Commerce and art have quite the strained relationship when it comes to television shows.
On the one hand, why cancel a TV show if the ratings are steady? On the other hand, every show reaches its creative zenith, and for the most part, never reaches those previous heights again, and so why knowingly sabotage your property like that, until it’s a dried up old shell of its former self? (It’s a rhetorical question: we all know the answer is money.).
There’s merit to the age old expression, “Always leave them wanting more," just as there’s also merit to producing content that people are gobbling up in order to squeeze every last dollar.
After all, the “business” part of show business is the reason we get all these wonderfully diverse, and yes, costly, shows in the first place.
This list will explore these tensions, as well as the different reasons why some shows went on for a little too long. We'll also delve into the different contexts behind the current crop of shows that have used up their creative juices and are boldly, though a little sadly, ploughing ahead on fumes.
Here are the 10 Shows That Went On For Way Too Long (And 10 That Need To Go).
20 Needs To Go: 13 Reasons Why
The hit teen Netflix show 13 Reasons Why had a messy but occasionally affecting and bold first season. It revolved around high schooler Clay Jenson and his friend Hannah Baker, a girl who took her own life due to a series of horrendous circumstances brought about by her fellow students.
She leaves behind a series of tapes outlining the specific reasons why she ended it all, and this provided the narrative framework for the season. Although it was praised for its performances, the way it handled controversial and violent subject matter attracted criticism.
Even though the central mystery of the show was solved, a second season was immediately ordered. It was too big of a hit.
The recently released second season added more shocking and upsetting content, but had little to say. It had no real aim other than some vague and nebulous goal of “starting a conversation.”
The continuous torture of all the characters unintentionally veered into self-parody at times, which, for a show that takes itself as seriously as this one does, showed many fans that the show had gone off the rails.
A third season is on the way, but by all accounts, it really shouldn’t have even gone on to a second one.
19 Went On For Too Long: Heroes
In Heroes, the lives of ordinary people from different walks of life intertwine upon the discovery of their extraordinary abilities.
Their personal dramas and tribulations gradually give way to the realisation that in order to prevent a global catastrophe, they will have to protect one of their own, a high school cheerleader with a healing factor.
Heroes, at least the first season, fulfilled an ambitious and fresh idea. By drawing inspiration from X-Men and Stephen King novels and presenting it in an accessible and glossy NBC package, it was hardly surprising that the first season of Heroes was such a hit.
However, the 2007-2008 Writers Strike severely compromised the structure of the second season, which was criticised for its slow pace and questionable plot beats.
Sylar, the magnetic villain of the first season, was left floundering in an irrelevant side story, Peter and Nathan Petrelli’s moving sacrifice at the end of season 1 was anti-climactically negated, and, frankly speaking, the budget was just not there to convince us of Hiro’s adventures in feudal Japan.
The third season was an opportunity for Heroes to redeem itself, but somehow fared much worse.
The ratings plummeted and the show limped through an improved but still mediocre final fourth season.
18 Needs To Go: Orange Is The New Black
When Orange Is The New Black premiered in 2013 on Netflix, it earned praise for richly depicting the lives of people rarely given the spotlight on television (poor women of colour, immigrants) and it did so with grace, humour, and compelling complexity.
The inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary could be angry, evil, sensitive, and above all, three dimensional. As such, the tone of the show often veered wildly between tragedy and comedy.
Orange also cleverly utilised the Lost-style flashbacks to tell stories of how these different women ended up in prison.
Sure, burgeoning yuppie Piper Chapman was initially our POV character, but the show quickly evolved beyond her, even going so far as to sometimes dunk on her. The sprawl of it could be reasonably compared to a Russian novel.
Its latest season tested the limits of its sprawl, though. An entire season set over the course of a three-day prison riot tested the tonal foundation of the show, in which ridiculous larks and serious attempts to find justice in an unjust and corrupt system often interrupted one another, resulting in a season that often felt schizophrenic.
It might be a good idea to conceive of one more season to end this otherwise fantastic show on a high note.
17 Went On For Too Long: Seinfeld
Seinfeld explored the minutia of the lives of four 30-something New Yorkers with a deftness and hilarity unparalleled to its sitcom peers. Hugging and learning – sentimentality -- was eschewed in favour of neurotic twits as the stars of stories about nothing – which is to say, stories that could be about anything.
When a showrunner leaves their creation behind, it can herald a show about to take a turn for the worse.
