Look Out For That Cliff: 15 TV Sensations Whose Popularity Faded Fast

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May 4, 2013, 2:04:22 AM5/4/13

1. The Monkees (1966-1968)
Thanks to the popularity of the phrase/website "jump the shark," TV
fans everywhere are familiar with the idea of formerly good shows
starting to suck. But even lousy shows frequently retain the
substantial audience they've already built. What's rarer are shows
that start out on top, looking like perennial ratings winners, then
suddenly drop in viewership and prestige, washing out completely in
five years or less. As The Monkees' popularity skyrocketed following
its debut in the fall of '66, the hordes of wannabe rock stars who'd
descended onto Sunset Strip publicly derided the four actor/musicians
in NBC's prefab pop group, even though a lot of those haters hadn't
been too proud to audition. The Monkees themselves were stung by their
peers' rejection and mockery, and started wrangling for more creative
control, with the blessing of pot-smoking producers Bert Schneider and
Bob Rafelson. For the second season, The Monkees was trippier and less
frolicsome, and the band's core audience of pre-teens fled, not to be
replaced by the generational tastemakers The Monkees sought. Swinging
in '66, The Monkees was grounded in '68.

2. Miami Vice (1984-1989)
Few shows have captured the cultural zeitgeist quite like Miami Vice
did in 1984. Embracing the flash and artifice of MTV and glorifying
Reagan-era greed while superficially critiquing it, Miami Vice made
rock stars out of actors Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, who
responded by pursuing undistinguished music careers. Soon, the show's
fashionable trendiness became its undoing, and by the end of its run,
Johnson's T-shirt-and-Armani-jacket ensemble was well on the way to
becoming pop-culture shorthand for laughable mid-'80s excess.

3. Batman (1966-1968)
Debuting as a midseason replacement in January 1966, the campy TV
adaptation of DC Comics' Batman was a roaring success in its first
half-season, aided by the radical decision to air two episodes a week,
with Thursday's installment completing Wednesday's story. For the
'65-66 season, the Wednesday and Thursday episodes both cracked TV's
Top 10. But when Batman came back for a full season in the fall of
'66, the viewing public had gotten bored with the show's formulaic
gimmicks, and the ratings sank like fossilized guano. Batman was
reduced to one episode a week for the '67-68 season, and bolstered
with the arrival of Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, but like Batman himself,
the changes didn't fly. The hottest show on television in the spring
of 1966 was off the air two years later. (Are you paying attention,
creators of Heroes?)

4. Texaco Star Theater (1948-1953); The Buick-Berle Show (1953-1955)
For its first year on the air, Milton Berle's variety show was so
popular that nearly 80 percent of the sets in use on Tuesday nights
were tuned to NBC. But there weren't that many sets back then. (Less
than a million when the show debuted in 1948, and roughly two million
by the end of '49.) As television infiltrated middle-American homes in
the early '50s, Berle's often-abrasive Catskills humor declined in
popularity. It didn't help that Berle relied increasingly on guest
hosts, then abruptly changed the show's format to incorporate a mini-
sitcom every week. In 1951, riding high, NBC signed Berle to a 30-year
contract, guaranteeing a $200,000 yearly salary. In 1955, even though
the renamed The Buick-Berle Show was still in the Top 20, Berle and
his bruised ego slunk away from weekly broadcasting, and he earned his
paycheck instead by putting on occasional shows and specials for NBC,
right up to the '80s.

5. Moonlighting (1985-1989)
Some cult shows should stay cult shows, as Moonlighting fans realized
when their favorite quirky little detective series—starring Bruce
Willis, Cybill Shepherd, and a thick streak of self-reference—became a
left-field TV blockbuster in its second season. Problems proliferated
almost immediately, as Willis and Shepherd grew exhausted from the
demanding schedule of a dialogue-heavy show, and used their sudden
popularity to make demands that slowed production down even further.
Moonlighting became notorious for its unscheduled reruns, and even
made fun of the behind-the-scenes problems during the show. The show's
audience started to get fully fed up after Willis and Shepherd's
characters slept together at the end of the third season. Partly
because of Shepherd's real-life pregnancy and Willis' working on Die
Hard, the two actors were separated for much of the fourth season,
with increasingly preposterous reasons supplied for the split. Viewers
bailed, and Moonlighting was cancelled at the end of its abbreviated
fifth season, ending with an episode in which the sets were dismantled
and Shepherd and Willis received a lecture on professionalism from an
ABC executive.

