For the everyday television fan, it seems like executives cancel all the wrong shows and keep the worst shows on the air for too long. Freaks and Geeks starred a young Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segel and was canceled after one season. Years later, it developed a cult following. Additionally, Firefly, often called the greatest science fiction show of all time, was canceled after a season. The reason? Both shows failed to bring in an audience. We often forget that TV shows are products, created for the sole purpose of making companies rich.
It really doesn’t matter how critically acclaimed a show is or how entertaining it is. If the show can’t find its audience, it will never survive on television. There have been times, however, when a network has dropped a show only for a streaming service (or another network) to step in to try and save the show. This happened with Dan Harmon’s Community, which was nearly saved by Hulu, but the show wasn’t able to return to its former glory without many of the original cast members. But hey, at least they tried.
On this list, you’ll find a number of shows that have a surprisingly large viewership or are completely failing to make an impact on TV. For one reason or another, we’re left scratching our heads wondering: why are these shows still on TV?
15. The Walking Dead — 7 Seasons
The Show: The Walking Dead was originally planned to be a miniseries on AMC and was scheduled to end after the first season. However, once the ratings started to skyrocket during the first season, AMC made the decision to pump even more money into the show to make it last. Each episode costs an estimated $3,000,000 to make, and the money is well spent. A few years ago, a 30-second ad space for the series would cost an advertiser $326,000. But that was around the time when the series viewership peaked in season 5, with around 14 million people tuning in every Sunday night to watch the show.
Why It’s Surprising: Today, original fans of the show are dying off faster than the characters. The show has had its fair share of seasons that were either way too boring (looking at you, Season 2) or ones that were too formulaic (looking at you, Season 4). For former fans of the show (like me), I occasionally read plot summaries because I want to see how the show ends. The overly dramatic mid-season finales became too frustrating to watch every year. Despite losing millions of viewers during the last season, the producers have mentioned that they have plans for seasons 11 and 12. By that point, the only people who would be watching the show are the ones that would want to see how it ends.
14. The Big Bang Theory — 11 Seasons
The Show: The Big Bang Theory actually has a pretty unique premise. The show focuses on the personal and professional lives of four nerds who happen to be best friends and who work together in different fields. The main source of comedy on The Big Bang Theory is basically just laughing at a group of dorky friends. The show masquerades as a show made for nerds when, in reality, it’s a show made for people who like to laugh at nerds.
Why It’s Surprising: It’s a show everyone loves to hate, and for good reason.
Whenever the characters of a sitcom become stereotypes of the characters that they used to be, it’s time for the show to end. The Big Bang Theory has turned into The Sheldon Cooper Show. As a fan-favorite character, Sheldon (along with his girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler) has completely taken over the show. But his character has become too stale to carry the show. We get it. Sheldon has a disorder that prevents him from socializing properly. Ha-ha.
Furthermore, the show has been running for so long that the characters have had to develop in some way. Howard Wolowitz, the character that struggled to find any romance, has been married for a few seasons. Raj Koothrappali, who was unable to talk to any of the female characters for years, has hooked up with his friend’s ex-lovers, works towards seducing the family members of his friends, and even found himself a girlfriend — whom he unexpectedly dumped to try and date someone else.
13. The Voice — 12 Seasons
The Show: At what point should people stop watching music contest shows? Over the past 20 years, cable TV has been flooded with shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, and most recently, X-Factor. The winners of the show are always presented as the next big pop sensation, but that rarely ever happens. Though the show only premiered in 2011, it’s been so successful that television executives have pumped out 12 seasons to shove down our throats, with the 13th coming shortly.
Why It’s Surprising: Somehow, the ratings from The Voice have never dipped — but they’ve never really increased either. It’s just one of those shows that people can throw on and doze off to after a long day of work.
The Voice has had its fair share of celebrity coaches over the years. Whether the coaches are leaving because they get bored or are booted by executives to try and boost viewership, the show has gone through too many pop stars over the years. Most recently, Miley Cyrus has signed on to the show — she must have a new album coming out soon.
