4 Behind The Scenes Reasons Great TV Shows Start To Suck
When a TV show starts to suck, our immediate instinct is to blame the writers. The keyboard wizards who once supplied us with so much joy have morphed into ugly story trolls, and they now threaten our fantasy kingdom of ItWasGoodAndThusItShallRemainGoodForever Land. However, this is not always the case. So you can take it easy this time, writers. Keep ... doing Westworld, I guess.
Here are four scenarios in which it isn't the writing that dooms a TV show, but other factors that are just as taint-achingly annoying.
When You Never Know If You're On Your Last Episode
Benedict Cumberbatch, the man, the meme, the legend. I still can't tell you whether or not he's a good actor, but I can tell you that if my local community theatre put on a performance of Benedict Cumberbatch Reads The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Yes, All Of It, I would be in the front row, screaming and throwing my boxers at him. The dude's in high demand right now, and because he has tethered his wrist to the saddle of the runaway Marvel horse, there's no telling when he'll be able to devote large chunks of time to anything else.
That fact becomes painfully obvious at the end of the latest season of Sherlock. When the show first arrived, my initial reaction was "Another Sherlock Holmes adaptation? Take a number, buddy." And then it turned out to be pretty good, and I enjoy it, even though it's dedicated to the trope of "We must all like this insufferable man because he's a genius and the main character and he has nice hair."
But the most recent season finale, which was a mad dash to ensure that Sherlock ended in a bigger way than any of the other seasons while still leaving stuff open for more, seemed baffling in its conception. The dudes who write this show have always been competent, even at their worst. They write female characters like they're trying to impress Jabba the Hutt, but their stories still feel like they're written by people who do this shit for a living. So I can't fully blame them when they release a hodgepodge of twists, forced emotion, and an unfulfilling conclusion for not just Sherlock, but every other character as well.
I also can't totally blame Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, because C.R.E.A.M. get the money, dolla' dolla' bills, ya'll. They're making superhero cash with their new roles. They're making "Tear down the orphanage because hearing children play makes my scalp itch" cash. However, because for the last few years Sherlock has been a game of "Will this be the last season? Probably ... maybe ... I don't know," you have to make every season with the idea that it might need to be the finale that everyone's waited for, but still have it ready for another season.
Imagine doing any other job that way. You tell someone to build the walls of a house, but that they need to be ready to put the roof on it at any moment. But hey, don't put that roof on too tight, because one day we might decide that we have the time and money to make an even better roof. So make it as good of a roof as you possibly can, but don't. That's the situation that Sherlock faces when they don't know if Cumberbatch and co. are going to be able to fit it into their schedules. And that's exactly what the Sherlock finale was: a roof that you build with the idea that maybe a nicer roof will come along. Maybe.
When Your Show Goes To A New Channel
The first half of Dexter, a show about a serial killer who only kills less attractive serial killers, is compelling and almost as good as Hannibal. That's a high compliment coming from someone who OH COME ON'd his way through the last, well, half. It was a huge success for Showtime, so someone figured "Hey, we should put it on CBS, because people will watch it there and my hot tub needs another tinier hot tub inside it." However, there was one key portion of this plan that was missing: the part where the plan, in any universe, would actually work.
I don't know if you've watched CBS recently, but it's a different channel from the CBS subsidiary Showtime. Showtime has generous nudity and broad "The Boondock Saints is my favorite movie" themes. CBS has 2 Broke Girls and Kevin James' Kevin Can Wait, a show named after something that Adam Sandler has never said. To appease censors, CBS cut out anything that might differentiate Dexter from a show that doesn't include the slaughtering of murderers by another murderer. The bloodshed and swearing and nudity were all cut down, forcing Dexter to be a like other crime procedural shows. Except this one focused on a single bland guy who always managed to explore the most boring aspects of a hobby that includes trash bags full of body parts.
Of course, that was a case of editing a preexisting show. And sometimes, when shows change networks, nothing of much note happens. Other times, it's like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the cast table read, and whoever emerged from the wreckage got their old jobs back. Remember Matlock? The show with Andy Griffith as a lawyer and literally the greatest theme song that anything has ever had?
I f*cking love Matlock.
And when the show changed from NBC to ABC, important characters were dropped, roles that had once been major got downgraded into nothingness, and Don Knotts was kicked to the curb in favor of having no Don Knotts on the show. How does someone do that to Don Knotts? How does reality do that to Don Knotts? Shame on you, reality, you unforgiving piss bucket.
Currently, the WWE has no opposition as it gobbles up every person with a back tattoo to perform in its circus of dropkicks. But in the early 2000s, when Total Nonstop Action Wrestling emerged, many thought that maybe, just maybe, this upstart company would be a match for the WWE, which is both the greatest thing on TV and an ever-starving black hole of talent. Now, if you talk about TNA, you talk about a legacy of poor financial decisions, even worse booking decisions, and ninjas.