6. The Arsenio Hall Show (1989-1994)
Although the ratings never quite matched the media hype, Arsenio
Hall's syndicated late-night talk show was a definite cultural force
at the dawn of the '90s, spawning SNL parodies, incendiary
Entertainment Weekly covers, and hand-wringing op-eds about the show
providing a forum for political candidates and controversial rappers
to reach young people. But PR success isn't always real success, and
when the media turned its attention to the Letterman/Leno late-night
wars in the fall of '93, the loss of heat around The Arsenio Hall Show
proved fatal. By spring of '94, it was put on permanent hiatus.

7. Grace Under Fire (1993-1998)
NBC had Seinfeld and Mad About You, but in the early '90s, nobody
could beat ABC at turning stand-up comics into sitcom stars. In the
wake of Roseanne and Home Improvement, ABC struck again with Grace
Under Fire, another blue-collar, family-oriented sitcom built around a
down-to-earth comedian. Except Brett Butler, the sassy, Southern-
accented star, wasn't as down-to-earth as she initially appeared.
After Grace Under Fire became the highest-rated new comedy of the
'93-'94 season—finishing in the Top 10 for the year, and the year
after to boot—Butler's behavior became increasingly erratic. An
addiction to painkillers and paranoia over who was really in control
of her show led to a revolving door of producers, writers, and co-
stars, and an eventual pink slip for all at the end of the '97-'98

8. Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
Divisive even when it was a hit, Ally McBeal turned the legal-drama
genre on its ear, focusing more on the tumultuous love life and
cartoonish fantasies of the young lawyer played by Calista Flockhart
than on her frequently outrageous caseload. Shepherded by iconoclastic
writer-producer David E. Kelley, Ally McBeal didn't look or feel like
anything else on television in 1997, and though some viewers were
appalled by the show's goofy interludes and apparent undermining of
hard-won feminist ideals, demand for all things Ally was so high that
after its second season, Kelley created an edited-down half-hour
sitcom version of the show. The spin-off—along with Kelley's focus on
the more prestigious The Practice, and his usual loss of interest in
any of his shows past their second year on the air—led to a rapid
decline in quality. By the end of Ally McBeal's fifth and final
season, fans were exhausted by the wheel-spinning romantic subplots
and excessive craziness, so Kelley put his notebook of wacky ideas
back on the shelf—before dusting it off again a few years later for
Boston Legal.

9. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (1999-2002)
Conspiracy-minded game-show buffs still feel raw about the treatment
and eventual fate of the ABC primetime version of Who Wants To Be A
Millionaire, which seemed to herald a return to the game-show glory
years of the '60s and '70s, but which instead almost killed off the
genre for good. Debuting in August of 1999 as an end-of-summer
"event," Millionaire became an instant hit, driven by the egalitarian
call-in-to-qualify contestant-picking format and by the affable nature
of host Regis Philbin. But ABC quickly began tinkering with success,
first by expanding the number of nights a week the show aired, then by
fiddling with the qualification round to bring in a livelier and more
diverse contestant pool. Meanwhile, other networks were flooding the
airwaves with knockoffs, with one head of programming privately
admitting that he hoped to kill off prime-time game shows with
oversaturation. The gambit almost worked. But while Millionaire itself
went into steep decline by the end of its second season—eventually
losing its prime-time slot and moving into syndication—the slow-drip,
flashing-light format that the show popularized lives on in the prime-
time games that keep popping up in its wake.

10. The Flip Wilson Show (1970-1974)
In 1970, comedian Flip Wilson reaped the benefits of America's post-
Woodstock fascination with anything that only seemed radical, and for
its first two years on the air, The Flip Wilson Show finished the
season's ratings at number two, just behind Marcus Welby M.D. and All
In The Family, respectively. But in its third year, it couldn't even
crack the Top 20, and after its fourth year, it was cancelled. Blame
the fact that it was up against The Waltons in year three. Or blame
the tiredness of Wilson's race-focused shtick, which rarely rose above
"black people act like this, but white people act like this." Mostly,
blame the existence of shows like All In The Family, which proved that
America could take their comedy with a little more punch.