In the case of Seinfeld, which is still rightfully regarded as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Larry David exited the series after season 7, leaving Jerry Seinfeld with full creative control. Season 8 and the final season, while not “bad” per se, certainly never reached its earlier comedic highs.
Larry David was integral to the show’s gargantuan success, having penned some all timer episodes including "The Chinese Restaurant", "The Puffy Shirt", and "The Contest". His magic touch was markedly absent in the final two seasons, where storylines became increasingly knowingly absurd, surreal, and improbable.
In the prior seasons there was an unarticulated balance between George’s everyman relatable loser qualities and Kramer’s wackier qualities. Season 8 and 9 lost that balance, leaning far too hard into Kramer territory.
Though the show was still funny and the seasons produced a handful of minor classics, an argument could be made for Seinfeld ending when Larry David departed.
16 Needs To Go: Family Guy
It was initially easy to consider Family Guy to be just another a cheap Simpsons knockoff. Satire of the middle class American family? Check. Big dumb husband and long-suffering wife? Check.
However, the random cutaway gags, while rarely enriching the story, were quite unique and funny. The humour was also a little edgier than The Simpsons, though perhaps not as edgy as South Park.
It also had two original characters in evil baby genius Stewie and Brian, the dog who also functions as the sole voice of reason.
Overall, it was a nice middle ground between The Simpsons family friendly humour and South Park’s raunchy and vulgar humour.
It was cancelled after three seasons, but due to high DVD sales, the show got a fourth season and more.
The gags got more random and shocking, the characters underwent drastic changes, usually for the worse (well, except for Stewie), and the show had little to say and just tried to push everybody’s buttons.
In a 2011 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, even creator Seth McFarlane admitted that the show was getting a little played out: “Part of me thinks Family Guy should’ve ended. I think seven seasons is about the right lifespan for a TV series.”
15 Went On For Too Long: House
The medical drama House followed the cantankerous and brilliant Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, and his colleagues at the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.
There was a reliable formula to the show: a patient suffers from some horrible debilitation and is brought into Princeton Plainsboro after every other doctor failed to diagnose the problem.
House and his team conjure a conjecture and start the testing. They learn more about the patient’s life. The patient continues to decline. Usually House will figure out the solution while having an unrelated conversation. Then House will save the patient’s life.
Yet House’s biting acerbic wit and cynicism, combined with a dose of inspiration from Sherlock Holmes stories, and the dynamic interpersonal relationships, ensured that House was a cut above the standard medical procedural.
House’s dependency on Vicodin and his myriad of psychological troubles also added a few fascinating wrinkles to the overall show.
However, in its final season, ideas were clearly running thin, as it veered too hard into the melodrama of it all and the thrills fell by the wayside.
The ending was a strange anticlimax too, with House faking his own demise and riding off into the sunset with his best friend, Wilson.
14 Needs To Go: The Big Bang Theory
Since it aired in 2007, The Big Bang Theory has consistently been one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, even spawning a recent prequel spinoff (a rare thing in the world of sitcoms).
Of course, The Big Bang Theory as a concept is like Revenge of the Nerds meets Friends. It's not a bad idea for a standard sitcom, but right from the start, the show seemed to harbour some disdain toward its socially awkward genius protagonists, mainly because they’re strangely unlikeable.
With Sheldon, a genius irritant unable to process the nuances of basic human interaction – ha ha – being the worst offender of the lot.
The idea of “nerd culture” being some odd thing to point and laugh at just because is a holdover from the '80s, making The Big Bang Theory feel like it was written by writers who don’t exactly have their fingers on the pulse. The casual, unfunny sexism only serves to weirdly date it further.
So while you could mount a strong argument as to why the show shouldn’t have lasted past its first season, the fact that it’s going past ten seasons is quite mind boggling.
Even the staunchest fans would have to concede that it’s enough already.
13 Went On For Too Long: Smallville
Proving that Superman’s brand of apple pie heroism never goes out of fashion, the iconic superhero was given a new lease on life with Smallville.
Smallville is a Dawson’s Creek style teen drama that follows a young Clark Kent coming to terms with his alien origins all the while navigating the usual teenage pitfalls in Smallville, a fictional Midwestern town.
Naturally, the show exceeded this simple conceit when Clark Kent moved into the big city of Metropolis. Smallville even began to slowly incorporate some deep cut DC lore and characters… and yet, the dissonance at the core of the show grew more and more pronounced.
