Jumping the Shark (or how I learned to stop watching a show)

Have you ever found episodes of a once-loved show stacking up and taking up space on your TV box? How about powering through numerous ‘bad’ episodes, convincing yourself the next one will be better? Or have any shows gotten away despite you really liking it, just because it aired at a time when technology didn’t allow for you to record everything?
Some shows are like your best friend or secret lover; you’ll have disagreements, long periods when you don’t see each other and you get used to a life without them. However, when you catch up, it’s like you’ve never been apart and no matter how bad things get (How I Met Your Mother, I’m looking at you); you’ll be there until the very end.
But, when do we know when enough is enough, call it quits and leave the show to be loved by another?

Cast Changes
Often when a successful show progresses, actors leave the show in order to seek new challenges. In other cases, they may be wanting roles in movies; and they are not always accommodating of TV schedules. Gone are the days where you could work all the hours sent on multiple sets and have a successful TV and film career. Michael J Fox was able to film Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future (1985) in the evening.
Depending on the actor’s impact on the show, it can change the dynamic and the show may lose its feet, and its audience, while replacing what it lost.

Case in point: Two and a Half Men (2003 – 2015) were left in a difficult position in 2011, when production was halted on series 8 to allow cast member Sheen to seek help for his problem with addiction. Due to further complications, Sheen was fired from the show.
Ashton Kutcher tried his best as Walden Schmidt, a billionaire unrelated to any existing character, who buys Charlie’s house upon the start of series 9. Unfortunately, the chemistry that made the show work was lost; It floundered for a further four seasons before ending in February 2015.

Promises aren’t met
There are shows that offer so much in terms of plot, intrigue and mystery. You are love bombed with the fast pace, refreshing concept and glossy characters. Some are so well made and pose questions that you just can’t wait for the next episode. Everyone loves the show, everyone wants a piece of it and you feel like you’ve got a special bond with it. However, those questions soon start racking up and answers aren’t forthcoming. You grow bored and soon find you’ve lost hope of getting the answers and, in some cases, you’re certain the producers are making it up as they go along and have no idea what the answers are themselves.

Case One: Lost’s (2004 – 2010) first series was undoubtedly one of the best presented mind warping shows to date. Passengers from a plane crash, left stranded on an mysterious island while their past comes back to haunt them. Channel 4 did a wonderful trick that they still use for their resident soap today; they aired the following episode on E4 directly after the Channel 4 broadcast. Being in uni at the time, we only had Channel 4. Each week we would gather around the tv and as that chilling music announced the episodes end, we’d all gasp and wish we had E4. One week, we thought we had it sorted; a digital box that we forgot to test out beforehand. Cue a frantic 10 minutes while we tried, in vain, to plug the damn thing in. I can tell you now which episode it was that had us so desperate to see the next; the seventh episode titled The Moth. Not many shows have that impact.
However, by the time I got to the cliffhanger of ‘Not Penny’s boat’ I was jaded, my mind was mulch with keeping all the strands in context and I never returned to the island. From the dwindling viewing figures, I wasn’t the only one; they declined slow enough to keep getting a renewal. By series 5’s series finale, it had lost half its audience and bowed out a year later to one of the most hated show finales.

Case Two: Heroes (2006- 2010) was another unique show that I discovered during my university days. I was not one for going out, so binge watching shows became my go to for the dark evenings. I was recommended this NBC show about people with superpowers.
Being a time before Netflix, I indulged in online viewing. My best friend and house mate, was preparing to go to a party when I suggested watching this new show. Just one episode, I’d insisted. Eight hours later, we had watched all the episodes the internet had to offer; painfully waiting for the programme to buffer while we made tea and toast. Even now, I can text her ‘la pom pom girl’ (We inexplicably had French subtitles and it forever became Clare’s nickname) and we’ll begin quoting lines to each other.
I’m sure, based upon this back story, you’ll be surprised to find out I didn’t see much passed the second series’ ending. The show had become so wrapped up in its own mythology and world building that it seemed to forget the questions as soon as it asked them. Just like my waning attention for the convoluted show, audience rating fell dramatically. Perhaps had the show have operated as it originally intended, as an anthology, it may have had more than a fleeting success. Alas, the creator appeared to be listening to fans and became interested in wish fulfillment. Which leads me to my next thorn in the side of show success.