11. Commander In Chief (2005-2006)
In January of 2006, Geena Davis won a Golden Globe for her leading
performance as the United States' first female president, in the
freshman ABC hit Commander In Chief. By May, the show had been
cancelled. The trouble started early for Commander In Chief, when
creator/show-runner Rod Lurie fell behind, forcing the show into
reruns earlier than planned. ABC replaced him with veteran producer
Steven Bochco, who immediately jettisoned some of Lurie's quirkier,
"domestic life of a president" elements and tried to make the show
more of a political thriller. But the combination of long production
delays and the changing focus sapped viewer interest, and ABC failed
to find a timeslot for Commander In Chief that could stand up to shows
that hadn't taken three months off for retooling. In the end, the show
became an object lesson in the new reality of network TV. Fill your
allotted hour every week, or die. A lesson soon learned by…

12. Jericho (2006-2008)
The fall '06 TV schedule saw the utter collapse of serialized dramas,
but CBS' Jericho was the exception that proved the rule. Over its
first 11 episodes, Jericho's story of a small Kansas town and a
mysterious apocalyptic event drew a strong, steady viewership, and
ended 2006 as one of the TV year's surprise success stories. But the
back half of the first season didn't air until the end of February,
nearly three months after the final episode of the first half. In the
tide of returning and replacement shows—including buzz-gatherers like
American Idol, Lost, and The Sopranos—interest in Jericho washed away,
and the show ended the season 48th in the overall ratings. CBS gave
Jericho a backdoor cancellation by not announcing it as part of the
fall '07 schedule, and fans responded by campaigning the network to
bring the show back. CBS responded with a limited midseason run this
coming year, but whether it'll be an epilogue or a second act remains
to be seen.

13. The O.C. (2003-2007)
The O.C. made a deep and immediate impact when it debuted in 2003,
generating equal amounts of adulation and loathing for its portrayal
of snarky, privileged SoCal teenagers with unusually marketable tastes
in music, and a proclivity for getting into fistfights. But shortly
after the show's first season injected ephemera like "Chrismukkah" and
the band Rooney into the pop-culture universe, The O.C. took a ratings
nosedive, losing 26 percent of its audience for season two. Season
three saw another 15-percent drop (in spite of the kinda-unexpected
death of principal character Marissa Cooper), followed by an abysmal
fourth and final season, which saw only 3.63 million viewers tuning
into the series finale—just over a third of the show's average first-
season viewership. Crippled by increasingly unwieldy and ridiculous
storylines (Homicidal surfers! Cage-fighting!) and scheduling
missteps, The O.C. never managed to capitalize on the zeitgeist
heralded by its first season.

14. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (2006)
The rapid demise of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was prime fodder for
television bloggers and critics, who delighted in debating the various
merits and flaws of Aaron Sorkin's lumbering behemoth. The show's
creators (and viewers) never seemed to figure out whether to approach
it as a drama or comedy, a conundrum amplified by the obvious—though
superficial—similarities to that other NBC series about a sketch-
comedy show. The ample pre-season buzz and promising pilot, didn't
keep the show from rapidly devolving into heavy-handed Sorkin-isms and
huh?-inducing escapades, such as the notorious snakes-are-loose-in-the-
studio debacle. In spite of the immediate post-pilot ratings drop-off,
Studio 60 received enough positive reviews and favorable demographics
(rich people apparently loved it) that NBC ordered a full season.
After limping through the remainder of that season, Studio 60 finally
bit it, yet still managed to gather a handful of 2007 Emmy nods.

15. Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
David Lynch's attempt to infuse a sprawling prime-time soap opera with
cinematic quality and gravity, plus his own professional obsession
with dark secrets, odd behavior, and vague supernatural forces,
sparked a rabid following: The entertainment media of the time eagerly
tracked the rise of "Peaks Parties," where fans would assemble over
coffee, pie, and doughnuts (all heavily fetishized in the show) to
watch the latest installment and debate over all the cryptic images
and rationed information. But where media hype and critical praise
drew in hordes of viewers, the slow pacing and intentional strangeness
drove them away just as quickly, and the ratings rapidly dropped.
Lynch largely left the show to work on Wild At Heart, and the series
spun its wheels, burying itself in the character-driven minutiae of
its weird little mountain community, and losing any sense of forward
momentum. In part as a ratings stunt, ABC pushed for a resolution to
the show's central murder mystery, and briefly lured back a lot of
viewers for the much-advertised big-reveal episode. But with the
series' most tangible, approachable question answered, impatient
viewers had even less reason to hang around for backward-talking
dwarves and a crazy-acting cast. ABC suspended the show, but under
pressure from fans, brought it back briefly, adding an ill-conceived,
off-tone romance for protagonist Kyle MacLachlan. When that failed,
the network killed the show for good, leaving Lynch to bitterly launch
On The Air, a satirical follow-up series about the stupidities of
network television. Unlike Twin Peaks, though, that show wasn't even
briefly popular.

