These shows didn't "jump the shark." That doesn't do them justice.
No, these are shows where the creators simply said "fuck it", flew out of the water, broke the bounds of the earth's atmosphere and set a course for the center of the Sun.
They took their shows down in a blaze of batshit insane glory, and we were there to watch.
Specifically, we're referring to a spinoff many of you didn't know existed, called Baywatch Nights. Judging from the title and David Hasselhoff's fondness for not trying too hard, you'd think this show would be Baywatch, at night. Instead they took the extra step and made it Baywatch, only in a detective agency solving beach cases. But if you watch it in slow motion with the brightness turned down, yeah, it's Baywatch, at night.
Basically the premise is that the main police officer on the original Baywatch show, Sergeant Garner Ellerbee--and yes, that was his actual name on the show--has a midlife crisis and quits his job to start a detective agency. He's joined by Mitch Buchannon, grippingly portrayed by nuanced character actor David Hasselhoff.
Together, they solve beach-related crimes, every week. Loitering-related murder came up a lot. Eh, we've heard worse ideas for shows...
So, What Happened?
It got "X-Filed."
Baywatch Nights didn't turn into the mega-hit its predecessor was, and producer/star David Hasselhoff wanted a piece of all the money X-Files was making at the time. So, he started forcing a science-fiction plot into every single episode. You would think that they would run out of sci-fi beach crime plots quickly, and... they did.
And thus some of the most ridiculous plots ever aired on TV were born. Episodes included:
A mutant mermaid serial killer;
David Hasselhoff getting cloned to save himself from mutated Brazillian-body-snatching snails.
That transition from "shitty" to "pants-shittingly shitty" happened between season one and two, and is best evidenced by the difference in opening themes. Season One:
A very standard issue shitty TV action show intro. Notice the near omni-presence of a Miami Vice suit-wearing David Hasselhoff...
There are beaches, hot people running in slow-ass mo' and boobs jiggling.
That is a winning formula, so to mess with it they must have had something nut-burstingly awesome in mind. Season Two:
Holy shit! Why is it screaming at us?
Hasselhoff switched from a comforting white-and-black Don Johnson suit to an ominous trenchcoat. Then, it's all candles and skulls...
...and, uh, taxidermy dogs.
At one point, Eddie Cibrian points a gun at the screen in what is likely an attempt to put the viewer out of their misery.
It all ends with history's most disturbing shot of Hasselhoff eye-fucking the shit out of the camera.
Viewers around the world rapidly turned off their televisions and promptly had them cleansed by an exorcist. Baywatch Nights was canceled after the second season.
#5. Family Matters
In a nutshell, a middle-class African-American family tries to make a living, despite the fact that everything interesting they do is upstaged by their neighbor's Asperger's syndrome.
Actually a spinoff from Perfect Strangers, the sitcom that foisted horrid European walking stereotype Balki Bartokomous on the planet, Family Matters was standard sitcom fare for the time. There was a live studio audience there to remind you which parts were supposed to be funny and most episodes consisted of the dad getting mad, the kids avoiding punishment and the wife fixing everything. It was sort of like a cold medicine commercial with a laugh track.
Of course, things changed when the quirky neighbor Steve Urkel was added to the cast halfway through the first season, and the rest is history. Dirty, dirty, history.
So, What Happened?
Steve Urkel created his own science-fiction playground and took a creamy dump on the entire Family Matters universe.
See, the show had been built on a time-tested formula: African-American Family Life + Gimmick White People Like = Hit Show. They had that first part, so all they needed was to find the gimmick, and gracefully place it into the show. The goal is to do it subtly, as if it were there all along.
And while inserting the nerdy Urkel was enough to carry the show for a few seasons, viewer interest waned and the show responded by taking a triple shot of crazy. Urkel, previously portrayed as a fish-out-of-water, grew skills as a "super-scientist." Soon, illuminating the middle-class stress of a police family was cast aside in lieu of Steve Urkel's Wacky Sci-Fi Adventures.
First came Stefan, an alter-ego created by drinking Steve Urkel's "cool juice." Once in a while, Stefan would rear his ugly head. Weird, but not Baywatch Nights weird. Then, Steve Urkel cloned himself, creating a permanent Stefan who became a fixture in the series. They even had a spooky love triangle, inspiring many viewer fantasies of being the lucky Pierre in the double-Urkel Express.
Steve Urkel. Stefan Ur-kel.
To make room for these freaky plots, entire members of the family were cast aside to a life of porn. The plot became solely about Urkel, and to a lesser extent, the cop from Die Hard. Plots included...
Urkel and Carl shrink to a tiny size;
Urkel's ventriloquist dummy comes to life and tries to steal souls;
Urkel and Carl go back in time and spend a whole episode on a pirate ship;
Urkel goes to outer space.
This nasty attempt at a crossover theme managed to alienate approximately everyone, killing the second longest-running African-American sitcom of all time. Even worse, it pretty much paved the way for Homeboys in Outer Space," for which there in no penance.
In a fictional town in Illinois, two ridiculously fat parents with surprisingly skinny kids make lighthearted jokes about the constant, life-crushing threat of joblessness.
The mother, Roseanne, was portrayed by a type of succubus creature with a voice that could strip wallpaper and an appearance resembling a cross between a manatee and an evil ventriloquist dummy. OK, that's a little harsh. Not all ventriloquist dummies are evil.
Anyway, toss in John Goodman in his breakthrough role as fat dad and add some smart alecky kids, then make everyone hate each other. Poof, instant Emmys, presumably for its "realism." The show was praised back in the day for portraying a blue-collar family in which both parents worked, otherwise known as every family you've ever heard of ever.
So, What Happened?
Through its first eight seasons, Roseanne was always about the ups-and-downs of a struggling family. It was a steady hit for most of its run, but when the ratings declined, the powers that be decided to end the series. However, they agreed to make one last season, and plumped it full of freaky gimmicks in a cheap attempt to boost ratings.
To begin the season, Roseanne wins $108-million in the lottery. Overwhelmed by this ridiculous plot twist, Roseanne begins to drift in-and-out of fantasies, such as hanging with Jerry Springer, doing glamor photo shoots with Hugh Hefner and this god-awful episode involving Roseanne killing terrorists on a train and wearing a tube top. We freaking warned you:
Then, Jackie, the sister-who-could-probably-grow-a-mustache, marries a prince. If the jiggly adventures of a semi-nude Roseanne and Jackie-XXY weren't enough to make your sex organs crawl up into your stomach, the show decided to drop the revelation that Roseanne's crazy old bitch mom was a lesbian.
However, none of this compares to the twist of the series finale, where it was revealed that the whole show was invented by Roseanne to cope with her horribly craptastic life. Her husband, the father of their children, is dead. It was like finding out that Cliff Huxtable had murdered his family, buried them in the basement and then hallucinated a decade of wacky Cosby adventures. Cue laugh track. End series.