Any science fiction or fantasy fan knows the pain of a show cancelled too soon. The Firefly example is so often cited it’s cliché, but it’s not the only show that we’ve lost before its time. Some, like Battlestar Galactica, get enough of a warning that they can wrap things up with a final season. Others, like Stargate: Universe, leave us in a perpetual state of pissed off in the wake of cancellation. We as science fiction fans are used to this. We constantly have to be prepared to lose a show with little notice and no closure. But apparently the rest of the world isn’t living like this. Apparently some shows go on forever. Who knew? So what exactly happens when things go the opposite way and a show stays on past its expiration date? And equally perplexing, who keeps watching? I get addicted with the best of them, but even I have my limits.
Frankly, it’s hard to think of a show that stays good past 4 or 5 seasons. And even the ones that do aren’t usually good for their entire run. I genuinely enjoyed season 7 of Sons of Anarchy last year, but that doesn’t erase the nightmarish Ireland season. Any long running show eventually realizes that there are only so many surprises you can write. Only so many shocking deaths and twists. Whether actors are fired or simply want out, eventually a show’s cast looks nothing like it did in the beginning. Or even if everyone sticks around, ultimately characters are forced to start doing things completely out of character, if only because they’ve already done everything else. (Yes, I was thinking of HIMYM when I wrote that last sentence. I will never get over Ted at the end. UGH.)
I started stewing on this Thursday night a couple of weeks back when my Twitter feed was exploding with a collective freak-out about Grey’s Anatomy. I had 3 reactions. 1) Grey’s Anatomy is still on? IMDB has to be lying about 11 seasons, right?! 2) The people that are still watching it care enough to tweet? 3) How do I mute these tweets? (Seriously, I still don’t know how to do that. If you can teach me, let me know @fernmays please. I’m a technology idiot.)
I confess to watching Grey’s the first couple of seasons. It’s embarrassing to admit, but to be fair it was about 35 years ago and not only did I not have DVR yet, I’m not sure TV was in color. Also Patrick Dempsey and his hair are hot. But I stopped watching a long time ago, because it was terrible. Everyone had dated everyone, there had been more major character deaths than your average horror movie, and the interns being younger than me was really starting to creep me out. But most importantly, I stopped caring. I stopped being surprised. I stopped being entertained.
So while I may hold a grudge when my favorites die an early death (RIP Happy Endings), at least I don’t have bad memories. Maybe the old “always leave them wanting more” mantra has something to it. No one looks back on a great but short lived show and says “well the first two seasons were great, but they really lost their way after that.” Ahem, Prison Break.
So what’s the sweet spot? I have no idea. Networks will argue that as long as advertisers pay, a show should stay on the air. And the advertisers will pay as long as people watch. So I guess people are still watching. But for the sake of humanity and the arts, some of these shows should have called it a day a while back. So my advice for anyone who is still pissed about a certain death on Grey’s? It’s really ok, the whole show should be dead anyway.
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