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End Times



Published May 31, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

All good things must come to an end. So must all middling, thoroughly ghastly and entirely unwatchable things. And this is the time of year when they do. April may be the cruelest month, but May is far and away the endingest.

It hasn't always been this way, of course. I remember a time when television shows slinked into the summer rerun season. If anything, the networks played down the fact that viewers were doomed to rehashed programming until September. Hey, that was life. New programming in the summertime was as unthinkable as flowers blossoming in February.

All that's changed in recent years, as the number of broadcast outlets and competition between them have increased dramatically. These days, shows don't just go away for the summer. They first build toward a long-awaited, breathlessly anticipated Season Finale. Networks save final episodes for the sweeps period and market them as major events. What used to rouse audience resentment is now greeted with excitement: Can you believe it -- just one more week 'til the final vote on "Idol"! Actually, I'm taping that and watching the season finale of "Lost"!

In the past few weeks, a record number of Americans have tuned into a record number of season wrap-ups. We've bid temporary farewells to everything from "American Idol" to "What About Brian," and said goodbye forever to "Malcolm in the Middle," "That '70s Show" and "Will and Grace." We'll miss those last three. Except, you know, while we're watching them around the clock in syndication.

All the season sayonaras have gotten me thinking: That's an awful lot of TV shows to suddenly come to an end. And yet there are so many more I wish would follow their example. Here are a few programs I'd like to see take the summer off, along with some helpful suggestions as to their suitable season finales:

I really wish Maury Povich's show would stop forever, but even pausing for the summer would represent real progress. I've always wondered why he married Connie Chung and not Sally Jesse Raphael; the two of them have so much more in common.

Lately a lot of Povich's shows have had a paternity-test theme. Undereducated, financially challenged and stupendously promiscuous young women actually agree to join him on the air to find out whether the guy they believe to be the father of their child actually is. You should see the look on the ex-boyfriend's face when it turns out he's not the daddy. You'd think he had just played "Wheel of Fortune" and walked off with the cash prize and a couple of cars.

This is extremely demeaning to the young women, and yet more of them keep signing up. I think Maury should have a finale on which all the female guests from the past season's paternity shows come back and have fun with his medical records. He's like, what, 80? I bet he's had loads of work done. Looking at those records might be good for a laugh. His prostate X-rays alone could make for must-see TV. Can you say colonoscopy cliffhanger?

"Oprah" is another nonstop cathode juggernaut I wouldn't mind seeing slow down, smell the roses and go away for a rest. I know it's practically blasphemous to say, but she rubs me the wrong way. Her attitude is way too Up With People for my tastes. Plus, who died and made her the conscience of a nation? I remember when talk-show hosts just bantered entertainingly with guests.

The one fun thing Oprah did this year was invite James Frey on the show and then sandbag him for making her look bad because she had recommended his book to millions of viewers. I'd definitely tune into an "Oprah" season finale where she rounds up a roomful of disgraced writers and rips into them. Lord knows there's been enough -- Frey, Jayson Blair, JT Leroy, Navajo novelist Nasdijj, columnist Harmon Leon and teen Harvard plagiarist Kaavya Viswanathan -- for a two-hour special.

I'd like to prescribe a nice, long vacation for Dr. Phil, too. And since he's basically an "Oprah" spin-off, I say we kill two birds with one stone and just have him appear on her season finale, playing shrink to all those literary fibbers.

I don't know whether you've noticed, but there isn't any news on television anymore. There are headlines here and there, and now and then the announcement of poll results, but almost none of the "news" operations investigate, analyze and report like they used to. From "The Today Show" to CNN's "Paula Zahn Now," everything is a chatty, never-ending blur of puff pieces, lifestyle features, entertainment reports and bird-flu updates. Edward R. Murrow must be spinning.

I find it particularly disappointing that NBC's "Dateline" has been allowed to degrade to a borderline-tabloid embarrassment. The show's producers have devoted air time lately to segments in which Internet predators are caught, "Candid Camera"-style, in the act of hooking up with what they believe to be an underage girl or boy at home alone. Entitled "To Catch a Predator," the segments are hosted by award-winning correspondent Chris Hansen, who's covered everything from 9/11 to the war in Iraq, but has now been reduced to asking middle-aged men, "What were you planning to do here?"

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the existence of Internet predators isn't a bad thing. It just isn't news. I'd love to see a "Predator" finale in which the middle-aged men ask Hansen in return what he's doing there, when he ought to be producing real journalism.

I can't believe that Larry King and Tony Danza both make a living by asking people questions. These two intellectual titans should take a summer break, and the perfect way to send them off would be a special in which they interview each other. Can you imagine the level of discourse? They might achieve a critical mass of dullness and turn to solid stone. I'd like to see if that would happen.

My last dream finale concerns scam-artist Kevin Trudeau's omnipresent infomercial for his book Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About. By now you've no doubt come across this hundreds of times. I know I have, and I can't change the channel fast enough. Not just because I've seen it so many times, but because Trudeau is a lying, scum-sucking con artist, and it annoys me that he's not bunking with a large fellow behind bars.

The guy has built an info-empire worth billions by bilking the simpleminded. Touting himself as "the nation's foremost consumer advocate," he claims to offer drug-free cures for an array of major diseases -- cures he suggests the pharmaceutical industry is trying to cover up. He's sold more than three million copies of the book.

Trudeau has also attracted the attention of the New York State Consumer Protection Board. Turns out they're advocates, too, and they've issued an official warning to the public. They've also asked cable stations to pull ads for the book, something the agency has done just once before in its history. "His claims are particularly egregious," stated the Board's chairwoman, "because they prey on those with serious illnesses."

Meanwhile, Trudeau's not even supposed to be behind bars. He paid a $2 million fine to the FTC last year for giving out misleading information about the health benefits of coral calcium. Terms of the settlement banned him from doing this sort of thing on TV anymore. And that followed fraud charges brought in connection to products he's pushed in the past, such as Exercise in a Bottle, Fat Trapper Plus and the Mega Memory System.

Trudeau is a bad man, and I'd like to see him take a good, long break from the airwaves. The perfect send-off: a reunion show on which he is confronted by some of those three million people who spent money on the book instead of their meds. As a healer, Trudeau is 100-percent quack, but watching that would make me feel a whole lot better.