The Top 10 TV Series That Aired Past Their Primes
By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist
You know the saying: Don’t arrive to a party too early, and don’t stay too late.
The latter part applies to any good TV series. When a show is great, you want it to stick around — but you don’t want it to overstay its welcome.
Usually, as the seasons stack up, a series declines in quality and has to scrape the bottom of the barrel for new ideas. It may try to shake things up, as many reality competition programs have done this season, but it rarely captures that magic that once made the show so fantastic.
One such series, CBS’s Survivor, is on its 25th season. Though the show helped to introduce U.S. viewers to reality TV when it premiered in 2000, it’s now one among several reality programs that have gone through numerous attempts to rebrand, airing such versions as Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Survivor: Redemption Island and Survivor: One World.
Aside from Survivor, here are the top 10 series that lasted too long — five that are still on the air, and five that finally learned to let go:
10. CBS’s All in the Family
This one is a stretch because All in the Family is a fantastic and almost untouchable series. Almost. First, the good: The comedy excellently portrayed social issues that the U.S. public was dealing with throughout the 196os and 1970s as well as the conflict between older and newer generations in relation to these social issues. As for the bad: As the series progressed, it stopped seeming so revolutionary and just seemed a little desperate. Mike (Rob Reiner), who represented a younger, more liberal viewpoint to conflict with that of the older and more conservative Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), divorced Gloria (Sally Struthers). Archie and Edith (Jean Stapleton) took in a young girl, about whom all I can remember is that she was annoying. Viewers apparently disagreed with me, though, because once All in the Family ended 1979 after nine seasons, it spun-off into Archie Bunker’s Place, which aired for four seasons.
9. NBC’s The Office
The Office bowed in 2005, and although it stood at risk of cancellation in its earlier seasons, ratings surged once viewers caught up through iTunes. Since then, The Office has been the anchor of NBC’s Thursday comedy lineup as such series as Community, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock struggled to gain audience members. The comedy is in its ninth and final season, and for good reason. Though co-creator and original show runner Greg Daniels is back for the final chapter, so it should get better, the writing has been on the wall for a while: The plot has run out of steam since Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) married in season six and star Steve Carell left in the seventh season. The comedy lost direction, especially in its search for a new boss, and never bounced back to regain its former glory (although Ed Helms tried). With the full-time departures of producers, writers and actors Paul Lieberstein, B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling this season, it’s time for Dunder Mifflin to close its doors for good.
8. ABC’s NYPD Blue
NYPD Blue aired for 12 seasons, from 1993 to 2005, and won four Golden Globes during that time. It was a well-rounded police drama for much of its run and featured fantastic performances from such actors as Dennis Franz, Kim Delaney and Jimmy Smits. It also pushed the limits of nudity and language on broadcast TV, making way for later series — CBS’s The Good Wife, for one. The main problem with the series came in the form of excessive cast turnover. Once Smits left following his character Bobby Simone’s death, the series wasn’t the same. Ricky Schroder replaced him, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar later stepped in when Schroder left, and even though they were good, the drama lost something with Smits. Franz carriedNYPD Blue throughout its run and made unrealistic plot turns better than they should’ve been, but the series finale was still a welcome one.
7. NBC’s Friends
Friends is a jewel in NBC’s crown and a part of its Must See TV era, lasting for 10 years between 1994 and 2004. It also made stars out of its six leads (Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer). Its best seasons are arguably its first seven or so. Past that landmark, the comedy stalled because creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman didn’t know what to do with Ross (Schwimmer) and Rachel (Aniston) — should they get together or shouldn’t they? The pairing of Monica (Cox) and Chandler (Perry) was a nice distraction, but once they married and Rachel got pregnant with Ross’ baby (but they still didn’t get together!), it was evident the series was beginning to run its course. This exhaustion was emphasized when Joey (LeBlac) and Rachel got together in a storyline I’d especially like to forget. By the time the series finale came around, I was ready to take a break from the comedy.
6. Fox’s House
This show took Sherlock Holmes and placed him in a hospital, giving star Hugh Laurie the role of a lifetime (but no Emmys) and viewers a drama they loved. The series was especially popular in its first few seasons, but it suffered once House’s team of Foreman (Omar Epps), Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) were more or less replaced by Taub (Peter Jacobson), Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) and Kutner (Kal Penn). The new team couldn’t quite live up to the first one, as often happens when many new cast members step in for older ones on medical dramas. The program really showed signs of aging when House drove a car into Cuddy’s home (Lisa Edelstein) home in the season seven finale. Luckily, the drama only lasted for one more season, and it ended this year after eight seasons.
5. ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy
Like The Office, Grey’s Anatomy is also in its ninth season, and it’s time for the series to end. Creator Shonda Rhimes should be commended for routinely shaking up the cast to keep the medical drama fresh, as well as for casting actors of color in major roles, but the series has gone as far as it can go. I can’t take another bomb, ferry accident, ghost sighting, gun shooting, plane crash, what have you. The series lost credibility seasons ago, and even lead Ellen Pompeo has trouble grasping the reality of some situations. “We have a boss like everybody else,” Pompeo told TV Guide in September. “You may not always agree with it but you still have to be professional and do the best you can.” The lead actors have signed on for this season and another, so it will be a while before Seattle Grace sees its last patient.
4. CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Believe it or not, CSI is the most-watched series in the world. As such, CBS would be dumb to get rid of it, and we should expect it to stay for a little longer. The procedural debuted in 2000 and is on its 13th season. So why is it past its prime? As with NYPD Blue, CSI has had so many actors leave (and come back), it’s hard to keep up anymore. Jorja Fox left in 2007, only to return periodically and then full-time in 2011. Likewise, William Petersen departed in 2009 but came back for a cameo in 2011. Laurence Fishburne left following the drama’s 11th season, and Ted Danson stepped in to replace him. It’s exhausting to keep up, and viewers may have felt the same, as ratings dipped in the 11th season. Since, the ratings have bounced back — for now.
3. MTV’s The Real World
MTV’s reality series debuted in 1992, and since then, it seems to have become a staple for any preteen wanting to learn about the world beyond middle and high school (Or was that just me…?). “Ah to be young, cute, and stupid, and to have too much free time,” said Tom Shales of The Washington Post when The Real World premiered. “Such is the lot facing the wayward wastrels of The Real World, something new in excruciating torture from the busy minds at MTV.” Shales has a point, but the program put a spotlight on legitimate issues that were being dealt with by the generation it showed, including abortion, HIV and racism. In the past 10 years or more, though, it has focused more on sex, partying and such, and MTV learned how to tweak the formula to create the more successful Jersey Shore — making The Real World pretty irrelevant. I’m going to stop being polite and start getting real: The Real World needs to stop spinning.
2. ABC’s Happy Days
The phrase “jumping the shark” originated with this ABC comedy when the Fonz (Henry Winkler) literally jumped over a shark in the fifth season premiere. The phrase refers to a show that’s gone past its prime, and specifically the moments that indicate it. Happy Days aired for 11 seasons from 1974 to 1984 and helped continue to launch the career of Ron Howard, who got his start on CBS’s The Andy Griffith Show. As these high schoolers aged, though, the comedy aged with them. Howard left following the seventh season, but the show continued on for four seasons until declining ratings ended it. Though it was a great series, Happy Days is the poster child for shows that have been on TV for too long, so it has to land high on this list.
1. ABC’s The Bachelor
Of all my guilty pleasures, The Bachelor is my guiltiest. The reality dating series began in 2002, and even though it seems earnest in helping singeltons through a “journey of love,” its success rate doesn’t reflect the misson. Out of 16 seasons of The Bachelor and eight seasons of the spin-off The Bachelorette, only three couples remain intact: Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, Jason Mesnick and Molly Malaney, and Ashley Hebert and JP Rosenbaum. The most recent couple to be bound by roses, Emily Maynard and Jef Holm, recently announced they’re ending their engagement. In a culture that’s becoming more liberal about dating and marriage, The Bachelor is becoming less romantic and more old-fashioned by the season. What’s even more troublesome, however, is that there has yet to be a Bachelor or Bachelorette of color — let alone one that doesn’t identify as heterosexual — and it looks as though that may not change anytime soon. We can have an African-American U.S. president, but we still can’t have an African-American Bachelor or Bachelorette. Go figure. There’s another season of The Bachelor on its way to a TV near you, but until it reflects the society it pretends to portray, we should consider handing it a final rose.
What series do you think have been on the air for too long? Let us know!
Tags: 30 Rock, ABC, All in the Family, Ashley Hebert, B.J. Novak, Carroll O'Connor, CBS, Community, Courteney Cox, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, David Crane, David Schwimmer, Dennis Franz, Ed Helms, Ellen Pompeo, Emily Maynard, ER, Fox, Friends, Golden Globes, Greg Daniels, Grey's Anatomy, Henry Winkler, House, Hugh Laurie, Jason Mesnick, Jean Stapleton, Jef Holm, Jenna Fischer, Jennifer Aniston, Jersey Shore, Jesse Spencer, John Krasinski, Jorja Fox, JP Rosenbaum, Kal Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Lisa Edelstein, Lisa Kudrow, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Marta Kauffman, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, Mindy Kaling, Molly Malaney, MTV, NBC, NYPD Blue, Olivia Wilde, Omar Epps, Parks and Recreation, Paul Lieberstein, Peter Jacobson, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard, Ryan Sutter, Sally Struthers, Shonda Rhimes, Steve Carell, Survivor, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, Survivor: One World, Ted Danson, The Andy Griffith Show, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Good Wife, The Office, The Real World, Tom Shales, Trista Rehn, William Petersen