A common problem with TV shows is maintaining while also evolving. What does that mean exactly? In the beginning, series with a great concept, cast, writing, etc. will generally do very well. But then the issue becomes keeping up with audience expectations, while still allowing the storyline to move forward and the characters to grow and change.
Across the pond, creators are fond of pulling the plug on a show before it gets boring or convoluted. However, networks in the U.S. almost always try to milk a title for all it’s worth. Here are some shows that started off strong, but went on long past their expiration date.
1. Family Guy
The story of this animated series is an interesting one. After three seasons, FOX abandoned the show due to poor ratings. But with the help of late night airings on Adult Swim and impressive DVD sales, it was brought back to life.
Now, it seems like the show that will never die. Things were never quite as good in Seth MacFarlane’s Quahog after the revival, and, now in its 16th season, it feels like they’re just going through the motions. It’s time to put the Griffins out of their misery.
The premise for Glee was a fun one — High School Musical meets Popular (another long-deceased Ryan Murphy show). And the first season was practically perfection, with the characters completing a year-long journey. The second season followed suit in a similar, almost-as-good fashion.
But things started to fall apart in Season 3. It became time to acknowledge that these characters had to eventually graduate, and so they began to wrap up their storylines, sending them off in various directions.
However, instead of just letting things go, the series dragged on — following Rachel to college, jumping back and forth between Ohio and New York, and just generally trying to spin way too many plates in the form of numerous characters and storylines. By the time Season 6 rolled around, it was long past time to call it quits.
3. Once Upon a Time
Seriously — how is this show still on? Another adorable premise dragged on for far too long, Once Upon a Time used the ABC-Disney affiliation to create an interconnected story of your favorite animated characters come to life. But this got out of control fast.
After the first season arc, they had to find new ways to create conflict and keep Storybrooke and the fairy tale world at odds. We were distracted by new characters and relationships, but eventually, even the actors had had enough: Stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, and Josh Dallas, among others, called it quits after Season 6. Yet the show is continuing in 2017 with Season 7.
4. Pretty Little Liars
Time went very slowly in Rosewood, so it often felt like mystery drama Pretty Little Liars was dragging on. But in the beginning this made sense — the characters gathered clues about the past while dealing with present threats. Eventually, though, this had to change, and a few well-placed time jumps sped things up in the end.
Still, creator I. Marlene King has revealed that originally, the arc she planned stretched for five seasons. So the final two seasons were a different mystery entirely, which, when all was eventually revealed, felt like a bit of a spit in the face to viewers who had stuck by the show for all seven years. For a series that was about tricking its audience, maybe the ultimate consequence was holding out until the very end.
5. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
FX was only just becoming a recognized network for original programming in 2005 when outrageous comedy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, was launched. Soon, the series was hailed as “Seinfeld on crack,” and critics and audiences couldn’t get enough of it.
But even Seinfeld didn’t last 12 seasons. With the stars (and creators) continuing to rise in popularity, it would only make sense that they eventually abandon the little show that made them famous. Somehow, though, its audience has stuck around, and FX knows it — Season 13 and 14 have already been ordered.
This NBC sci-fi drama made a huge splash when it hit TV screens in 2006, quickly receiving critical acclaim. Following a group of loosely connected characters across the globe who discover they have incredible powers, the first season told a complete story, and viewers were geared up for an equally impressive Season 2.
But it proved difficult to capture the magic that once was, and a slower pace brought in fewer viewers. Season 3 and 4 received dismal ratings, and Heroes was swiftly canceled — only to be brought back for a limited series five years later, with poor results.
Jenji Kohan’s dark suburban dramedy was a delight — at first. Nancy and her family give the audience a twisted look at what it takes to maintain a cushy life in California, as the anti heroine falls farther and farther from grace.
But after setting her upper-middle class paradise up in flames in the satisfying Season 3 finale, things began to head south — literally and figuratively. The Botwins jumped around between the California-Mexico border, Seattle, New York, and even Copenhagen. As the narrative and the characters struggle to find a concrete home, all of it becomes more and more intolerable, leaving us longing for the days of Agrestic.
