TV shows nearly always stick around too long. Even the best shows rarely know when to call it quits.
The money associated with a long-running show and its syndication sales only gets really good in the later years. Like Two and A Half Men, which ended last week after 12 seasons, four of those without original star Charlie Sheen. Watching that tepid sitcom in the last few years made you hope everyone was at least getting paid well, because their reputations weren't being helped. Of course, they were - the maligned series was making well over $3 million per half hour by 2011.
To be fair, it’s good business to ring a popular show dry. Most of the Parks and Recreation team probably thought they could recapture their golden years with just one more season. Perhaps it should be a TV rule that shows should only go beyond a fifth season if that one is actually better than the fourth?
In TV terms, of course, 'better' is only measured by more profit. And it was the pursuit of the dollar sign that almost destroyed fond memories of these well-loved series: Here are the best shows with the worst final seasons of all time. [Spoiler alert!]
15 15. How I Met Your Mother (2013-14)
The final season of this show should have been called How I Met Your Mother (Then Killed Her Off Almost Immediately). It was an ambitious season-long concept in which every episode revolved around Barney and Robin’s wedding. Viewers spent a whole lot of time at that country inn. Yet, they didn't really get to know the mother until the final couple of episodes.
Then it all passed in a baffling rush.
Barney and Robin got divorced, Ted met and married that mysterious mother, only to have her die young. Suddenly, it was Ted and Robin all over again. Viewers were annoyed. Was the plan always to reveal the mother just to kill her? It was a huge disappointment and an anti-climax for every dedicated viewer.
14 All In The Family (1978-79)
One of the greatest sitcoms of all time was but a shadow of its controversial self in this ninth and final season. Lovable bigot Archie Bunker found himself alone in his home with wife Edith. Daughter Gloria and husband Mike (‘Meathead’) had moved west, leaving Archie with no one to talk or spar with.
Enter little girl Stephanie, who was hardly a replacement for Mike and his pinko hippie opinions. Instead, Stephanie had the effect of softening up Archie. Suddenly, he wasn’t nearly as awful or bigoted. He was…almost likeable. Which is disastrous for a supposed comedy that thrives on conflict.
The series would complete its transition to mediocre sitcom the following season when it changed its name to Archie Bunker’s Place, and Edith was killed off.
13 Twin Peaks (1990-91)
The initial plan was never to go beyond a miniseries. But then this oddball murder/mystery series got very popular. So a second season was written that revealed who killed prom queen Laura Palmer (sort of) a couple episodes in. With that done, the focus shifted to other members of the cast, and a new killer. Tired of waiting so long for a largely unsatisfactory answer to the mystery, viewers chose not to sign on for another round of weirdness. Season Two proved to be Twin Peaks' last.
But never fear, Peak fans. Remember that scene where dead Laura Palmer predicted she would return in 25 years? A Twin Peaks reboot is currently in the works.
12 Northern Exposure (1994-95)
Dr. Fleischman (Rob Morrow) wasn’t the most likable character on TV. He was a whiny wet blanket compared to all the lovable eccentrics living in the Alaskan town of Cicely. So when actor Morrow held out for more money in Season 4, the makers of this dramedy just switched focus. They reduced Fleischman's screen time by sending him on a woodland ‘quest’.
It didn’t work. Turns out Fleishman was the realistic center of Northern Exposure. Without him around, the show just seemed all quirk and no reality. Things got so bad in the final season, Northern Exposure introduced another doctor, Phil Capra. It only served to remind viewers how much they missed Fleischman.
11 Two And A Half Men (2014-15)
A lot of viewers might feel this show never had a high point to fall down from. Still, the low brow comedy was never the same after Charlie Sheen left and Ashton Kutcher arrived four years ago.
Indeed, the final Kutcher season seemed tired and ridiculous. It involved Allen – who had taken sniveling to new heights in recent years - and billionaire Walden getting married (cue the endless gay jokes) just so they could adopt a boy.
