I don’t pretend to be an expert in TV. My own instincts regarding which TV shows will succeed and which will fail are almost legendarily inaccurate. (I’d predicted that Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Barney the Purple Dinosaur would flop.) I am pretty good at recognizing patterns, though, and over my years of viewership, I’ve learned a thing or two about the way the really great shows in television history come to an end. Most TV shows are born, run for a while, then fade away until they fail to be renewed. For the really great ones, dying just isn’t good enough. Nope, they get to choose from a short list of approved exits. Let’s take a look at them.
This is by far the most popular way to go. You see, the suits that make the decisions about what does and does not deserve to come back each year have a strong tendency to have their heads shoved pretty far up their own keisters, or as I like to say, “They suffer from the executive viewpoint.” Thus, they will take a show that is much beloved by a small but devoted audience and ax it, rather than giving it a chance to be discovered or moving it to a more appropriate slot. Other times they cancel the show because they received thirteen letters from people saying they didn’t like the subject matter of one 30 second portion of a single episode. When this happens, it isn’t uncommon for them to subsequently receive 30,000 letters from people pointing out that the other 99.99% of the air time was superb and the only reason to actually watch the channel in question. On rare occasion, said channel will reconsider and give the show a second chance. Sometimes they waffle for too long and another station snaps up the show. What results is often several more seasons of top notch entertainment from a show that was previously thought to be a waste of air time. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Family Guy, and The Critic are all examples of shows too good to die just once. The Late Show with Conan O’Brien did an interesting variation of the multi-death that I call “The Reincarnation.” His version of Late Night died when he went to The Tonight Show, but people tuning in to TBS at 11 PM Mon-Thurs will find it alive and kicking once again under a different name, or if you are anything like me, under the same name you’ve been calling it all along.
It is worth pointing out that the Multi-Death doesn’t have a 100% success rate. The Critic, despite having been resurrected on television once and on the Internet once, never really got the respect it deserved. Scrubs didn’t fare too well when it came back either. But the fact remains that it took more than one bullet to take each of them down.
The Bow Out
Whereas the Multi-Death Shows are at least initially underestimated, other shows are undisputed and undeniable hits. They are money makers, carrying the their time slot and making the careers of their stars. Great artists soon realize, though, that nothing lasts forever. Eventually the magic will fade. Perhaps it has already started to do so. Rather than die a withering death, these folks decide to go out on top; step off the air while still remembered fondly. Seinfeld and M*A*S*H are two key examples. This is probably how The Simpsons will end, too – although there are those who would say that it is too late for that.
The Bow Out is a classy way to go out, though it is worth pointing out that it seldom produces a terribly positive outcome for the actors. The sterling post-hit careers of Michael Richards, Loretta Swift, Jason Alexander, and David Ogden Stiers are all strong indicators that just because you made the choice to pull the plug on the cash cow before it turned sour, that doesn’t mean it won’t still take your career with it.
That’ll do for now, but expect more coverage of TV and other media in the coming weeks. Sure, we love video games, but they put the AV Input button on the remote for a reason, right? And always, feel free to chime in with any shows or graceful exits I may have missed. Our newfangled comment system makes it painless to do so.