The length of time that TV shows stay on the air is generally dependent on money. A lot of amazing shows have been cut down in their prime, purely because they weren’t making enough money for the networks. We’ve lost Arrested Development, Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, Twin Peaks, all to low ratings. But alternatively, shows can live on way past their expiry date if they’re raking in a lot of cash for the network and the producers. Just look at The Big Bang Theory. If that had ended after five or six seasons, we’d fondly remember it as that funny sitcom about nerds. Instead, we’re into the eleventh season with no signs of it ever slowing down. We get outlandish storylines like Stuart dating Howard’s mother and lazily written dialogue that doesn’t sound remotely like it came from a human conversation. On the other hand, look at Jerry Seinfeld. This guy did nine seasons of his sitcom before he started to notice that the quality was in decline, and rather than see it go down the tubes, he decided to end the series. He turned down $100 million for artistic integrity! You don’t see Chuck Lorre doing that. Anyway, here are 10 shows that should’ve been cancelled sooner.
The musical comedy drama series Glee went on for six seasons, but it ran out of steam about halfway through its second season. You can see this from the fact that only the three creators had written the series for the first two seasons, but starting with the third, they brought in six other writers to work on it. These were three guys who had created a show, made a couple of seasons of it, honed a cultural phenomenon, and then run out of ideas. The remaining four seasons were brutal. All of the best material had been expended and the show should’ve been canned, but people were still watching it, so Fox was still renewing it, year after year. Hell, they even kept the show going after Cory Monteith – that was a really bad idea. His character Finn was one of the most popular on the show, and without him, the show didn’t stand a chance (especially when people knew why he wasn’t on the show anymore – it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt for such a shameless cash grab). But still, they just killed Finn off without any explanation and then kept going for another two mediocre seasons.
The underlying premise of Dexter is fascinating. Dexter Morgan is a forensic investigator specializing in blood splatter patterns who also moonlights as a meticulous serial killer. And not only that, he targets serial killers. He kills serial killers serially. See, he has this urge in his soul that he calls “the Dark Passenger.” It makes him want to kill people. So, he kills people who kill people, and that makes him feel like he’s contributing some good into the world. The character of Dexter is a terrific one, and his voiceover narration was always compelling. But the show shouldn’t have lasted for eight seasons. The only truly great ones are season 1, season 4, and season 7. Those are the only ones with a truly engaging storyline. See, every season saw Dexter going after an elusive serial killer, but the only really exciting one was the Trinity killer, played by John Lithgow. Every other killer that Dexter faced was either a two dimensional cliché or simply uninteresting. And as a show, Dexter never really worked. Sure, the central character was great, but what about the supporting cast around him? They were all a bunch of undeveloped, stereotypical morons who contributed nothing. And the show went on for so goddamn long that the one supporting character who was interesting, Debra, deviated so far from her characterization that she got hooked on drugs and wound up dead. And don’t even get me started on that God-awful finale!
8. Prison Break
Prison Break started off as an exciting and chilling and action-packed series set in a prison where a man has had himself sent on purpose in order to break his brother out. The first season developed the pair as brothers who were reconnecting and plotting a jailbreak with an eclectic group of inmates. But then the first season ended with them breaking out of prison successfully. Where do you go from there? The second season got some thrills from the group being on the run following their breakout, but after that, the writers hit kind of a dead end. They sent the characters out of the United States to a ruthless foreign prison and then they introduced the element of the Company, an evil, elicit, secret, New World Order-type organization bent on imposing their power and influence on society to get their way. That’s when things have gone way, way too far. Mark Corrigan sums it up perfectly in an episode of Peep Show where he’s talking about the foibles of binge-watching various TV shows: “By the end, I very much felt I wanted to break out of the prison that Prison Break had become for us.” That’s what it is – a long, exhaustive haul through almost a hundred hours of drudgery. It could’ve been so much tighter and more enjoyable as a miniseries.
7. Happy Days
Happy Days went on for so long that the term “jumping the shark” was coined to refer to storylines that occur on a TV show when it’s been on for so long that the writers start throwing in ideas and concepts that are so stupid and outlandish that they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s the kind of storyline like when the family won the lottery on Roseanne. Well, let’s just say that there are shows that go on for too long because of their success, and then there’s Happy Days. The term “jumping the shark” comes from a later episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie is waterskiing and literally jumps over a shark. The term literally refers to a sort of publicity stunt. So, the network will have a popular sitcom like Happy Days that has been going on for a long time, so the quality naturally starts to go downhill, so they have Fonzie jump over a shark on waterskis and they can get the water cooler conversation going again and keep the viewers tuning in. It’s just totally shameless and it’s desperate and it’s unnecessary. But hey, that’s the TV business for you.
6. Desperate Housewives
Desperate Housewives was always ludicrous. You can tell from its title. It was always intended to be a satirical send-up of soap operas with their ridiculous storylines and moments. But that joke can only go so far. With Desperate Housewives, it wore thin pretty much instantly – certainly by the end of the first season. And yet still, it persisted and went on for years and years more. I mean, sure, it’s supposed to be a satire of shows where stupid things happen, but come on! So many stupid things happen on Desperate Housewives that it becomes unwatchable. Tornadoes, plane crashes, the mafia, a supermarket hostage crisis, death by electrocution after standing in a puddle, a dead girl being replaced with a lookalike from a Romanian orphanage – the list goes on and on and on. The show started off as a lot of fun, and it boasts a strong cast – including Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, and Eva Longoria – but eight seasons was too long. It was far too long. It’s great that it became the longest running hour long TV series with all female leads. That was a great achievement for women. But that record should’ve been reserved for a show that actually deserved to go on for 180 episodes.