The finale just chucked the little boy plot altogether (along with all reason) and included a farcical moment of a piano being dropped on a Charlie Sheen lookalike, killing him. Chuck Lorre even speaks to the camera, and employs Sheen's infamous phrase 'winning'. It was, viewers agreed, horribly absurd.
10 Dexter (2013)
The formula for Dexter was well-established by its final season – serial killer Dexter matched wits with an evil killer while battling his demons and attempting to appear normal to the outside world. It was the same every season, with Dexter always finding a way to keep his secret life secret.
The eighth and final season didn’t divert from this formula one iota, which made for lots of predictable viewing. Dexter flirted with a normal life once again (Nope. Didn’t happen), got into arguments with his troubled sis Debra and, once again, defeated a pesky serial killer. Viewers were particularly put off by the finale in which Dexter faked his death and became a bearded log truck driver. Wonder if there are enough bad guys in the northwest to keep a crusading serial killer happy?
9 Felicity (2001-02)
Time travel? Nobody saw that coming. Sure, it was a show by J.J. Abrams (Lost/Star Trek) but Felicity was also a realistic drama about a college girl and all her college girl problems.
It was bad enough that the makers of this hugely popular show alienated a whole bunch of fans when Russell chopped off her curly locks in Season Two. That move generated protests and lots of headlines.
But Season Four was a different story. Suddenly, the always fickle Felicity was travelling through time as she dealt with her future and all her romantic machinations. It all felt like a cheat. What’s wrong with dealing with personal problems the normal way like everyone else? What’s worse, Felicity didn't even use her time travel abilities to do something cool. And when push came to shove, she stuck with the boyfriend she knew would eventually cheat on her.
8 The X-Files (2001-02)
This paranormal/science fiction drama was all about FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) and their sexual tension while solving weird crimes.
It was most definitely NOT about Doggett and Reyes. Who? They were the FBI agent characters brought in to compensate for the departure of Duchovny after Season Seven and the predicted departure of Anderson, who ended up sticking around.
Though the show tried to bring in these characters gradually, with Duchovny appearing in several episodes in the final two seasons, it never quite worked. In its final season, viewers would tune in to watch The X-Files only to see the Doggett and Reyes Show featuring Scully as guest star. The stories were the usual paranormal thriller tales. They weren’t terrible, but they weren't X-Files. It was, by far, the lowest rated season of the series.
7 The Office (2012-13)
Most fans were baffled that this popular show continued after Steve Carell left following Season Seven. Sure, it was an ensemble show, but Carrell was the star and the boss of the fictional Dunder Mifflin paper company. So when he departed, it left a large hole to fill.
The show tried to find a perfect new boss – Will Ferrell and James Spader both served as bosses in Season Seven and Eight. But it all lead to the rise of milquetoast Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), whose annoying quirks turned to egomaniacal tendencies as the new boss. The show had always played with cringe-inducing comedy, but this was unwatchable.
Season Nine also gave us Dwight as leader and Jim as his... friend? It happened. And yes, it was nice to see Dwight and Angela get married. And we finally got an answer for why they were filming in the office for nine years - it was a TV documentary. But the season played out like one long goodbye that could easily have been dealt with upon Carell's departure.
6 Seinfeld (1997-98)
One could argue that Season Nine of this acclaimed series wasn’t all bad. It did feature a few good episodes – such as ‘The Merv Griffin Show’, and ‘Frogger’. But without co-creator Larry David at the helm, the show seemed a little tired. Even a show about nothing can fall victim to formula and seen-it-done-it malaise after so many seasons. And Seinfeld was no exception.
The biggest problem with the final season, however, wasn't that David left the show, but that he came back. He wrote the Seinfeld finale in which the cast are arrested and face the magnitude of all their past indiscretions. Instead of being funny, the bloated, 75 minute episode seemed out of place. Most agreed it was like a new show trying to imitate Seinfeld.