Social Media
It’s a tricky thing, Twitter. On the one hand, producers get an instant snapshot of audience reception enabling them to please their consumers and give them what they want. Of course, the intention of this is to keep ratings high. However, it can often have the adverse effect. Because, on the other hand, listening to fans can often lead to poisoning the water you need to live. Making changes based upon fan reception can sometimes come at the expense of character and plot integrity.

Case in point: Big Bang Theory ( 2007 – Present) There’s little doubt that the show is still a powerhouse going into its 11th series. I also have to point out, in defence of the show, that my relationship with the comedy is intrinsically linked to my father who once made me watch the same episode 5 times in a 24 hour period (Thanks Channel 4, for your plus 1 and repeat schedule).
The biggest issue for me with the show’s story line is the one concerning Penny and Raj. By the end of series 4, Penny was seeking comfort after months of watching Leonard happy in a relationship and finds herself with Raj, in Leonard’s bed no less, just as we cut to the credits. It didn’t sit right with me and it wasn’t something I felt was what either character would do.
Neither did many of the fans, and they took to social media to express their outrage. And they were heard. By the end of the summer, there’s been a rewrite and it was now a simple misunderstanding. I don’t know what I hated more; that it had been written in or that those writing the show had such little conviction that they could change it without a second thought.

Too Formulaic
Some shows have a great premise, good stories and excellent characters. However, the episodes go through the motions and become stagnant after a while. There are even some that you can describe episode plotlines down to the twists and reveals

Case One: Alias (2001 – 2006) College double agent who gets to play dress up, forbidden love with handler and a difficult father-daughter relationship. What’s not to love?! So, it was never a massive hit to begin with, but it did get an outing on channel 4 here in the UK. I did manage to watch all of its 4 series, but it was more out of sheer stubbornness than enjoyment. Had it been today and available on Netflix, I doubt I would have gotten past the first series.
The biggest issue being it’s formula; a busy and action-pact opening 10 minutes, followed by 25 minutes of slow exposition culminating in a showdown, twist or ticking bomb that cut to credits and resolved in the following episode. I’d imagine it was good for ratings; people desperate to tune in to find out if Sydney was safe, however in the binge-watch era it becomes tedious very quickly.

Case Two: House (2004 – 2012) made a US household name of our beloved Hugh Laurie. It was (and still is) an excellent medical procedural riff on Sherlock Holmes. However, if you missed an episode all you needed to do was ask a friend if there was any character development because, when it came to ‘patient of the week’ there was a strict formula the show stuck to; patient gets sick and ends up at Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital where House exploits them to challenge his diagnostic team. The patient will be misdiagnosed, get better before deteriorating to the point of almost-no return before House, against hospital regulation, does his thing and the patient recovers completely.
The show could work with the formula while you cared about the characters. Unfortunately, by the shows closing series, too many of the fan favourite actors had departed, leaving little motivation for anyone other than hardcore followers.

Reminds you too much of an old favourite
You won’t notice at first. There are some shows that you get caught up in, they fill the space of a departing show. Then, as it gets into a rhythm you might notice an odd theme here or a line there. Maybe it’s even a character that reminds you; you’ve been here before. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter and it’s just playing to a winning formula. However, there’s the odd few shows that don’t quite make it their own and you’re just left with a poor imitation.

Case in point: Designated Survivor (2016 – present) started strong but even in its first series it lost half its audience. Six episodes into the second series and amid flagging ratings, the show has changed its format and it’s putting the Kiefer Sutherland show at a disadvantage. It appears Theresa May is not the only one using the West Wing (1999 – 2006) playbook; Designated Survivor is trying to pitch Kirkman as the new Barlet; the story, dialogue and confrontations all give a sense of deja vu, but lets face it there’s only one guy who can write a political conflict about an animal. That man is Aaron Sorkin.

Yet…

There’s always one you can’t give up on
There’s that one that’s in your DNA, it has helped form part of who you are and the friends you’ve made. So while any of the above may apply, you just can’t quite let go. Course, the show the show I’m thinking of is Doctor Who.
I’ve struggled with the last two incarnations, despite my love of bother actors and I’ve very much open to BBC’s new occupant. However, the words ‘I’m not watching it again.’ have left my lips so many times since the Ponds left the TARDIS.
This show, for me, is more like a relationship than anything else on TV. I can’t give up, because it’s Christmas, then it’s a new series; things will have changed. Then, I’ll leave the episodes building up (of course, I’ve still got it on series link) and other people brag about how good a time they’re having watching it. So I creep back, with chocolates and wine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s