Shows continuing after their peak prove bleak

By Kevin Romani

Courtesy MCT

Television series are just like any other form of mass entertainment. At some point they get old and they need to know when to call it quits. Movie franchises, comic strips and video game series are just a few mediums that often go on far too long. The television world in particular seems to have a more difficult time letting go than any of its media competitors.

Several television series have recently ended on low notes when compared to earlier efforts. Popular shows such as “24,” “Entourage” and “ER” all compromised the legacy of their series by offering poor final seasons. It is hard to blame television studios for taking advantage of favorite shows, as their previously established fan base will continue watching despite plot plateau. This may be the more favorable option to producing a new series, as there are no guarantees of success.

What television executives do not consider, however, is that the decrease in quality as a series piles on season upon season. Some plots for television programs are seemingly endless and, depending upon producer’s imaginations, the possibility of double-digit seasons seem realistic at first. No matter the strength of the plotline, the efforts of cast and crew will inevitably decline as the show drags on. It can be common for actors to transition into feature film after gaining recognition from television. Over time, writers may also leave to work in film or other series.

The television field is filled with ambitious minds that eventually feel nothing but boredom and indifference when they work on the same project for too long, constantly wishing to find a bigger and better project.

The television series, “24,” was founded on an idea that immediately seemed tailored for just one season. Each season consists of 24 episodes that all represented each hour of one single day. At first the concept was exciting, interesting and – most importantly – different. Many questioned if “24” could function in this same format over the course of several seasons. “24” rewarded fans with five seasons packed with thrill, suspense and drama. The fifth season of “24” took home Best Drama at the Emmy Awards in 2006. By season six, however, “24” began to take the inevitable dip in creativity. Favorite characters were killed off, head writers moved on and storylines from earlier seasons reappeared in later seasons. “24” had seen its final days, yet took two years to realize it.

Several series currently on the air suffer from similar issues. “The Office” has lost any semblance of creativity, and is off to an unsatisfactory start without former star Steve Carell. “Family Guy” is no longer shocking or laugh-out-loud funny, as it has instead become nothing more than a mindless platform that creator and star Seth MacFarlane uses to push his political beliefs. Most reality television series that first aired in the early 2000s (i.e., “American Idol,” “Survivor”) have become both stale and familiar.

Fortunately, not all series and show runners have been stubborn about staying on the air. Several programs – most of which aired or are airing on the premium and basic cable channels – have modeled their schedule on the British style of television. In England, television series are designed right from their conception to not only have short runs in terms of seasons, but to also consist of smaller episode totals per season. British television executives see this as a way for their series to end on the highest note possible, while still maintaining high viewership on a week-to-week basis. British producers find that this positive feeling towards programs will help with marketing new programs from the same actors or writers. This way, ratings will always remain high for networks without the quality of programs diminishing.

“Lost” is an American television series that shared similar viewpoints. “Lost” – which aired on the broadcast network ABC – had to convince the network powerhouse to lower the typical season of 24 episodes to 16 and to set an end date for the series. Show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse knew from the start that they would have to go about producing their series in a nontraditional manner in order to gain success. Lindelof and Cuse were right – “Lost” hit a stalemate early in its third season that led to a dramatic decline in ratings. Eventually, ABC understood that the issue was due to no existing end date, and allowed their writers to pick an endpoint. This was the best decision possible for “Lost,” as the final three seasons each earned Emmy nominations for Best Drama after the second and third seasons were left off the ballot.

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” faced a similar issue when producers threatened an end date. The popular show received so much Emmy attention that AMC wasn’t ready to wrap it up anytime soon. Similarly to “Lost,” the writers recognized that the plot of “Breaking Bad” plot could not remain as jaw-dropping as it presently is. The series has reached its climax in terms of quality and does not wish to be remembered as anything other than one of the greatest television series to grace the small screen with its presence.

Unfortunately, just like anything else, the final decision maker in the television medium is money. It is much easier for a studio to renew an established and successful series than it is to cancel and begin development on a new series. It is increasingly difficult to find a new hit with the plethora of channels producing hits today, making the competition stiffer than ever before. Additionally, DVR devices and online streaming have decreased live viewership, which inevitably hurts programs looking for advertising revenue.

Hopefully television networks will begin to look to the British model for a better understanding of the benefits it provides. Until then, fans will be forced to watch as programs they once loved become something different – even awful – right before their eyes.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected].