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December 18, 2014

When Good Shows Go Bad (AKA the 'Heroes' Hall of Shame)

by Gary Susman, posted Nov 20th 2009 5:00PM
Recently, we were inspired by 'Parks and Recreation' to write a feature listing TV shows that overcame a rocky launch. Sadly, the reverse seems more common: shows that start strong but finish weak.

Our latest inspiration is the ongoing death spiral of 'Heroes.' (This week: Mohinder does something stupid! People's powers go awry at inopportune moments! Adrian Pasdar, pictured, looks like he'd rather be anywhere else!) Here's a once-inspired show that seems to be going down in flames after having run out of ideas.

Other times, shows peter out because of casting changes, bad writing or bizarre creative decisions. In each case, however, the audience feels betrayed and often deserts the show, leading to ratings death and what-went-wrong autopsies. Here's what went wrong on nine other good shows gone bad. Recently, we were inspired by 'Parks and Recreation' to write a feature listing TV shows that overcame a rocky launch. Sadly, the reverse seems more common: shows that start strong but finish weak.

Our latest inspiration is the ongoing death spiral of 'Heroes.' (This week: Mohinder does something stupid! People's powers go awry at inopportune moments! Adrian Pasdar, pictured, looks like he'd rather be anywhere else!) Here's a once-inspired show that seems to be going down in flames after having run out of ideas.

Other times, shows peter out because of casting changes, bad writing or bizarre creative decisions. In each case, however, the audience feels betrayed and often deserts the show, leading to ratings death and what-went-wrong autopsies. Here's what went wrong on nine other good shows gone bad.

all in the family'All in the Family'/'Archie Bunker's Place'
After eight seasons and hundreds of political arguments between Archie and son-in-law Mike, the landmark sitcom had run its course, but CBS kept it alive by moving it out of the Bunkers' living room and into the neighborhood tavern that Archie had purchased. Still, all the principal stars except Carroll O'Connor soon left the show. Mike and Gloria moved out, and beloved Edith died (killed off by a stroke that occurred, mercifully, off-screen), leaving only annoyingly perky singing-and-dancing moppet Stephanie (Danielle Brisebois) as Archie's family. Miraculously, 'Archie Bunker's Place' hung on for four years, due largely to residual fondness for O'Connor's indelible curmudgeon.

dallas'Dallas'
Over its 13 seasons, 'Dallas' became a victim of its own longevity, as the writers resorted to increasingly desperate stunts to shake things up, like having an entire season prove to be a dream, something Pam realizes when she sees long-presumed-dead hubby Bobby casually taking a morning shower. (That's how the writers brought back Patrick Duffy, who had left the show for a season.) Cast attrition meant that by the end, few of the original characters were left. J.R. found himself with a child bride and a grown son. The increasingly miserable tycoon ended the series on a gloomy note, with a perverse 'It's a Wonderful Life' parody that saw a demonic figure (Joel Grey) showing J.R. how much better off everyone would be without him around. A gunshot was heard; had the depressed J.R. shot himself? No, he'd merely put the series out of its misery.

mork and mindy'Mork and Mindy'
The alien fish-out-of-water sitcom made an instant star out of otherworldly Robin Williams, but the show never recovered from the ratings damage inflicted by its season 2 move to another timeslot. Season 4 introduced the brilliant-on-paper idea of casting old-school absurdist comic Jonathan Winters as Mork and Mindy's child (on Mork's planet, children age in reverse, Benjamin Button-style), but in execution, the laughs weren't there. The series was canceled at the end of that season. Shazbat!

the practice'The Practice'
Sometimes you have to destroy a show in order to save it. Early in its run, the ABC legal drama was an Emmy-winning hit, but as ratings dipped, ABC forced the show to tighten its budget in its eighth and final season, leading to layoffs of six principal cast members, including Dylan McDermott and Kelli Williams. The show limped on with the skeleton crew until the last-minute addition of James Spader as ethically slippery attorney Alan Shore. That made possible a spinoff, 'Boston Legal,' which carried on the same fictional universe of egotistical lawyers and offbeat court cases for another five seasons.

prison break'Prison Break'
Ingenious premise (man gets himself jailed in order to free his framed brother), but how were the writers going to carry it off for more than a season or two? Answer: They couldn't. (Even early on, the writers were already relying too much on Michael's mysterious tattoo as an all-purpose gimmick to plaster over plot holes. Hey, any excuse to get Wentworth Miller to disrobe.) By seasons 3 and 4, the formula was becoming tired, the characters were becoming less edgy and interesting, and the plot contrivances too glaring. Mid-season interruption by the industry-wide writers' strike didn't help. Characters began coming back from the dead, but the series could not.

roseanne'Roseanne'
For eight of its nine seasons, 'Roseanne' was a top-20-rated show that presented a hilarious, candid look at blue-collar life. In season 9, however, the Conners won the lottery and became rich and frivolous. The series finale, with its shocking twist (the whole season was just wishful thinking; Dan had actually died of a heart attack, and everyone else was still miserable and poor) didn't help. The show had gone off the rails, and audiences felt betrayed by the radical changes undergone by the formerly salf-of-the-earth characters.

weeds'Weeds'
'Weeds' started out as a gentle social satire about conformity and consumerism, centering on a suburban mom who deals pot in order to preserve her family's upper middle class lifestyle after her husband dies. At the end of season 3, however, Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker, pictured) was indirectly responsible for burning her whole town to the ground, and when her family landed in a seedy beach town near the Mexican border in season 4, the show took a much darker turn. By the end of season 5, Nancy's son Shane had turned from naive kid into an adolescent badass; her frenemy Celia had turned from anti-drug crusader into a big-time pot dealer, and Nancy herself had turned from supermom into a woman increasingly unable to cope with the destruction she left in her wake. And 'Weeds' turned from a sweet, tart comedy into 'Scarface.'

will and grace'Will & Grace'
The show about a straight woman and the gay man/best pal she lived with was a brilliant joke machine at first, as well as an exploration of a relationship unlike any ever seen in primetime, but the series suffered from three flaws that grew more apparent over time. First, if Will and Grace ever grew as characters (that is, fell in love with someone and had a lasting relationship with them), the show would be over, so they remained shallow and narcissistic for nearly eight years. Second, flamboyant second bananas Jack and Karen were a lot more fun and frequently stole the show from the leads. Third, an endless parade of big-name stunt-cast guests (from Demi Moore to Britney Spears) dropped by, as if to paper over the show's other problems. Instead, it just made the series look like a dry-docked 'Love Boat.'

x files'The X-Files'
For seven seasons, fans thrilled as Agents Mulder and Scully fought off mutants and monsters and plumbed an alien conspiracy. But in the final seasons, Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, though fine actors, were poor substitutes for the cerebral chemistry of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Duchovny's Mulder came back for the final episodes, but it was too little, too late, especially as it became clear that viewers were never really going to get the answers or the resolution they'd been awaiting for nine years.



Sound off: What are other good shows that went terribly, horribly wrong?

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