The show has moved from weekly pay-per-views, to Fox Sports Net, to webcasts, to Spike TV, to Destination America, to Pop TV in the relatively short time that it's existed. Sure, promoting a 57-year-old Hulk Hogan as the star of your "new wave of professional wrestling" show isn't the best plan, but it certainly doesn't help to establish yourself when every channel starts getting wrasslin' buyer's remorse a week into the purchase.
When Your Success Makes You "Too Big" To Quit
I never watched Scrubs until last year, and it's such a charming, little show. I don't think I've ever made it through eight complete seasons of television faster. And when it ended and Netflix began to cue up Season 9, Episode 1, my initial reaction was, "Wait. It ended. I definitely think it ended." Turns out the guy who created the show thought the same thing.
"Hey, why don't you just make another season?" is awesome news if you haven't finished your show yet. So many series leave plot threads wiggling in the air, and that really dampens the mood when you recommend them to people. "You'll really like this show. It's perfect for you. Just know, however, that when it ends, you'll hate existence in general."
If you have gotten that conclusion, though, it's kind of like being told that you're gonna have to repeat senior year of high school, but like, in a good way, we swear. Season 9 of Scrubs tried to reboot the series in a sense, but that's hard when a few main characters return and half of the new main characters are obviously meant to replace the ones who departed. As soon as J.D. shows up in Season 9, you learn that by "reboot," they really meant "Please help audiences like these new kids, Zach Braff."
I wrote about Steve Carrell leaving The Office, and how that kind of threw the show into disarray as they tried to cobble together something that would fit the Michael-Scott-shaped void. That said, I don't think the last few seasons are sitcom blasphemy, and I will die on the hill that James Spader's "Why is Jim treating the magician poorly?" might be the best line reading in television history.
The Office was tailor-made to go on for terrible lengths of time. It had one central location where 75 percent of the plot happened, it didn't have any mega stars to demand outrageous things from it, and even at their worst, the ratings were never so bad that you could use them as the sole reasoning for ending it. In an alternate universe, The Office Season 13 is premiering, with Jim and Pam having their third kid, all-new beet jokes from Dwight, and cameos from Ryan and Kelly to remind you that, a long time ago, laughter existed.
Luckily, the stars of the show intervened before we could ever get to the point of being able to say "I enjoyed that decade where The Office was good." That rarely happens. You have a TV job, and you'll repeat your catchphrase for 20 more years if it means nabbing a steady paycheck. And if you can make the money work out, studios are very willing to let that happen, leading you to the Scrubs scenario, where you've definitively ended the show, only to have to halt the funeral service, rip the characters from their coffins, and force them to ghoulishly dance for the enjoyment of someone, hopefully.
Yes, Scrubs Season 9 is a rotted tango, with the illusion of living flesh slowly fading away as the decay becomes clear. Put that on the box set.
When Budget Cuts Back You Into A Corner
Cracked has covered what a few shows did when the money got sparse. However, sometimes it's a little less obvious than Batman punching an invisible Riddler in the dark. Like with Tales From The Crypt, which, at its best, was transcendent. I'm such a huge fan that I could use it as an adjective to describe me.
You know how in TV shows like The Walking Dead, whenever they want to establish how warped a bad guy is, they show them surrounded by terrible things while looking utterly at peace? "He's got a desk covered in severed heads! And he's smiling! He must be the bad guy." What I'm trying to say is that if a TV show was going to create a scene to explain my character, they'd have Tales From The Crypt playing as I sat contentedly in a recliner. "He's watching Tales From The Crypt! And he's smiling! God, why do I keep watching The Daniel Show?"
Tales From The Crypt was six seasons of puns and gory ironic endings. And interspersed between the goofy horrific episodes were bland crime stories, all seemingly topped off with the same ending of "He wanted to do the crime, but so ... DID SHE." Then in the seventh season, the show was produced in Britain, with a corresponding budget cut. New accents ran rampant, which isn't a problem. I sat through every season of Skins, a show all about the questionable choices of British teens, so characters not sounding like they're from Texas City, America isn't a problem. The problem was, because of the budget cuts, every episode became "She thought that she was going to get away with it, but then SHE DIDN'T."
Heroes had its episode budgets cut down by nearly half toward the end of its run. A writer's strike had dealt a blow to the show's quality, but the cuts were a right cross to any plans that they had of restoring it to the glory it had in its first season. Heroes had come in at the perfect time. Birthed in the afterglow of Batman Begins, we decided that maybe superhero stuff could be, for lack of a better phrase, interesting and not shitty. Heroes was going to be the more emotionally satisfying brother to the campy antics of Smallville. A single tear rolls down my cheek. The scar it left hurts eternal.
Instead, Heroes ended up being a messy ode to having your dreams stolen from you. The same thing happened with Chuck, except over and over again. Hit by a writers' strike, and then repeatedly revived by fans, newer seasons came with fresh slashes to the budget. I was never a huge fan of Chuck, which basically dealt with a story about Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spy, but I have friends who would get Zachary Levi's naked body tattooed on the inside of their lower lip.
And every time the show came back, it was a bittersweet hurrah. The fans had gotten their way, but the networks had drained it of even more resources. Story lines became limited, cast members had their roles reduced, but hey, there was still more of it! And that means that you won, right?
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