A lot of different factors can go into a list of television shows that stayed past their welcome. It’s easy to look at any new Fall season and pick the shows that aren’t going to make it to a second season. It’s easy to remember some of the worst TV shows that ever aired that nobody liked, or admitting to liking despite their success, like ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ It’s also easy to remember those shows that were great all the way through, but then delivered disappointing final episodes like ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘Seinfeld.’
We’re not including any of those kinds of shows on the list. To qualify for this list, a show had to have ratings success or at least a dedicated following. These are the shows that you couldn’t miss when they first started, tried to catch during their waning middle years and was left asking, “Is that even still on?” when you heard it was coming to an end. The shows on this list were all slow-burns. Maybe you can identify the moments that the programs on this list “jumped the shark” but nothing on the list can be described as crash-and-burn. It’s more like crash and slowly rot to death before help arrives.
What causes a show to slowly fail? In the instances of these shows, it is usually because something was taken away. It could have been one of the stars, or maybe the original writing team. In other cases, something was added, a new character or a new setting, that just never resonated with the audience. Would it have been better if these shows wrapped it up a season or two early? Probably.
11. The Brady Bunch
Long before there was TGIF in the 80s and 90s on ABC Friday nights, the network presented family-friendly fare on Fridays and never was this more evident than in the early 1970s when ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Partridge Family’ played back-to-back. This was one of the first shows to suffer the slow death because of Mother Nature. It makes sense when oldest son Greg is living at home in the first season as a sophomore in high school. It looks a little ridiculous when he’s graduating from high school six years later and looks 25. When the “youngest one in curls” starts wearing her hair straight and developing breasts, it’s time to bring in a new generation of cute children. Cousin Oliver was introduced during the last few episodes of the final season, but by that point watching the hilarious trials of a blended family just wasn’t funny anymore.
10. WCW Monday Nitro
Upon being promoted to the vice presidency of World Championship Wrestling, Eric Bischoff decided to go after the WWE’s most famous talent and to take Vince McMahon head-on prompting one of the greatest times to be a wrestling fan, the Monday Night Wars. In an effort to draw the most viewers, WCW created a renegade brand of wrestlers, the New World Order, while WWE’s ‘Monday Night Raw’ developed more adult themes, coined The Attitude Era. Fans came en masse, with most Mondays claiming over 10 million viewers between the two shows. Once WWE got the upper hand, it was just a matter of time for Monday Nitro. With an ever-changing cast of wrestlers demanding creative control and a group of writers and producers who had thrown in the towel after seeing the writing on the wall, Nitro mercifully aired its last show in 2001, with Vince McMahon appearing to claim victory.
9. Saved By the Bell
This was a juggernaut that would just not die, but probably should have a season or two before its star characters graduated from high school. Forget the barely passable acting or the hokey storylines, this show can be given credit for Saturday morning cartoons dying and both Disney and Nickelodeon recognizing there was money – a lot of money – to be made in children’s sitcoms. Like the story with so many shows, the stars demanded more money and thought they were destined for great things. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley bailed on the last batch of episodes, leaving Leanna Creel to arrive as tough-talking Tori. Producers recognized it was time to let the first group of students graduate, attempting a spin-off with half the cast, ‘Saved By The Bell: The College Years’ which didn’t see a second season as a prime time show. More success was found with a new group of high school kids on another spin-off, ‘Saved By The Bell: The New Class.’
8. The Real World
People under 30 probably don’t remember a world before reality television and probably don’t realize that The Real World, now in its godforsaken 31st season, started it all and it was a great show in the early years when an eclectic mix of 18-25 year olds were brought together and allowed to live their lives in a documentary-like setting. Instead of a theme song, there was a mission statement to being the show. They were: “This is the true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” For a few seasons that was true, then producers forced cast members to all get jobs at the same place. After the partying was amped up in the Hawaii and New Orleans seasons, the reality went out the window quicker than you can say, “Only hire sex-starved pretty people with anger issues” to a casting agent. Yes, the show continues, preparing for its third time in Las Vegas, but it should have been put out to pasture a long, long time ago.
The white-trash middle America answer to the morals-above-all-else offerings from ‘The Cosby Show’ was just what was needed and the show quickly shot to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings and stayed in the Top 10 shows for several years. Then it got a little weird. Oldest daughter Becky was replaced by a different actress. Then the original came back. Then the replacement came back. A few viewers left, the awards stopped coming and the ratings started to slide. At the heart of the show was the loving relationship between Roseanne and Dan Conner, played by John Goodman. Toward the end of Season 8, a heart attack for Dan and a subsequent break-up of the marriage sent the show in a different direction, but it really went off the rails at the beginning of Season 9, when it’s revealed Roseanne won $108 million in the lottery. In the final episode of the series, it was revealed the character of Roseanne was simply writing her life story and had twisted a lot of facts as a means of coping. For most audience members, their means of coping had been to change the channel much earlier.
