12 shows that went on way too long

"Californication" is finally drawing to a close, while "The Simpsons" and other zombie shows just keep chugging

Topics: Californication, The Office, will & grace, The Simpsons, Television, frasier, TV,

12 shows that went on way too longDavid Duchovny and Natascha McElhone in "Californication"

The news that Showtime was only airing one more season of “Californication” — the series about, if we remember correctly, a novelist struggling with his libido — came as a shock. That’s because more or less everyone we knew had presumed the show was dead years prior.

Sure, there’s often something superciliously too cool about saying, “I thought that show was canceled.” It can be the present-day equivalent of claiming not to own a TV — what, you mean I’m meant to be bothered about the petty details of what is and is not airing right now?

But it can come as a surprise to channel surfers that certain shows manage to survive as long as they do. Realities of the TV business (how difficult it is to launch a new show rather than keep an established series on the air, the profits available once a long-running show can be syndicated) don’t always jibe with public awareness, which begins to flit away from a show after its heat dissipates.

“Californication” was never one of TV’s biggest hits, but it had its moments as a minor-key success on cable. By Season 7, though, it feels not merely like a shadow of itself but actually like something that, as far as the cultural conversation goes, actually does not exist. If you or someone you love aren’t watching it, you’d never hear about it.

And the same is true for these still-airing or recently departed series, all of which will leave or have left the air long after their moment of greatest cultural import. They weren’t quite as completely out of the conversation as “Californication,” but their continued survival proves that buzz is hardly the only factor that matters when it comes to a show’s survival.



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    Shows that went on way too long

    "Californication" (seven seasons)

    This show is the current most-unlikely-to-still-be-on champ. It’s perhaps the least-discussed show on Showtime, and has been for years. (David Duchovny won a Golden Globe for the show … in 2008!) Since the show’s mildly buzzed-about early years, the protagonist evidently got in legal trouble for statutory rape and, after that, wrote a musical!

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Entourage" (eight seasons)

    Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Will & Grace" (eight seasons)

    Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "The King of Queens" (nine seasons)

    This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Frasier" (11 seasons)

    Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Weeds" (eight seasons)

    As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)

    This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Glee" (five seasons and counting)

    The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)

    Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)

    Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).

    Shows that went on way too long

    "The Office" (nine seasons)

    There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.

    Shows that went on way too long

    "The X-Files" (nine seasons)

    Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.

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Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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