Politics & Policy

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The twelve best conservative TV shows

Not all TV shows are liberal. Some are, in fact, conservative — even if they don’t know it. It’s time to give credit where credit is due. Here’s a list of my top dozen conservative series in television history. These are not the most conservative shows in television history they are the best shows that happen to carry conservative messages. My criteria, in order of importance: (1) portraying traditional American values in a positive light values points; (2) taking on liberal sacred cows with total abandon skewering points; (3) creating memorable conservative characters we’ll call these sympathy points. They had to be good, too (sorry, Hogan’s Heroes). And no reality shows. I’ve tried to span the history of television (if we really did the top twelve conservative shows, the list would skew heavily to the 1950s). Also, I decided no creator could make two shows on the list. As you’ll see, many of the shows here are actually liberal. The fact that the top conservative shows in TV history lean left merely demonstrates the total domination of the television Left for the last five decades. You’ll see that many of these shows were also created by outspoken liberals so this is a tribute to those gutsy liberals who didn’t toe the party line.

12. Lost (2004–10): I may be the only person on earth who believes that Lost skews conservative on political matters, but I’ll stick to my guns. First off, I had to put the show on the list because it is, in my humble opinion, the best show in the history of television. More than that, however, Lost had the temerity to avoid leftist political tropes. It spoke early and often about God and religion. (Spoiler alert: The show’s ending posited an afterlife in which we reflect on our earthly existence and come to terms with it.) It presented the notion of evil embodied. It believed deeply in repentance. And it presented several of the best conservative characters in TV history. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) was a drug dealer turned priest who used his “Jesus stick” (a stick marked with Scripture) to bring justice to the sinister Others. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) was a Republican who kicked ass and took names (in Season One’s “Outlaws,” Sawyer says he’s never voted Democrat). He toted guns with authority, bought and sold goods like Warren Buffett at a flea market, and mocked Communism. He’s pure tough — he rips a bullet out of his shoulder with his bare hands in Season Two. Locke (the magnificent Terry O’Quinn) is the most mystical character in TV history, a “Man of Faith.” He teaches ten-year-olds how to throw knives. His motto: “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do.” Damon Lindelof, J. J. Abrams, and Carlton Cuse (sorry, Walker, Texas Ranger fans) are all liberal, but they’re insanely talented and clearly willing to leave their politics out of the script. The show wins big sympathy points for its characters and a few values points for its focus on religion.

11. Walker, Texas Ranger (1993–2001): Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas. Period. Plus, the show contained frequent Christian imagery and upheld traditional family values, all while punishing bad guys and upholding law enforcement. Big values points and sympathy points for the ninja cowboy.

10. South Park (1997–present): This show is really libertarian. It makes fun of conservatives for their social values, but it mocks liberals mercilessly for their social values, their foreign-policy beliefs, and their economic foolishness. Matt Stone and Trey Parker aren’t conservative or liberal they are adamant that no one can label them or their show. “I look at it like this,” Parker told the Huffington Post. “I have a cat, I love my cat and it’s like someone coming in and saying, ‘Hey, is that cat a Republican or a Democrat?’ He’s my f***ing cat, leave him alone.” Nonetheless, liberals p*** them off more than conservatives, and it shows. Team America is vicious in its assault on liberal sacred cows, from Michael Moore to the Screen Actors Guild. South Park is even more brutal. They’ll even take on Muhammad and Comedy Central. (In Hollywood, it’s a fair question whether it’s more dangerous to take on Muhammad or Comedy Central.) My personal favorite is the tenth-season episode “ManBearPig,” in which Al Gore comes to South Park, declaring:

I am here to educate you about the single biggest threat to our planet. You see, there is something out there which threatens our very existence and may be the end to the human race as we know it. I’m talking, of course, about “ManBearPig.” . . . It is a creature which roams the Earth alone. It is half man, half bear, and half pig. Some people say that ManBearPig isn’t real. Well, I’m here to tell you now, ManBearPig is very real, and he most certainly exists I’m cereal. ManBearPig doesn’t care what you’ve done. ManBearPig just wants to get you. I’m super cereal. But have no fear, because I am here to save you. And someday, when the world is rid of ManBearPig, everyone will say, “Thank you Al Gore — you’re super awesome!” The end.