12. Days Of Our Lives — 13,000 episodes
The Show: Days Of Our Lives is the longest-running television series of all time. With over 13,100 episodes, the show has been broadcast almost every weekday since 1965. Without a doubt, Days Of Our Lives has reused twists, plot points, and probably entire character arcs. I have no idea how it’s remained on the air for as long as it has. That said, the show has definitely had its ups and downs.
Why It’s Surprising: In the past 10 years or so, the show has almost been canceled a number of times. In a last-ditch attempt to keep the series alive, it was “rebooted” in 2011, bringing back popular characters from the past and trying to breathe new life into the series. The reboot attempt didn’t work, but Days Of Our Lives keeps getting renewed.
In 2017, Days Of Our Lives was renewed for another year. It seems like NBC is only keeping the show alive because it’s a staple of daytime television. There are a few things people watch when staying home in the middle of the week: The Price Is Right, Judge Judy, and Days Of Our Lives.
11. The Simpsons — 28 Seasons
The Show: The Simpsons is the Days Of Our Lives of cartoons. With 28 seasons behind them and two more guaranteed, you really have to ask yourself: will they ever stop The Simpsons? For years, the quality of The Simpsons has been on the decline. Considering that most people consider the golden age of The Simpsons to be before season 10, it’s not unfair to say the show has been mediocre longer than it was good. Despite the decline in quality, The Simpsons remains one of the most popular television families.
Why It’s Surprising: One reason that critics feel The Simpsons has been on the decline is that it’s begun relying too heavily on celebrity cameos. It seems like every celebrity and their mothers have appeared on The Simpsons or are set to appear sometime in the near future. Furthermore, fans have coined the term “Flanderization” to describe characters, like Ned Flanders, that have become stereotypes of themselves. Several voice actors for the show have brought attention to the decline in quality.
It’s not that the show is completely unwatchable today. It’s just that it used to be so much better. Nonetheless, it’s amazing that new episodes are being created today. Other cartoons have even parodied the fact that The Simpsons has an episode for every possible plot in television.
10. Family Guy — 15 Seasons
The Show: Family Guy was one of the edgiest cartoons on television at the turn of the century. The show was so edgy that it was actually banned for a number of years because of a controversial episode involving a Jewish character. Family Guy was, for a lot of millennials, one of their favorite shows as a young teenager.
Why It’s Surprising: Is there anyone out there who finds Family Guy funny? Seriously, what’s funny about a three-minute Conway Twitty song thrown into an episode to kill time? Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely episodes of Family Guy that are hilarious; it’s just that they come out of the first few seasons. It used to be edgy, pushing boundaries with every episode. But, for some reason, the writers of Family Guy decided they didn’t want to push boundaries anymore and instead relied on fart jokes and physical gags. This decline in quality came when Seth MacFarlane took a step back from writing Family Guy, to focus his creative efforts on American Dad!
Unsurprisingly, Family Guy‘s viewership has been plummeting in recent years. Teenage boys just don’t watch TV like they used to, and anyone who grew up with the show only watches the older episodes on Netflix. The first season of Family Guy brought in an astonishing 12 million viewers but struggles to find 4 million people to watch it today.
9. Grey’s Anatomy — 13 Seasons
The Show: You’ll find Grey’s Anatomy on pretty much every TV critic’s top ten list, for one reason or another. But constant critical acclaim only gets you so far. Despite being nominated for twenty-five Primetime Emmy Awards (at least once every year), Grey’s Anatomy has been losing viewers every season since it first aired. Still, Grey’s Anatomy has maintained its quality over the years and still attracts 10 million viewers every episode. Needless to say, we’re all surprised it’s still doing as well as it is.
Why It’s Surprising: Every single show that takes place in a hospital is exactly the same — with the exception of Scrubs. Besides the names of characters, there’s little difference between E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy. For some reason, these faux-medical shows have always drawn in mass viewership, despite having little to no realism in them. It’s like the shows are written by a high school student who was briefly paying attention to this week’s lesson in biology. With that in mind, Grey’s Anatomy is currently the No. 3 drama on all of TV.
8. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia — 12 Seasons
The Show: Just a bit of warning: I absolutely love It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I genuinely believe that it’s one of the funniest shows on TV, and I have nothing bad to say about the show, other than that it’s hard to get into. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has gotten better every season. 12 Seasons into the show, and it hasn’t peaked. Each season is praised by fans and critics. Currently, it’s on track to tie as the longest-running live-action sitcom in American TV history. And all of this is astoundingly surprising because I don’t know anyone outside a tiny percentage of friends who watches the show.
Why It’s Surprising: Every time I mention It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to someone, they’ve never heard of it. This is definitely due to the fact that the show only airs late at night on a select few channels. The season premieres barely pull a million viewers. If The Big Bang Theory hit viewers that low, it would be canceled almost instantly. Almost nobody watches It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but those who do are painstakingly loyal.
7. The Price Is Right — 45 Seasons
The Show: Often called the greatest game show of all time, The Price Is Right is a staple of American TV. It’s strange how popular the show is when you consider that it’s really just an hour-long advertisement for their sponsors. For 35 years, Bob Barker was the host of The Price Is Right. He was a beloved host, comforting everyone who had to take a sick day from work or school.
Why It’s Surprising: When Bob Barker announced he was leaving The Price Is Right, there was speculation on whether or not the show would be canceled altogether. For most people, Bob Barker was The Price Is Right in the same way that Alex Trebek is Jeopardy! The shows couldn’t go on without their respective hosts. So, when it was announced that Drew Carey was going to take over The Price Is Right, people were in an uproar.
Countless longtime fans of the show boycotted the program while Carey was trying to find his bearings as a television presenter. Ten years later, Carey has come into his own as the host of The Price Is Right, but he’ll always be the guy who replaced Bob Barker. No matter how good he is, he’ll never be Bob Barker.
6. Orange Is The New Black — 5 Seasons
The Show: Orange Is The New Black was one of the shows that proved Netflix could create great original content. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, the show originally focused on a prissy woman who had no business being in a minimum security prison. The show has since transitioned to focusing on many of the other women in the prison and their relationships with each other. The show tackles a number of controversial topics, such as the exploitation of prisoners and LGTBQ rights, all while being praised by critics. The show truly is one of a kind.
Why It’s Surprising: While the first season started off realistically enough, the subsequent seasons have become the work of fantasy. While it took seemingly an entire season to seduce a guard in the first season, it took another woman a matter of seconds in the later season. Furthermore, while I understand it’s a minimum security prison, the show makes it seem like the women have absolutely free reign over the prison. They smuggle in prohibited items, commit murder, and start crime organizations without the guards batting an eye. The show has become ridiculous, and the writers are taking some creative freedom with the direction of the show. There are only so many plots that can exist within the walls of a prison.
5. Suits — 7 Seasons
The Show: Suits is a show revolving around two characters, Mike Ross, a genius with a photographic memory, and Harvey Specter, a no-nonsense highly expensive lawyer who wins big cases under pressure. What separates Suits from other shows about lawyers is that Mike Ross never attended law school, and the show is about the lengths that Mike and Harvey will go to hide this. The show has been nominated for several awards and is enjoyed by a majority of critics. However, the show decided to abandon the most interesting aspect of itself — the big legal cases — and focus on the romantic relationships of the main characters. Ugh.
Why It’s Surprising: When it first debuted, Suits was the show about lawyers that was doing things differently. Pulling in a little over 1.4 million viewers per episode, people were interested in seeing what case man-child Harvey and super-genius Mike were going to take on. But 7 seasons into the show, Suits is barely pulling in 400,000 thousand viewers per episode. The show shot itself in the leg when it decided that the romantic relationships of its characters were more exciting than two high-profile lawyers working in New York City. It went from legal drama to soap opera around the third season and hasn’t switched back.
4. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) — 18 Seasons
The Show: Law & Order: SVU is the longest scripted non-animated U.S. prime time series, and almost everyone knows it. The show is so famous that people have made memes out of the name of the show’s creator, Dick Wolf. Without a doubt, Law & Order: SVU has surpassed the popularity of the original program, Law & Order. The show tends to mirror real-world crimes from time to time and is one of the most iconic crime shows of all time.
Why It’s Surprising: The show has been around forever, and viewership is on the decline. With only 7.4 million viewers in the past season, compared to the 12 million when the show premiered, people just aren’t watching Law & Order like they used to. With so many cast members over the years, there’s a chance that Law & Order: SVU becomes the next Days Of Our Lives and continues to air for a ridiculously long time, but it’s doubtful. With network television on its deathbed, no streaming service will have the funds to pick up such a massive cast. Actors and actresses like Mariska Hargitay, who earns $500,000 per episode, will have to take a massive pay cut if the show is going to survive.
3. Supernatural — 12 Seasons
The Show: Supernatural is based around two brothers, Sam and Dean, who hunt demons, ghosts, and other beings considered supernatural, hence the name Supernatural. The show has gathered somewhat of a cult following on social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and even Reddit. The success of Supernatural has spawned a number of spinoff series, fan fictions, and even an anime series.
Why It’s Surprising: Despite having a cult following online, the show fails to pull in viewers every week. The show struggles to pull in a million viewers per episode and is completely written off by critics. It’s really not a good show; it’s just carried by two main characters who happen to be attractive. The show is scraping by because of the dedicated fans, who, somehow, haven’t grown tired of the repetitiveness of the series. It’s only a matter of time before the diehard fans lose interest and the show inevitably fails. Supernatural just doesn’t bring in new viewers like a show with 12 seasons should.
2. Modern Family — 8 Seasons
The Show: Modern Family focuses on three different families who are all part of each other’s extended family. The show addresses relationships between two married men, their adopted child, a stepdad, his trophy wife, and a family that’s hanging together by a thread. The show is universally loved by sitcom fans and critics and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Why It’s Surprising: The characters have become stereotypes of themselves. Somehow, Phil Dunphy has become even less intelligent over the years while everyone around him thrives academically. Furthermore, as with any show that has children in it, there comes a time when the children will grow up and are no longer cute and don’t fit the role of the character. This is exactly what happened with Ariel Winter, who went from “adorable dorky girl” to “smoking-hot snob.”
Besides no longer fitting her character description, Ariel Winter has struggled offscreen with a number of personal problems. Winter filed for her sister to become her legal guardian after alleging her mother had been physically abusive towards her. A year later, Winter officially emancipated herself from her sister and continues to struggle with her personal life. She has all the signs of becoming the next Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes, but hopefully, that doesn’t happen.
1. Survivor — 34 Seasons
The Show: In the early 2000s, Survivor was the go-to reality show. Basically, contestants were separated into tribes, sent to a remote island with little to no resources, and forced to survive. Everyone’s favorite part of the show has always been the challenges, but the drama between contestants has always been exciting to watch over the years. Some people don’t handle being trapped on a deserted island very well, others realize how useless they are when it comes to surviving in the wild, and some of them are just straight-up hilarious to watch.
Why It’s Surprising: After 34 seasons, Survivor has thrown pretty much everything that they can at their contestants. In the early seasons of Survivor, part of the joy of the show was seeing the twists and turns that the producers would put the contestants through while they were stuck on a deserted island. But by the 34th season, contestants and viewers can predict what’s going to happen, down to what challenges or rewards will be offered during which episodes. Simply due to the contestants on the show now being longtime fans of the show, there are almost no memorable cast members from the last 10 years or so.
Despite trying to convince viewers that each season will be better than the last, Survivor has been steadily declining in viewership every single year since the second season. There have been off years where viewership has gone up, but, for the most part, Survivor is losing a million viewers a year. If this trend continues, in 10 years, Survivor will have nobody left watching!
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