There’s little doubt that we’re living in the age of peak television. Still, it can be a double-edged sword at times. Quality-wise, some of the greatest TV shows of all time have hit the airwaves in just the last five or so years. But in terms of the sheer quantity of TV shows, there’s simply too much out there to keep track of. This in turn puts pressure on any long-running series to maintain momentum well past their expiration date.
As it turns out, there are a handful of shows in that exact situation right now. For these shows their best seasons are behind them, and at this point they’re hanging around out of obligation more than necessity. It’s a strange limbo that many networks put their veteran shows in. It leaves them with the option to either mercifully put the series out of its misery, or continue to milk every ounce of usefulness out of a tired story until no one’s left to watch it crash and burn. These are the TV shows doing just that right now.
1. Supernatural, The CW
The long saga of Supernatural is as tragic as it is glorious. The show’s early years birthed an enthusiastic fandom that still persists to this day. Its major plot arcs are some of the best of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, and its characters have become nothing short of iconic in the process. But then a glaring problem started to rear its head for the popular series: Showrunner Eric Kripke designed the show to end after three seasons.
After some prodding from the network, Kripke extended the show out into five season, wrapping up the primary storyline of the Winchesters, and then leaving the show directly after. The CW wasn’t about to let things end quietly though. The show is still on the air today, and premiered its 12th season in 2016. In case anyone’s counting, that’s a full seven seasons past the end-date envisioned by Supernatural‘s own creator.
2. Sleepy Hollow, FOX
You have to mess up in a special kind of way to tire your audience out by your third season, but that’s exactly what the once-promising Sleepy Hollow has done. The show’s debut season thrived on the chemistry of leads Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, while putting a clever twist on the legend of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Hell, we’ve even pegged that brief golden age of episodes as a solid alternative to Game of Thrones (which it well and truly is). Season 3’s finale though threw the show off a cliff, killing off Beharie’s character in a bizarre turn of events. What was once one of the most entertaining shows on network TV essentially cut its own heart out.
3. New Girl, FOX
Friends just about killed the ensemble comedy for good once it went off the air in 2004, spawning all too many unsuccessful imitators in the ensuing years. But then along came New Girl and Happy Endings in 2011, two shows on FOX and ABC respectively, that breathed new life into the “bunch of friends screwing around in insular madcap adventures” genre. Sadly, Happy Endings was doomed by low ratings and poor treatment from its network, while New Girl managed to hang around, buoyed by strong performances by its incredible cast.
The show sadly fell off in quality in recent seasons, doubling down on Jake Johnson’s lightly improvised riffing, Zooey Deschanel being quirky and impossibly naive, and tired story threads. Viewership has been down in the wake of this decline.
4. Doctor Who, BBC
Before we dive in, no, Doctor Who is not likely to find itself canceled anytime soon. It’s as much a fixture in British culture as the monarchy, and it’s not going anywhere. With that aside, let’s talk about the most recent season of the famous sci-fi series. There will always be devoted fans attached to this series, both today, and probably 50 years from now. What’s unfortunate is that recent upheaval within the show has driven away the casual TV viewer. Forbes outlines some grim numbers for its Season 9 ratings, and it’s not pretty.
It’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason for the decline in ratings, but there’s a good case to be made for its oft-sporadic production schedule as the prime culprit. While British audiences may be accustomed to abbreviated seasons and inconsistent airdates, getting an international foothold is tough when the premiere dates between seasons are all over the place. Over the last four years, premieres have kicked off in April, September, November, and August, and that’s not including standalone Christmas episodes and the 50th Anniversary Special. Simply put, it’s tough to keep track of a show when you can’t develop a routine to tune in regularly.
5. The Walking Dead, AMC
It sounds odd to argue that the most-watched series on TV is a show people are tired of. But watch that infuriating Season 6 finale, and everything begins to make sense. Things wrapped up with the world’s most unnecessary cliffhanger, showing the long teased at villain, Negan bashing in the brains of an unidentified member of the main group. Fans and critics both agreed that it marked an extreme low point in the series, backed up by a 10% drop in total viewers from Season 5’s finale.
6. Arrow, The CW
Joining Sleepy Hollow in the category of “shows that recently made a poor decision in killing off a female lead” is Arrow, having offed Laurel Lance (aka Black Canary). It’s a death that’s been teased at all season long, and while it was an emotional moment all around, it felt more like jumping the shark than an inevitable story beat. In all honesty, Arrow has been struggling to stay above water ever since The Flash arrived on the scene as a joyous, exciting alternative. As The Flash‘s star has risen, Arrow‘s has fallen right out of the sky.
7. Scandal, ABC
Oof, where do we begin with Scandal? Here’s where we are right now: An AV Club reviewer recently described a recent episode as “one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on television,” while ratings have begun to hit record lows for the series. The premise back in its early years was solid enough. Olivia Pope is a Washington D.C. “fixer,” employed by various politicians and big-wigs to make their problems disappear. That alone is enough to carry a show, but because it’s a Shonda Rhimes show, it undercut the autonomy of its female lead by putting her in an extramarital affair with the freaking president of the United States. Messy story threads have sunk the series to new lows in recent seasons, and it’s only getting worse.
8. Family Guy, FOX
There was a time when Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy was the most subversive, clever series on television, taking all the tropes of a sitcom family and turning them on their collective heads. We’re now into the shows 15th season, and it’s clear that it’s officially overstayed its welcome. It’s tough to keep any show fresh for a fraction of the years Family Guy has stayed on the air. That being so, it’s safe to say anything beyond 10 seasons stretches a concept far too thin to stay interesting.
9. Once Upon a Time, ABC
Admittedly, the original concept for ABC’s Once Upon a Time was solid: A town of live-action Disney characters living in the real world, who’ve been robbed of their memories by the spell of an evil witch. It’s since spiraled into something entirely unrecognizable from this though, acting more as a vehicle for Disney’s marketing machine and less as the well-crafted story it was in its first season.
10. Law and Order: SVU
It’s worth acknowledging Law and Order: SVU‘s place in the pantheon of procedural crime shows. Back in 1999, Dick Wolf’s Law and Order spinoff practically defined the genre as we know it today, spawning a cadre of additional spinoffs, imitators, and everything in between. Now, we’re into its 18th(!) season on the air, and with each successive run of episodes, it’s struggled to justify its own existence. It was a good run, but perhaps it’s time to pass the torch on to the next generation of police television, lest SVU continue to taint its legacy with each passing season.
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