That speech is super awesome. Huge skewering points overcome the show’s total lack of values points.

9. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996–2005): This underappreciated comedy didn’t say anything important about gay marriage, taxes, global warming, abortion, or any other hot-button political issue. That’s what made it so important. In an age when politics infected virtually every comedy on television, Everybody Loves Raymond was the happy exception. It featured a stable heterosexual two-parent home actually, it featured two stable heterosexual two-parent homes. It wasn’t Father Knows Best; Raymond (Ray Romano) was a weakling bullied by his mother. Deborah (Patricia Heaton) could be a harridan, Marie (Doris Roberts) was an overbearing horror, and Frank (Peter Boyle) could be mean to his wife. But the love between the couples was obvious, the love for their children was even more obvious, and they never devolved into liberal talking points, the hallmark of a show jumping the shark. It is certainly indicative of how far television has come that a well-written, funny show about a traditional family was revolutionary. High on sympathy points, high on tacit values points.

8. King of the Hill (1997–2009): Who would have thought the creator of Beavis and Butt-head, the asinine and vulgar MTV show that perfectly captured the nihilism of the Cobain Generation, would be responsible for the most conservative animated show in the history of television? Incredible, but true. Mike Judge, creator of King of the Hill, is rumored to be a conservative, a charge he evades when asked. “I try to not let the show get too political,” he told the entertainment website IGN. “To me, it’s more social than political I guess you’d say, because that’s funnier. I don’t really like political-reference humor that much. Although I liked the episode where Hank’s talking to the mailman and he says, ‘Why would anyone want to lick a stamp that has Bill Clinton on it?’” The politics of the show comes through in clear and unmitigated fashion, though, particularly in the person of main character Hank Hill, a local sales manager from Arlen, Texas. Hank is an ardent conservative, a fan of Reagan, as well as JFK; in one episode, he excoriates his kid, Bobby, because Bobby is doing a report on his “favorite president,” Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing. He’s a gun owner and NASCAR fan. Families are generally happy to shop at Mega Lo Mart (a Wal-Mart takeoff) and drive pickup trucks. The show routinely makes fun of liberal policies, even as it pokes soft fun at conservatism. The show’s not quite at South Park level in terms of skewering points, but it gets a few points for values and a few for sympathy to joust it into eighth place.


7. The Waltons (1972–81): Easily the sweetest show ever made. There is no better depiction of family values on television. This show wasn’t as conservative as people think, but it’s still a beautiful illustration of just why the traditional family structure is so necessary. Values points and sympathy points push The Waltons high on the list.

6. Gunsmoke (1955–75): This was the archetypal American Western television show, iconic for its quality and its longevity. It was the biggest hit on television for four straight years, and finished in the top ten an incredible 13 times. John Wayne introduced the first episode. James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon, the upright sheriff standing up for law and order, unafraid to use a gun to get the black hats. Yes, Arness was a Republican (Lady Bird Johnson was a fan of the show and was disappointed to hear about Arness’s political affiliation). High on values, high on sympathy. High on traditional American grit, toughness, and independence. You can’t beat Westerns for conservatism.

5. Dragnet (1951–59, 1967–70): Dragnet was based on a simple, conservative premise: Cops are good, criminals are bad, and crime must be punished. Los Angeles detective Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) was the hard-nosed and efficient policeman tracking down the bad guys. The show never got its due for its realistic portrayals of crime and detective work. Every show ended with the perpetrator caught and sentenced. The remake of the show from 1967 to 1970 was decidedly conservative as well, standing up against the hippie idiocy of the period. In one special episode, “The Big High,” Friday tracks down two hippie pot smokers, Jean and Paul Shipley, at their home. Friday’s partner notices that the Shipleys’ child, Robin, isn’t in her playpen. They find her floating in the bathtub, drowned. That was Dragnet in a nutshell. The show was a reflection of Webb’s politics Webb never bought into the notion that social circumstances and poverty caused crime. The show was uncompromising in its principles aside from 24, it’s the most conservative depiction of law enforcement ever filmed. Extra points for targeting the counterculture.