Another anti-hero who only got worse with time? Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who targets his “dark passenger” energy into only killing other serial killers. Using his affiliation with the Miami PD, Dexter gather information in order to engage in his disturbing extracurricular activities, all while somehow maintaining personal relationships and, you know, a full-time job.
The first few seasons are an exciting yet slow build, but it’s Season 4 that truly captivated viewers, ending in the death of his wife, Rita, and a circular narrative involving his infant son, Harrison. From there, the series turns sharply downhill, culminating in a series finale so hated, it nearly topped our list.
When the exclamation heard from those who don’t watch a series becomes “That’s still on?,” you know it’s time to give it a rest. After six seasons, it’s hard to believe that Homeland, the Claire-Danes helmed spy thriller with a bipolar twist, is still airing, but the Showtime staple has one more season to go.
Raking in Emmys galore at its inception, later seasons have been criticized for leaning into absurdity and overacting. Nevertheless, there’s still hope for this series to finish out on top.
10. How I Met Your Mother
It was Friends for a new generation, only with “a love story told in reverse.” And How I Met Your Mother filled that white-NYC-pals-with-first-world-problems void nicely. That is until it continued to stretch its narrative to fit a timeline no one could have foreseen.
Working backward was clearly the issue here, and the longer the series went, the more this became apparent. Not to mention, a lot of jokes were very played out by this point.
The final season, which took place over one long weekend, was absurd, but it was nothing compared to the rushed final moments that set the internet ablaze with rage.
11. Grey’s Anatomy
Before there was Shondaland, there was just Grey’s Anatomy. It was an ER-like medical drama, revolving around a group of surgical interns at a Seattle hospital that appeared to be a magnet for hot doctors and disaster at every turn. And it was a huge ABC hit.
But 13 seasons in, the show has become predictable and repetitive. The interns (that lived) are now attendants with a lot of baggage, having been through natural disasters, bombings, and plane crashes, among other things. As plots are recycled and partners are traded, it may feel to those viewers still around that they’re holding out for a satisfying conclusion that will never come.
12. Vampire Diaries
At the height of the Twilight phenomenon came the TV answer to the vampire craze. The Vampire Diaries had everything its young viewers were craving: hot 20-somethings cast as teens, (blood)lust, and a decent storyline that actually made sense and compelled audiences to stick around after the initial hype wore off.
Sadly, this didn’t last long. Like many series, a Season 3 slump was in order — and it never truly recovered after that. Whether you tuned out when Nina Dobrev left or stuck around to see almost every character die and come back to life, chances are you were begging for sweet relief by the time Season 8 rolled around.
The slow burn between the two romantic protagonists of a show has been oft debated. No series has ever done it quite like Bones, but once the eponymous scientist and her FBI agent crush eventually get together, the chemistry begins to fade out like a deflating balloon.
Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz play the opposites attract, will-they-won’t-they duo very well, but after many seasons of throwing wrench after wrench at their ship, any audience would be rightly fatigued.
The showrunners called it quits after Season 12 earlier this year, and fans were gifted the happily ever after they’d long awaited.
A scandalous premise for a series usually warrants either a big payday or a complete flop. For Californication, a Showtime dramedy about a sex addict writer living in Malibu, they banked on intrigue and the talent of star David Duchovny to bring in viewership — and it worked, for awhile.
But that’s not enough to sustain a show for long, and titillation soon gave way to boredom and some disgust. The hedonistic lifestyle of Hank Moody began to lose its appeal, yet the series pressed on for an impressive seven seasons before they pulled the plug.
15. Modern Family
Another “How is this still on?” sitcom is Modern Family. Following the success of the mockumentary-style comedy The Office, ABC created their own show in the format, with the simple premise of three connected families living in Los Angeles. If this sounds boring to you, well, you’re sort of alone in that — the series has won numerous Emmys.
Now in Season 9, the Pritchetts, Dunphys, and Tuckers continue to do exactly the same things over and over — after all, they have proven to make critics and audiences laugh. But like many others on this list, there’s no end in sight. This show could still be on 10 years from now, and very little will have changed. And for some, it would seem this execution will never get old.