And it wasn’t funny. Not even a little bit. It was like Larry David came back just to kill his own creation. Considering some of the self-destructive things David later did on Curb Your Enthusiasm, that conspiracy theory might not be far from the truth.
5 Malcolm In The Middle (2005-06)
How the mighty fell, and fell hard. Okay. To be fair, the Fox series wasn't exactly ‘mighty’ at any point in its seven year run. But it did reach #18 in the ratings in its first season. Unfortunately, that was as high as it got. The edgy family comedy was sputtering around #127 when it finally called it quits.
You couldn't blame the viewers for bailing. The show did lose its family focus, devolving into absurd farce for the most part. Plots in that final season were the usual wild schemes and angry exchanges between sons Malcolm, Reese, Dewey and Francis and their domineering mom Lois.
Great comedies have a shelf life. Unfortunately, most don’t depart before their expiry date, leaving us with a bad taste in our mouth. Malcolm was a great show. For five…maybe four-and-a-half…seasons.
4 Roseanne (1996-97)
The Connors were real people. They weren't pretty. They were poor. They yelled a lot. But they seemed to love each other. Which made the ninth and final season of Roseanne so puzzling. The Connors won the lottery? It was hard not to take that plot twist as anything but desperate. And, indeed, the entire last season saw the show completely lose all direction. Fantasy sequences didn’t help. Neither did a wrestling match, Jackie falling for a prince, Dan having an affair, or special appearances by Hugh Hefner, James Brolin and Debbie Reynolds.
It all ended with Roseanne revealing that much of what we knew about the Connors wasn’t true. She made it up in a story she wrote in the basement. Oh, and Dan was dead. Nice. This is about as close as you can get to a sitcom ‘scorched earth’ strategy. There was no coming back for a reunion after this debacle.
3 Scrubs (2009-10)
It was the series that wouldn’t die. The NBC medical comedy just kept on going long after most of us stopped caring. A series finale was shot in Season Seven. But then ABC bought the show, and it came back for Season Eight. Amazingly, ABC kept it on the air for yet another year despite low ratings. Their plan was to shift the show from a hospital to a medical school, and replace most of the original cast with new interns/actors. Star Zach Braff showed up for some of the episodes, but mostly Season Nine was about the new people we cared nothing about. It was Scrubs in name only.
It didn't work. After surviving cancellation for three years, Scrubs was finally cancelled ‘for reals’ in 2010. Most had already moved on long before that.
2 Glee (2015)
This musical comedy/drama was a huge hit right out of the gate. These days, it’s a forgotten commodity relegated to living out its announced final season in the death zone of Friday nights.
That said, the show has attempted to get back to its roots. Series regular Rachel (Lea Michele) has returned to the school after a disastrous stint in Hollywood. Her goal – along with Kurt – is to restart the Glee Club.
Which has been fine, if a little predictable. After six years, it’s hard to keep cheering for outsiders fighting an uncaring school. At some point, they've got to come inside. Otherwise they’re just losers.
While reviews have been generally positive for this sixth and final season, ratings have not. It’s currently one of the lowest rated prime time shows on TV. Its ratings are only half of what they were last year – which were only half of what they were in Season One.
1 Ally McBeal (2001-02)
McBeal was one of those instant hits that grated on haters and fans for all of its five seasons. It ended early for a drama but still felt like it overstayed its welcome. The quirk-heavy law show resorted to even more desperately strange court cases (including a man who mistook his wife’s head for a soccer ball), while Ally dealt with her own, now-familiar personal problems.
You know a series has really run out of ideas when they bring in the baby. In this case, it was a 10-year-old girl who claimed to be Ally’s daughter via an egg study. Uh huh. Viewers had to endure Ally going through motherly storylines in almost fast-forward (Showing her ten-year-old how to French kiss? Eww). It all ended mercifully with a flashback-heavy episode featuring old cast members, and Ally’s decision to help her kid out by moving to New York.