They still adhered to the “no tights, no flight” rule, which would make sense when you’re following high schooler Clark Kent, but not grown man in Metropolis Clark Kent.
Although Tom Welling finally got to don the iconic costume in the finale, the moment didn’t feel earned. It was throwaway and was obligatory rather than majestic and cathartic.
It was clear that once the show continued on past its premise without a clear direction that Smallville should’ve perhaps ended with Clark graduating high school.
Still, the show did give us arguably the best depiction of Lex Luthor so far, so that’s something.
12 Needs To Go: The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead knocked everyone on their butts out the gate with a thrilling and epic first season. Good cop Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma to find the world has changed forever. Rick forges new alliances, and they try to navigate this new paradigm of zombies and the end of the world.
This zombie action show, with a few human elements to keep the drama alive, held a lot of promise.
However, it failed to deliver on these promises in season 2, the infamous season where all the survivors were huddled on this one farm for episodes on end. You forget that it’s a show about the end of the world, because it more resembles the world’s dullest camping trip.
The Walking Dead improved things in the next few seasons, but not by enough. The formula was wearing thin by season 4, and the attempt to shake things up by splitting up the main team into different factions, while admirable, really just put on a spotlight on how sketchily developed these characters really are.
The latest season placed more of an emphasis on action, with Rick’s group coming into conflict, yet again, with a dastardly, decidedly less moral group. However, amazingly, the action scenes are just as leaden and visually dull as the thousandth angsty conversation about something or other.
It’s way past time for The Walking Dead to be put out of its misery.
11 Went On For Too Long: True Blood
When it burst onto the scene in 2008, True Blood was one of the best guilty pleasure shows on television. It arrived at just the right time too, offering grown-up thrills and thereby marking itself as a stark contrast to Twilight’s unthreatening tween romantic ambience.
Gothic, campy, and shameless in its desire to cater to base pleasures, the supernatural HBO series based off Charlene Harris’ novels about a young waitress named Sookie who falls for a vampire named Bill was gloriously trashy and often quite funny.
Sure, the show was usually ham-fisted with its messaging, as in this world the vampires are stand-ins for oppressed groups (god hates Fangs), but it was all of a piece with the show’s profane and unsubtle aesthetic. It let the freakishness all hang out while offering simple storylines that were easy to get invested in.
However, as the show added werewolves, fairies, and borderline unintelligible storylines at odds with its small Southern town setting, the lifeblood of the series drained at a commensurate rate.
The cheekily transgressive nature of the early seasons was cut out and replaced with More Turgid Supernatural Soap Opera Stuff. The finale was titled “Thank You” – presumably a grateful acknowledgement that the loyal fans waded through so much nonsense.
10 Needs To Go: The Simpsons
The Simpsons arguably creatively peaked more than two decades ago. It’s difficult to conceive of most television shows going from a glint in a storyteller’s eye to its finale inside of two decades.
That’s a long, long time for a show to not be as great as it once was.
The Simpsons surely ranked among the all-time greats in its heyday. This is almost axiomatic. Perfectly crafted and timed jokes combined with genuine pathos, this satire of the middle-class American family set the gold standard for television comedy.
The town of Springfield was so deftly realized and vivid that it allowed for so many different kinds of storylines-- sharp, absurd, timely, and hilarious storylines.
Sure, they weren’t all perfect episodes, and there were a few stinkers and misses here and there, but more often than not, the majority of the old episodes aged like fine wine.
So where did The Simpsons lose its way? Was it when the patriarch Homer Simpson was rendered as a ridiculous, two dimensional buffoon? When it began to worship at the altar of pop culture and celebrity instead of satirising it?
Whatever it is, we think that we can all agree that The Simpsons should reach its endpoint sooner rather than later.
9 Went On For Too Long: Prison Break
Prison Break should have probably only lasted for one season. The masculine soap opera followed architect Michael Scofield, who tattoos the plans to Fox River State Penitentiary on his body so that he can break his brother out of prison.
A star making turn by Wentworth Miller ensured Prison Break a degree of quality.
However, as you can probably tell, the premise is very limited. What’s the point of going with a show once its premise has been fulfilled to its potential?
The answer, at least with Prison Break it seemed, is to soldier on with a mess of convolutedly plotted conspiracy storylines – some involving highly improbable twists, and demises being little more than an inconvenience.
For instance, Michael “passed away” in the final episode in 2009. Until, of course, the series was brought back in 2017.