The premise at the beginning of the series was simple: Hugh Laurie would play a misanthropic doctor incapable of change who only cared about solving the puzzles of a patient’s illness, but could care less about the patient and this would grate on his colleagues, employer and friends. By the end of the series, Hugh played a misanthropic doctor incapable of change who only cared about solving the puzzles of a patient’s illness, but could care less about the patient and this would grate on his colleagues, employer and friends. While the colleagues, employers and friends changed during the course of the series, the main character, Gregory House did not. At first it was nice to see a character who was not willing to fully evolve in a 60-minute episode; it seemed more like real life. Eight seasons later, when nothing had still changed in the character, it didn’t seem like real life. Everybody changes at some point. When nearly 50 percent of the cast was changed in the middle of the series’ eight-year run, it probably signaled the peak had passed.
5. The Facts of Life
Much like ‘The Brady Bunch’ or even ‘Saved by The Bell,’ this show about a handful of girls at a boarding school in upstate New York had an obvious shelf life that should have been honored. Producers seemed smart, retooling the cast after the first season, even if that meant ditching Molly Ringwald, but showed their real color (green, like money) when they just kept churning out stories until they had to let the girls graduate. By the seventh season, lead Charlotte Rae, who played Mrs. Garrett was phased out with Cloris Leachman, MacKenzie Astin and George Clooney all becoming series regulars. Instead of living at a boarding school, the girls lived in a large house and ran a gift shop. Ironically, the show was still making money after nine seasons and it was the stars, not the producers, who pulled the plug before a 10th season could be produced.
4. Grey’s Anatomy
Anybody who is reading this list and wondering if there are any current television shows that are starting to circle the drain (psst…’Modern Family,’ we’re looking at you) need to look no further than Grey’s Anatomy as the biggest offender on television now. If you watched the first three seasons and stopped there, consider yourself lucky. There’s no more George, no more Izzie, no more Dr. Burke. Even Sandra Oh (Dr. Cristina Yang) and Patrick Dempsey (Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd left the show in the last couple of years. Of the 10 original cast members, only four are still there in the 12th season. That doesn’t always mean disaster, but flat writing and dull storylines have reduced this program to a shell of what it once was.
This show exploded like few others have in this last decade and singlehandedly revived the high school and college chorus scene like a defibrillator to a dying musical genre. The cast was your typical high school stereotypes, but not played too gratingly and they all could spontaneously sing and dance today’s top hits and songs from the ‘80s. Why wasn’t my high school like this? Because in high school, the producers are looking to sell CDs and a concert tour, which happened in this case. The show maintained a loyal fan base as the students moved into the real world and still sang and danced, but the initial excitement of a bunch of fresh-faced unknowns bursting onto the scene lost its luster and was shuffled around the FOX lineup again and again. Most people are probably surprised to hear the show had 121 episodes covering six seasons.
2. Two and a Half Men
“12 years ago your wife kicked you out and you and your dumb son moved in with your brother.”
“He wasn’t dumb in the beginning.”
“Turned out it was funnier.”
“Your brother let you stay there eight and a half years rent-free even though you claimed he never liked you.”
“You’re not the only one to point out the illogical.”
In perhaps one of the best self-referential moments ever on television, Jon Cryer’s character of Alan Harper explains the plot points of the entire run of ‘Two and a Half Men’ to a police officer on the final episode. When he runs through everything, from the stalking neighbor to the dead brother to the billionaire software mogul he eventually married in order to adopt a child, it really makes one scratch their head how the plug was not pulled on this show the moment Charlie Sheen left, when the show was already well on its way into becoming one of the shows that stayed on years and years longer than it should have.
1. The Office
Seriously, what happened here? ‘Cheers’ gave way to ‘Seinfeld’ and then ‘Seinfeld’ gave way to ‘The Office.’ Why did this show go out with a whimper instead of a bang? The show just could never gain traction after the seventh season, when Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell left the show to pursue a movie career that had already taken off. Despite the best efforts of Will Ferrell, James Spader and Ed Helms all giving it their best show, the spark was gone when Scott uttered one more “That’s what she said” and got on a plane. Carell returned for the final episode, the marriage between Rainn Wilson and Angela Kinsey’s characters, but even he’s not a good enough actor to get beyond the look on his face that said the show should have gone out on top a couple of years earlier instead of now being known for overstaying its welcome. This may be the biggest case of a show that could have been remember as an all-time classic that now simply won’t.