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I read in USA Today that ratings for several top-rated shows are down, and it listed several reasons why, including Daylight Savings Time, DVRs, and long hiatuses. I think there’s one huge reason they missed: too many people are switching to news shows which spend lots of time retelling old stories and generating dialogue that doesn’t seem to engage. However, I’m finding that there’s better analysis—or at least provocative discussion—on the network shows. This week’s “Boston Legal” is a great example, as it considered the following issues:

Racism: William Shatner’s Denny Crane, the show’s right-wing peer of the realm, evaluated a potential African-American prospect as “not sounding ‘black'” and one who would “play well with whites.” While his partners chastised him for his racist comments, the show also made the case that those who use descriptions like “urban,” “other kinds” and “not right for the role” are the real racists, who form judgements based on skin color but won’t say them out loud.

Given the media’s uproar and exponentially increasing coverage of Crane’s comments, Candace Bergen’s “Shirley Schmidt” called them out for their own bias in choosing media anchors and other on-air talent, which silenced the crowd and left us viewers to reflect on any ways that racism creeps into our own circles without us realizing it.

Elite Charity: James Spader’s Allan Shore has reached out to a fellow attorney with mental challenges in prior episodes and seasons. In this week’s show, he finds himself losing in court to a man who he can’t control or manipulate just because he’d given him a hand up earlier in life.

Thin Celebrity-ness: Paris Hilton, Britany Spears and Lindsay Lohan were called out directly for their negative effect on culture, as were those who profit from an influence that hurts adolescents and kids. Their (especially Hilton’s) very thin claim to celebrity status was unflinchingly argued in court.

Petty Politics: Hilary, Obama, McCain, and even Jeb were all called out for the surfacy tactics that make up our American politic.

Traditional Marriage: Denise Bauer and Brad Chase are promiscuous characters whose wedding announcement is met with doubt bordering on laughter. Yes, their decision was based on a pregnancy, but their desire to normalize their lives (and their child’s) makes a case for the second chance. (Of course that could change by next week!)

Ridiculous Must-See-TV Culture: How did wife-swapping bedroom antics end up on Family Night USA?! And what is its impact on the American family?

All in all, I found myself reflecting on these important life themes after this show, way more than my experiences with CNN’s anti-government shows, CNBC’s giddiness with controversy, and FOX’s version of “fair and balanced.”

Now if the networks could figure out how to package and bottle this kind of brand just a little bit better, ratings might again be headed north!

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