) That fall, after the Berlin crisis had cooled, he had slipped out of the White House on National Prayer Day and sat alone in a rear pew at Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral, leading Hugh Sidey of Time to note, “To many who had watched him [Kennedy] through nine months of crisis, it seemed that his church attendance and the reference in his talks to prayer had become less mechanical and more meaningful.”
A Secret Service agent woke him at 2 a.m. to report that Patrick was struggling again. As he hurried to the elevators the nurses in the corridor looked away. He saw a severely burned infant in one of the wards and stopped to ask a nurse for the name of the child’s mother so he could send her a note. Holding a piece of paper against the ward window, he wrote, “Keep up your courage. John F. Kennedy.”
For the next several hours he sat on a wooden chair outside the hyperbaric chamber, wearing a surgical cap and gown and communicating with the medical team by speaker phone. Near the end they wheeled Patrick into the corridor so he could be with his father. When the boy died at 4:19 a.m. Kennedy was clutching his little fingers. After saying in a quiet voice, “He put up quite a fight. He was a beautiful baby,” he ducked into a boiler room and wept loudly for ten minutes. After returning to his room he sent [special assistant Dave] Powers on an errand so he could cry some more. He broke down outside the hospital and asked an aide to beg a photographer who had captured his grief not to publish the picture.
His eyes were red and his face swollen when he arrived at Otis that morning. As he described Patrick’s death to Jackie, he fell to his knees and sobbed.
“There’s one thing I couldn’t stand,” she said in a faint voice, “if I ever lost you … “
“I know … I know …” he whispered.
Lincoln called Patrick’s death “one of the hardest blows” he had ever experienced. Sorensen thought he was “even more broken” than his wife. Jackie said afterwards, “He felt the loss of the baby in the house as much as I did,” and noticed him tearing up when he held John. His tears were all the more astonishing given that Joe Kennedy had often told his children, “There’ll be no crying in this house.” They shortened it to “Kennedys don’t cry,” repeated it to their children, and according to Ted Kennedy, “All of us absorbed its impact and molded our behavior to honor it. We have wept only rarely in public.”
Some of Kennedy’s friends believed that he grappled with such powerful feelings that he was afraid of them surfacing. Laura Bergquist sensed that “under his cool cat exterior, there was a reservoir of emotion,” and Ormsby-Gore detected “deep emotions and strong passions underneath,” adding that “when his friends were hurt or a tragedy occurred or his child died, I think he felt it very deeply. But somehow public display was anathema to him.” Ormsby-Gore compared him to Raymond Asquith, the brilliant son of British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith who been killed in the First World War. In Pilgrim’s Way, one of Kennedy’s favorite books, John Buchan wrote about Asquith, “He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly but because he felt deeply.”
Excerpted from “JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President.” Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Thurston Clarke, 2013.
"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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