At this point, you could only just shrug and go with it, because it wasn’t even that ridiculous if you’re grading on a curve. The show was never great, but it was compulsively watchable and agreeably goofy at first.
Sadly, what could have been a tight, thrilling burst of fun had it been left for one season became something of a punchline because it couldn’t be left alone.
8 Needs To Go: Grey's Anatomy
The Shonda Rhimes medical drama Grey’s Anatomy centres on the lives of interns, residents, and physicians who grow into seasoned doctors while struggling to maintain their personal relationships.
The racially diverse ensemble further distinguished the show. Since it premiered until the late 2000s or so, it was almost impossible to avoid hearing about the show in some form or another. It was insanely popular and beloved by viewers and critics alike.
However, consider the breathtaking scope of suffering that main character Meredith Grey has endured: losing the love of her life, nearly losing her own life several times throughout the course of the show, and suffering a tragic childhood.
At a certain point, such as when a highly dramatic show such as Grey’s Anatomy refuses to end, it almost becomes akin to watching a fly get tortured after its wings have been torn off.
The show also lost its core seasons ago, when Meredith’s best friend Christina Yang took a position at a different hospital.
Most of the old cast is gone now and has been replaced by new characters who, to put it politely, are not a patch on the originals. After 13 years on air, Grey’s Anatomy has exhausted most of its story possibilities.
7 Went On For Too Long: King of the Hill
King of The Hill, the animated sitcom set in the fictional town of Arlen, Texas, debuted in 1997 and ended in 2010, making it the third longest running animated sitcom, behind only The Simpsons and Family Guy.
Centring on sensible matriarch and propane salesmen Hank Hill, as well s his family and friends who seem to test his steady stoicism again and again, King of the Hill was considerably less zany and surreal than those two aforementioned sitcoms.
It was a humble, character-driven comedy that derived its conflicts and situational comedy from startlingly real places. The fact that it took place in a fluid world where characters slowly changed, went through puberty, passed away, etc. only served to further separate it from the often static world of The Simpsons and Family Guy.
However, much like Seinfeld, King of the Hill veered away from character-centric and down-to-earth storylines in the later seasons.
The situations got a little contrived, as well as a little too repetitive and unbelievable. This is surely bound to happen when there are 250 plus episodes.
However, King of the Hill went out on a high note that honoured the series’ down home sensibilities. It was just a little bumpy getting there.
6 Needs To Go: The 100
The 100 is one of those shows that started out with a cool concept but was only pretty adequate in its execution. However, the following seasons have been sublimely made.
The sci-fi dystopia follows a ragtag group of youngsters who crash land on a post-apocalyptic earth. The mysteries and new tribes that haunt the scorched planet conspire to threaten their lives.
It was a simple premise that became exponentially more sophisticated in its second season, where the show dealt with themes like war, PTSD, and morality.
The show never presents its protagonist as unambiguous good guys, and is quite daring in that it places unbearable weight on its main characters – or cuts them off.
In this way, it can be compared to Game of Thrones. For a CW show, it’s quite briskly paced too, with fewer episodes per season than the likes of The Flash or Supernatural.
However, even with all that goodness, The 100 has only managed to retain a meagre audience for much of its run.
As it’s a show that consistently turns the screws on its characters, often without mercy, it’s best to reach a climax soon, lest it sour into an unbearable and nihilistic slog ala The Walking Dead.
5 Went On For Too Long: How I Met Your Mother
A comedy about the trials, love, and sometimes the wacky adventures of a group of late 20-somethings in New York (sounds familiar, right?), How I Met Your Mother set itself apart from the usual fare by way of its unique structure.
The premise is that a middle-aged father recounts to his kids in the year 2030 how he met their mother – a story that spanned 9 seasons of television. However, it was only after 8 seasons of television that he actually met their mother.
Although it’s a premise that falls apart upon slight prodding, the show oozed charm, the chemistry between the friends sparkled, the structure was innovative – generating moments and story beats that were as poignant as they were funny -- and there was a feeling of genuine authenticity to the show, canned laughter in between jokes and all.
However, the structure, initially so beneficial to the show’s success, gradually became its undoing, with its final season being an inarguable low point of the show’s history.
Not only were some romances played out beyond all reason (Robin and Barney, Robin and Ted), but the dreadful pacing was inexcusable in season 9, covering two days for most of it until the final episode, which covered a number of years.
4 Needs To Go: Supernatural
Originally meant to conclude after season 5, Supernatural’s fandom was so massive and passionate that another season had to be ordered... and then another and onward until eternity ends, it seems.
With a fourteenth season ordered quite recently, Supernatural is set to be the longest running American fantasy drama TV series. It’s quite the achievement.
Two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel America in their dad’s 1967 Impala and fight all manner of beasts and monsters.
It's a simple idea that allows for some interludes of genuinely out-there creativity that offers a respite from the monsters of the week formula – particularly the one episode where Sam and Dean are thrown into an alternate reality where Supernatural is just a TV show, or the Supernatural/Scooby Doo crossover episode.
However, for the most part, Supernatural has been recycling the same old storylines for years now and it’s obviously a little long in the tooth.
If we consider that seven seasons is the ideal time for a TV show to maximize its potential, then Supernatural did that over half its run ago.
Let’s face it, where can you really go with an action/fantasy series after Lucifer himself engineers an apocalypse?
3 Went On For Too Long: Entourage
Even when it was at its best, it was difficult to seriously recommend Entourage on the basis of its qualities.
The raunchy HBO comedy about four guys from Queens trying to make it big in Hollywood initially had an underdog appeal that could compel you to watch the next episode.
There was also a heaping side of male wish fulfilment, as good-looking idiot Vincent Chase and his small cadre of bros cheerfully gallivanted around a gorgeous Hollywood populated by pretty cars, women who were game for anything, and not to mention crazy celebrity cameos.
Though there were obstacles along the way to superstardom, everything would more or less work out for these guys, because it would ruin the vicarious thrills if some things didn’t work out.
If the pungent stink of male entitlement wasn’t present for you in Entourage, you could always watch an episode without worrying about anything.
However, as the show went on, the inanity of it all grew stifling and the plots became all too predictable.
Even the loyalty among buddies, initially a genuinely touching emotional thread in the show, soured into a kind of sad co-dependency. The hollowness at the centre of the show seemed to widen with every passing season.
It lasted for 8 seasons. A movie was released in 2015 to little fanfare.
2 Went On For Too Long: Lost
Lost started out simply and compellingly enough: after a plane crashes on a remote, mysterious island, the survivors band together to get back to civilization.
However, as the show grew in popularity and the mysteries multiplied with every answer, the show began to lose its way.
The flashbacks, initially so essential to revealing the hidden depths of the characters and the context of their actions on the island, gradually became a storytelling crutch to fill out the allotted time.
This reached a nadir of sorts in season 3, where a whole episode, "Stranger in A Strange Land", was devoted to telling us how Jack got his tattoos. Pointless doesn’t even begin to describe it.
However, there was a higher purpose to this episode. Co-creator Carlton Cuse told Esquire, “That story became really instrumental in convincing ABC that we needed to end the show. We were like, ‘Okay, so this is what a flashback looks like now so it’s probably a good idea to figure out how much longer this is going to go.’”
From then until the final season, Lost embraced wilder sci-fi concepts and ideas.
However, one can’t help but think that many of the wheel spinning episodes could’ve been eliminated if Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were granted more freedom with regards to how many episodes they could produce.
1 Went On For Too Long: Gossip Girl
Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s follow up to their hit show The O.C. was Gossip Girl, a teen drama about a group of rich New York high schoolers who’re under the watchful eye of the anonymous blogger Gossip Girl.
While the show lacked The O.C.’s warmth and intimacy, there was nonetheless a strong PG-13 naughtiness to the show that captivated many.
For instance, one of the show’s protagonists, Chuck Bass, attempted to assault a girl in the pilot, but this was quickly hand waved away in the next few episodes in order to make him a sympathetic figure.
This oblivious amorality was key to Gossip Girl’s lurid appeal-- everybody was profoundly despicable on some level or another, and nothing was off the table. “Every Parent’s Nightmare!” was what the show proudly advertised for its first season.
However crazy the first season got, it was topped in subsequent season, pulling plot beats from nearly every kind of soap opera playbook.
Penn Badgley, who played the leading man Dan, summed it up best, alluding to the total loss of emotional logic to Vulture: “The end was strange for me, for all of us. Because the characters did end up together. That has been my problem with television – you start with something real, and it eventually becomes, against all odds, ‘How do these six people keep hanging out every day?' It’s [expletive] crazy.”
Are there any other TV shows that you think went on for too long? Are there any that should be cancelled now? Let us know in the comments!
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