In its early seasons, 24 was one of the most popular shows on television, which is understandable. It premiered just a couple of months after the 9/11 attacks and it’s about an American secret agent who kicks Muslim terrorist ass. It was a no brainer that America would tune in! And it was an exciting new format, presenting each episode in real time, as an actual hour in an actual day, with each of the 24 episodes of each season making up an entire day. Obviously, a lot has to happen in these days to keep them interesting – that’s why the central character is Jack Bauer, an agent with the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit. Each day of the show centers around a terrorist threat and Jack’s struggles to stop it before an attack takes place. It’s a race against the clock! And there’s literally a ticking clock throughout each episode. It’s thrilling, and in theory, this format could go on for years. But after four or five seasons, it started to get a little old. The writers were reusing all the same plot twists and story arcs. Every years, a radical Muslim group would threaten America with an attack, someone Jack cared about would get wrapped up in the plot somehow (usually because his daughter had been dating a terrorist), and in the end, Jack would save the day. Hoorah. What a surprise. In later seasons, there was a lot of padding and dragging things out to make the 24 episode quota each year, and it got a little boring. 24 is great and Jack Bauer is great, but it could’ve done with being cancelled after season 4 or season 5 so that we’d have fond memories.
4. Two and a Half Men
TV shows that keep going after the star has left generally tend to go very quickly down the tubes. That’s sort of the way it went with Two and a Half Men, but it was more of a roller coaster. First of all, you have to understand that Charlie Sheen could not have stayed on Two and a Half Men. Based on his drug use on the set and the fact that he publicly condemned both CBS and the producers of the show, it’s understandable that the producers and the network no longer wanted to work with the guy – but they should’ve ended the show, too. Instead, they brought in Ashton Kutcher to play an internet billionaire who, for some reason, continued to let Alan Harper live in his house. It became an entirely different show. All of the humor in Two and a Half Men before Kutcher’s arrival revolved around the differences between Charlie and Alan Harper – Charlie was far cooler than Alan and would often poke fun at him for that, but at the end of the day, they were brothers and they loved each other. That was the center of the show. But Alan and Walden never had that kind of relationship. Alan was too old to be like a brother to Walden, and too spineless and unsuccessful to be a father figure. The first Ashton Kutcher season was really awful (in fact, so was the last Charlie Sheen season). But the second Ashton Kutcher season was actually pretty good – he settled into his role and the writers had fresh and interesting ideas for him. But every season after that sucked until the show died a sad, meta, unabashedly lazy death. That finale, seriously? Charlie’s alive? By the time a piano landed on Charlie’s head and Chuck Lorre appeared on screen, the producers had totally, unequivocally stopped caring.
3. The X Files
The X Files is back now, completing two new seasons in the era of old TV shows coming back for no good reason other than nostalgia (Will and Grace, Twin Peaks, Roseanne, Murphy Brown – the list is endless), but it was off the air for a long time. Back in the ‘90s, it was one of the greatest phenomena on television, drawing in millions of viewers every single week to see the mysterious adventures of two FBI agents who investigate the supernatural – aliens, werewolves, vampires, zombies, you name it. The X Files was something truly special, with each episode being entirely new and unique and odd, including an episode that crosses over with Cops. But it all rested on the sexual tension and rich chemistry shared by its two leads, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Without that, the show would crumble. After seven seasons, Duchovny left the show, but rather than do the sensible thing and end the show, Fox replaced him with Robert Patrick and kept the show going for two utterly terrible years, after which the show was a mere shadow of its fantastic former self. Now, history is repeating itself as Anderson has left the show this time. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake twice and force it to keep going.
2. The Office (U.S.)
For most of its run, the American remake of The Office was one of the funniest shows on TV. But without Michael Scott, it was a hollow shell of its former self. Steve Carell left the series after seven seasons to focus on movies, but NBC were damned if they were going to let that be the end of the show. So, they let it go on for another two seasons without Michael, and it didn’t necessarily suck, but it didn’t need to exist. The quality of the show was going downhill anyway (perhaps that contributed to Carell’s decision to jump ship), as Jim and Pam getting married had taken away all the excitement and tension from their relationship and every other character was starting to wear thin. Season 9 really took the cake with some of its storylines – remember Pam’s almost affair with the sound guy from the documentary crew? Gimme a break! The producers Greg Daniels and Michael Schur clearly took note of what went wrong in the back end of The Office, since they ended their subsequent workplace mockumentary series Parks and Recreation after seven seasons. At least the finale was pretty satisfying (partly because Michael Scott made a triumphant return with his immortal line, “That’s what she said!”).
It’s possible that no other TV show in history has been as famous or as popular as Friends. Millions of people tune in to see the reruns every single day, and the show’s been off the air for over a decade now. No other show even compares to the success of Friends. Not Game of Thrones, not Breaking Bad, not The Big Bang Theory, not The Walking Dead – successful though they may be, they’re nothing compared to Friends. But Friends could’ve done with being cut down a few seasons before it was. Friends started off as a fun show about six twentysomething buddies in New York City who are navigating their way through the world of jobs and dating and sex and love and relationships. It remained that way for about five or six seasons before the writers officially ran out of ideas and started jumping the shark on a weekly basis. Rachel got pregnant and then Ross was the father and then Phoebe got married, and the whole time, there was a constant barrage of celebrity guest stars being needlessly shoehorned in. Oh, and Joey dating Rachel – what a terrible idea that was! By the end of its run, Friends was pretty awful. If the end of its run had been sooner, it wouldn’t have that problem.