I was watching a bad "M*A*S*H" rerun the other day and it put me in mind of how reviled some of the episodes from the last three seasons of the show were. Here's a little compilation (in no particular order) of some TV favorites that hung around too long...
Fans are divided into different camps (M*A*S*H units?) about when this classic show should’ve called it quits. Some say it should’ve happened when Henry Blake was killed and Trapper John went home, while others think they should’ve pulled the plug after Frank Burns left. Me, personally, I think the show was toast after Radar O’Reilly went back to Ottumwa and Alan Alda took over as the show's creative czar. The plots got really stupid after that, with storylines like the 4077th staff pouring a concrete floor for the O.R. (never mind that one already existed in previous episodes) or Klinger running a camp newspaper (hell, he could barely even handle being company clerk, where would he find the time to play editor?) or when they went to the Col. Flagg well once too often, not to mention way too much Hawkeye-this and Hawkeye-that. You knew they were running out of ideas when the whiny chubby Hawaiian nurse and Cpl. Rizzo started getting more lines every week and some storylines got recycled too, like when one of Col. Potter’s cronies does something inept in the heat of battle, resulting in unnecessary casualties. And if the name Thad Mumford is in the closing credits, chances are it was a bad episode filled with cutesy dialogue like "You’re the toast of the coast, Jost" and "The newspaper isn’t the issue…", etc.
"HAPPY DAYS" (1974-84)
The show that gave rise to the phrase "Jumping the Shark" is the poster child for successful TV series that just don’t know when to quit. The first five seasons of HD were classic, but as soon as Scott Baio and his insufferable Chachi character came on board, things went to hell in a handbag. "Happy Days" was supposed to be set in the ‘50s, yet along comes this douche with ‘70s hair and a bandana around his thigh (what the hell was that, a macho garter?) going "Wah-Wah-Wah" all the time, and then the crap-weasel burned Arnold’s down to boot! The addition of Ted McGinley and the ever-annoying Jenny Piccalo character to the cast—not to mention all the singing and dancing that took place in every other episode—rendered the last five seasons of "Happy Days" virtually unwatchable. The least they could’ve done was tell Tom Bosley to remove his digital watch before he got on camera!
"LAVERNE & SHIRLEY" (1976-83)
L&S was a really funny show for its first 4-5 seasons, but when the entire cast moved en mass from Milwaukee to California around 1980, the laughs didn’t accompany them. It got even lamer when Cindy Williams got pregnant and left the show in a contract dispute, so it was just Laverne taking on Lenny & Squiggy, et al. And in the last season, there were a couple episodes that even Laverne didn’t appear in. They should never have left Wisconsin.
"SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH" (1996-2003)
Melissa Joan Hart was already 20 years old when this show debuted in 1996, so it seemed rather disingenuous that she played a teenager to begin with. By the last couple seasons, it seemed rather silly to continue calling the show’s title character a teenager when she was well into college. Adding the untalented Soleil Moon Frye to the cast at the end was an act of utter desperation too.
Surprisingly, "Frasier" was able to consistently maintain its fine quality for most of its run, but even the best of shows run out of steam eventually. I find it harder to watch the last season or two of "Frasier" in reruns than the early years of the show, especially the episode arc involving Daphne’s insufferable mother and brother visiting from England and when Daphne got pregnant during the last season. By that time, the show had long since lost its spark.
Like "Happy Days", the first four seasons of "Friends" were pure gold, but it all went downhill after Ross uttered "I, take thee Rachel" in the last episode of Season 4. The stories gradually became stupid and contrived (like the Phoebe-hates-Pottery Barn ep or when Monica’s overpriced fancy boots hurt her feet, or when Rachel took up smoking cigarettes to impress her co-workers, etc.). Even worse, Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox became so anorexic and gaunt that they started resembling matchsticks with long, stringy hair toward the end. They were so much cuter and likeable in the early seasons.
"SANFORD & SON" (1972-77)
True, five years is about the average run for a successful sitcom, but even in this case, the show ran about a year too long. In its final season, S&S suffered from poor writing, over-reliance on hackneyed put-downs (aimed mostly at Aunt Esther) and indifference from Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson. Foxx basically didn’t give a shit anymore and phoned it in, and Wilson often wore dark glasses (to mask his cocaine problem) and passively delivered his lines standing with one hand in his vest pocket. Asinine storylines like where Fred Sanford thought he might be Jewish were the death knell for my favorite TV sitcom ever on earth in this hemisphere (as Fred would say).
"CHICO AND THE MAN" (1974-78)
This show should've ceased production the nanosecond Freddie Prinze blew his brains out, but producer James Komack insisted on continuing. He replaced Prinze with cheeky kid Gabriel Melgar, who was disrespectfully dubbed "Chico" too, and although it obviously wasn't Melgar's fault, the result was downright pathetic. Having that great thespian Charo making frequent guest appearances didn't help things either.
"THE COSBY SHOW" (1984-92)
This show had its moments early on, but got way too preachy and idealistic for its own good as time wore on. The additions of gnome-like child actress Raven-Symone and Cousin Pam to the Huxtable household only made things worse, not to mention the expanded role of Elvin, who practically made Richard Simmons seem almost manly by comparison. He was quite possibly the wussiest married man on network TV.
"GILLIGAN’S ISLAND" (1964-67)
Should’ve been cancelled after the first episode. Nah, I take that back—BEFORE the first episode! Yes, this is a TV icon, but could there be a more implausible idea for a TV series this side of "The Flying Nun"? How it lasted three seasons is beyond me. And don’t get me started on those excremental TV reunion movies they made in the ‘70s and ‘80s like "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island"…
"THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW" (1960-68)
Should’ve shut it down as soon as Barney Fife left Mayberry in '65. Don Knotts was what made that show tick.
"ACCORDING TO JIM" (2001-09)
This mediocre show has lasted how long? I do realize that Jim Belushi is often unfairly compared to his late brother, but honestly, he’s really not that funny. Nice guy, to be sure, but hardly a laugh riot.
"BEVERLY HILLS, 90210" (1990-2000)
Ten years is a nice round number for a series, but this one should’ve hung it up by the time all the principle characters (Brandon, Kelly, Dylan, Donna, Steve, Valerie, David, et al) had doinked each other at least once. Jason Priestley’s departure didn’t help things any, either. Good rule of thumb: if you’re watching an episode in which Tori Spelling has red hair, there's half a chance it might suck.
"ALL IN THE FAMILY" (1971-79)
When Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers left the show after the eighth season, it was probably a hint that Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton should've stifled themselves too, but they soldiered on anyway, adding Danielle Brisebois as Archie and Edith’s niece Stephanie for season nine. There were a handful of funny episodes that year, but the show was running on fumes by then. How they managed to milk three more years out of A. Bunker on "Archie Bunker’s Place" is unfathomable.
"SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" (1975-Present)
I rarely watch SNL anymore, but evidently there is still some relevancy here and there, as last fall’s resurgence in popularity during the Presidential campaign showed. Still, I can’t help but think this show has long outlived its usefulness, and should’ve died after the Dana Carvey/Mike Myers era.
Feel free to put your .02-worth in and add to this list. I'm sure there are other shows I left out here...