4. Leave It to Beaver (1957–63): There’s a reason this show is seen as the apotheosis of conservative values on television. Ward and June Cleaver are the near-perfect couple, dispensing wisdom and advice to Beaver and Wally. The boys are innocent, the parents love each other and worry about their children, and everyone is basically happy. The real question isn’t why Americans loved this show the question is why liberals hate this show. The answer: It’s wholesome, clean fun and doesn’t see suburbia as a prison. It doesn’t try to paint the American dream as a nightmare. For the typical Hollywood leftist view of Leave It to Beaver, watch Pleasantville, which tries to infest the 1950s-era ethos with overt and promiscuous sexuality, injecting color into the black-and-white conservative world. The very top on values and sympathy, Leave It to Beaver loses points only because it was one of many conservative shows on television at the time.

3. Magnum, P.I. (1980–88): Don Bellisario is responsible for many of the best conservative shows in television history — NCIS and JAG among them. The former Marine’s biggest accomplishment, however, was the depiction of Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck), a private investigator and Vietnam veteran. This was the first depiction of a normal Vietnam veteran in years television had already turned every vet into a PTSD-suffering Rambo type. Selleck was cool and collected. As Bellisario told me, “When I created Magnum, I made them Vietnam vets, and when I wrote them, I decided I’m going to write them as if they had fought in World War II and came home, not Vietnam. Now they had their Vietnam memories, they had their Vietnam flashbacks, they had their delayed stress. But they also were functioning. Functioning normally. And I began to get hundreds and hundreds of letters from Vietnam vets who said, ‘Thank God somebody’s finally portraying us that we’re not all alcoholics, druggies, murderers.’ You know, the country blamed the warriors for the war. Big, big mistake. Big mistake. Never blame the warriors for the war.” Bellisario helped rectify that mistake. Big values and sympathy points for Magnum, P.I., and even bigger points for standing up to the strongest meme in TV military history: the meme of the crazy Vietnam vet.

2. The Cosby Show (1984–92): A show about a black middle-class family that doesn’t rip the American government, doesn’t fall into the self-victimization of the “racist society,” doesn’t portray whites as either idiots or bigots, and encourages black children to get an education, get married, and have a family. Revolutionary, even if its creators merely meant it to be a statement on racial tolerance.

1. 24 (2001–09): You knew this would be number one. It is, with one caveat: After Season Four, the show began to die. The first few seasons, the show was pure conservative adrenaline: Bad guys had to be stopped, and if Jack Bauer had to torture terrorists to do it, he would, no questions asked. “We’re running out of time!” was the battle cry and it was an accurate battle cry. The show embodied the ethic of the War on Terror we were in a battle for survival, and we didn’t always have time for the Marquis of Queensberry rules. “People in the [Bush] administration love the series,” Surnow noted. “It’s a patriotic show. They should love it.” Then CAIR got involved. The next thing we knew, Janeane Garofalo was on the show and Jack was suffering pangs of conscience over actions he wouldn’t have blinked at the year before. It was all downhill from there. But for three and a half glorious seasons, 24 took no prisoners, drew immense ratings, and created groundbreaking television with its stylized cutting and real-time storytelling. Fantastic quality, fantastic conservatism. Too bad the liberals killed it.


Restoring Hollywood

One of my goals in my new book, Primetime Propaganda, was to help television save itself. That’s a pretty big job for anyone. In truth, only Hollywood can save television. And Hollywood can save television only if they give up their liberal agenda and focus on what they should have been focusing on all along: pleasing the American people, regardless of political viewpoint. We’re the market. All we demand is the drama, the comedy, the pure joy of watching great stories told before our eyes. Hollywood can do it — but only with conservative help, and only by opening their mind and their doors. They can do it only if they remember what the founders of television knew in their bones: In the entertainment kingdom, the viewer is king.

— Ben Shapiro is author of Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV, from which this piece is adapted.

Mr. Shapiro is the host of the podcast The Ben Shapiro Show, the editor emeritus of The Daily Wire, and the author of How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps and The Right Side of History.


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