Networks don’t really care about quality when it comes down to it — they care about ratings, because that’s where their money comes from. Sometimes ratings and quality coincide, making for great television that gets the attention it deserves, while other times, things don’t work out quite so perfectly. These six TV shows are not bastions of quality television, and most of them are long past their prime, but they’re kept afloat by their at least mildly successful ratings.
1. The Simpsons
Few people love The Simpsons more than me, but it’s common knowledge that the influential adult animated series has been past its prime for more than a decade. While nothing can compare to the peak seasons of two through eight, modern episodes can only occasionally recapture some of the magic of The Simpsons’ early days. Sadly, the great episodes are so few and far between it hardly seems worth keeping the series on the air, except to prolong Fox’s never-ending cash cow. Sure, the show can still be a comfort, but when the characters always feel just the slightest bit off and the jokes only land half the time, it’s not worth continuing the series and tarnishing the memory of those early days any longer than we already have.
2. Grey’s Anatomy
In its early years, Grey’s Anatomy was a worthy mix of high and low art, trafficking in soapy relationships as much as legitimate medical plots and well-written, poignant observations. But the longer this medical drama continues (it’s now heading into its 13th season), the more apparent the writers’ desperation becomes, as they search for new, gimmicky ways to shake up their core cast and put their characters in artificial danger, all for the sake of capturing viewer interest. Many fans revolted when the series killed off one of its major characters in season 11, a clear sign that the show has nowhere left to go with its core cast and is just spinning the wheels with enough shocking twists to keep longtime fans watching for just one more week.
3. Family Guy
Family Guy has been deeply indebted to The Simpsons in humor and premise ever since it first started airing in 1999, and now it seems to be falling in The Simpsons‘ footsteps once more by continuing far past its prime. The show never quite reached the deliriously silly yet raunchy heights of its first run after being brought back from cancellation, but the longer it continues, the more apparent it becomes how little the writers care about their characters or even their audience. Any honest emotion and subtle humor has been sucked out of the show and replaced with purposely overlong joke tangents, blatant political messaging, unlikable character antics and cynical gimmicks — like killing off one of their most beloved characters only to resurrect him two episodes later.
4. 2 Broke Girls
Modern sitcoms often feel a little outdated beside the wonderful single-camera comedies littering cable television these days, but 2 Broke Girls has always felt especially tired even by sitcom standards. The bafflingly successful CBS show has a familiar premise and a strong odd couple dynamic between stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, but the potential is wasted on uniformly lazy writing that relies on cheap sex jokes and painful racial stereotypes over any actual character-based comedy. The series ought to be cancelled simply for squandering its mild potential so effectively.
5. Law & Order: SVU
Law & Order: SVU has always been about the cases over the characters, using its cast mainly to take viewers through sleepy procedural recreations of the real world’s most heinous sex crimes, but in spite of the setup, the detective pair of Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) became compelling reasons to watch just the same. The series has continued on for five seasons since Meloni, the show’s angsty hero, left in season 12, and every year it continues it feels like a disservice to the solid dynamic the show built with Meloni. Even with a supporting cast behind her, Hargitay can’t hold the show on her own, especially when the cases have become increasingly grotesque and exploitative.
6. The Big Bang Theory
Like 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory has always felt somewhat dated, trafficking in outmoded stereotypes of nerds for the sake of humor — never mind that its geeky, emotionally stunted characters are successful astrophysicists. Nonetheless, the show has become a major network hit for its non-threatening characters and cheap attempts at humor (underlined with an omnipresent laugh track), which has allowed it to continue into its ninth season. The protagonists keep stumbling into success without changing the show’s basic status quo, which relies upon them inexplicably putting up with prickly unlikable weirdo Sheldon. The characters and jokes, never all that compelling in the first place, have gotten even worse with recent years, making it clear CBS needs to put this series out of its misery.