'Politically Incorrect' really was

Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" (11:05 p.m., ABC) airs its last episode tonight. It will not be missed.

As talk shows go, "Incorrect" had a good run. It started on Comedy Central in November 1993 and moved to ABC in January 1997. Nine years is a long, long time for any show. But it has seemed like an eternity since "Incorrect" has been worth watching.

Like a lot of critics, I admired Maher's show during its early years. I saw it as a refreshing intersection of C-Span and "Hollywood Squares." Its offbeat combinations of has-beens and Beltway talking heads offered a built-in laugh factor. It was like attending a policy seminar on "The Love Boat."

I don't remember the exact date when I gave up on "Incorrect," but I can vividly recall the situation. Director John Frankenheimer ("Manchurian Candidate") was seated to the right of prop comic Carrot Top. I distinctly recall feeling vaguely ill as Carrot Top kept interrupting Frankenheimer and the director's face registered annoyance, anger and mortification. To me, it seemed that Frankenheimer just didn't have the heart to get into a shouting match with a clown.

While Maher's show began as an effort to represent a dialogue between the worlds of entertainment and politics, it eventually brought out the worst in both cultures and encouraged the unholy convergence of the punch line and the sound bite. Given the fierce competition to come up with the meanest quip, "Politically Incorrect" became the frequent soapbox for caustic commentators like Ann Coulter and the late Barbara Olson.

Maher's final guests include Christopher Reid, Arianna Huffington, Michelle Phillips and the aforementioned Ann Coulter.

� Dan Marino and Deborah Norville are hosts of America's Junior Miss Pageant (8 p.m., PAX) live from the Mobile Civic Center in Mobile, Ala. More than $2 million in scholarships will be awarded to tonight's contestants. Past Junior Miss Pageant participants include Diane Sawyer, Kathie Lee Gifford and Debra Messing, co-star of "Will & Grace."

Tonight's other highlights

Note: Highlights and listings may vary because of local baseball coverage.

� Scheduled on "48 Hours" (7 p.m., CBS): A mother, desperate to reform her son, sends him to a boot camp, where he dies.

� Houston faces Utah in WNBA basketball action (7 p.m., ESPN).

� A cop consults the ghost of a deceased colleague in the 2001 horror film "Border Patrol" (7 p.m., UPN).

� "Wall Street Week with Fortune" (7:30 p.m., PBS, check local listings) opens with hosts Karen Gibbs and Geoff Colvin. Fans of the show's former host can still catch him on "Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street" (7:30 p.m., CNBC).

� Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) works to uncover the roots of a deadly virus in the 2002 "Diagnosis Murder" mystery movie "Without Warning" (8 p.m., CBS).

Series notes

All are repeats ... Max is stalked by her clone on "Dark Angel" (7 p.m., Fox) ... Tom Bergeron is host of "America's Funniest Home Videos" (7 p.m., ABC) ... A charity case proves resentful on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (7 p.m., WB).

Molly offers a helping hand to two odd neighbors on "Maybe It's Me" (7:30 p.m., WB).

A finalist wins $100,000 on "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 p.m., ABC).

Doggett revisits his most difficult case on "The X-Files" (8 p.m., Fox) ... Dick Clark hosts "Bloopers" (8 p.m., ABC) ... Reba consoles Van's mother on "Reba" (8 p.m., WB) ... Sarah needs more privacy on "Raising Dad" (8:30 p.m., WB) ... A teen victim makes Stabler worry about his own daughter on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).

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