TV shows that burned hot, then burned out almost as fast:

Mason Barge

May 4, 2013, 12:41:22 PM5/4/13
On Fri, 3 May 2013 23:04:22 -0700 (PDT), TMC <tmc...@gmail.com>

>6. The Arsenio Hall Show (1989-1994)
>Although the ratings never quite matched the media hype, Arsenio
>Hall's syndicated late-night talk show was a definite cultural force

. . .

See remarks about Studio 60.

>8. Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
>Divisive even when it was a hit, Ally McBeal turned the legal-drama
>genre on its ear, focusing more on the tumultuous love life and

This one is easy to understand why it disintegrated, because it was
the same arc as Buffy. It was hugely creative and pointed at a
comparatively small number of fans, and then the guy who did it went
away and left some hack in charge.

>9. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (1999-2002)

The idjit reviewer doesn't understand why people got tired of this.
There was too much time between the questions.

>14. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (2006)
>The rapid demise of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was prime fodder for
>television bloggers and critics, who delighted in debating the various
>merits and flaws of Aaron Sorkin's lumbering behemoth. The show's

He's missing the big picture. The problem was not that the show
deteriorated. The problem was (like Arsenio Hall) that it was never
any good to begin with, but was supported by a bunch of reviewers and
Hollywood hangers-on who thought that their extremely narrow world
view was the essence of "cool".

Okay, that last was unkind to Arsenio Hall, who came off as a very
decent guy. He just wasn't funny enough to bring off a show like
that. The show was never particularly good - it just had a lot of


May 4, 2013, 2:27:36 PM5/4/13
In article <k2eao8hi2m1t8hr8e...@4ax.com>,
It had possibilities, but once Peet got pregnant it was all over.
> Okay, that last was unkind to Arsenio Hall, who came off as a very
> decent guy. He just wasn't funny enough to bring off a show like
> that. The show was never particularly good - it just had a lot of
> topspin.

"Every time a Kardashian gets a TV show, an angel dies."


May 6, 2013, 2:49:24 AM5/6/13
On May 3, 11:04 pm, TMC <tmc1...@gmail.com> wrote:
> http://www.avclub.com/articles/look-out-for-that-cliff-15-tv-sensatio...
> cancelled. The trouble started early for Commander In ...
> read more »


There was a time when "Heroes" was popular with TV fans and critics
alike, when the ratings were big, when the show was being held up as
getting right everything that "Lost" at the time was doing wrong, when
its first season was named Program of the Year by the Television
Critics Association (over the fourth season of "The Wire," no less,
which has since acquired a "best season of TV drama in the history of
ever" reputation).

As the show comes to the end of its fourth — and, barring some weird
accounting from NBC, what should be its last — season tonight at 9,
those glory days feel like a very long time ago. Today, some of the
most die-hard "Heroes" fans I know are hoping NBC will put it out of
its misery.

This column isn’t an excuse to beat up on "Heroes" again. Lord knows
I’ve done that enough over the years. Instead, I want to point out
that the weird arc of "Heroes" — from phenomenon in its first season
to afterthought in its fourth — isn’t that unusual.

ABC recently announced that this will be the last season for "Ugly
Betty," which debuted the same fall as "Heroes," and to similar levels
of buzz.

We can argue about the reasons why each show ultimately failed to have
cultural staying power — with "Heroes," I’ve long believed that the
creative team was good at laying a foundation (introducing the
original characters and their powers) but had no idea how to build on
it with interesting stories or additional heroes and villains — but TV
history is riddled with other shows that similarly burned hot, burned
bright, and burned out, even if the realities of the business meant
that they kept on flickering for years after anyone stopped paying

Some other examples:

"Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-91): Famously weird indie filmmaker David
Lynch and writer Mark Frost teamed up for this bizarre gothic soap
opera and murder mystery about a quirky small town with dead girls
wrapped in plastic, a "log lady," dancing dwarves who spoke backwards,
psychic giants and some damn good coffee. It was a sensation for a
couple of months, but Frost and Lynch admittedly didn’t believe they’d
be renewed, and had no plan in place when they were. The second season
was even more incoherent, and far lower-rated, and the series ended on
what’s either one of the most frustrating cliffhangers or darkest
endings in primetime history, depending on your point of view.

"Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002): This off-kilter dramedy about a
single, miniskirted lawyer was at one point so influential and yet
controversial that Time magazine put star Calista Flockhart on its
cover for a story that asked, "Is Feminism Dead?" Like all shows from
writer David E. Kelley, "Ally" eventually overdosed on its own
quirkiness, and limped through its final seasons with a series of
guest stars who failed to juice the ratings.

"Moonlighting" (ABC, 1985-1989): Legend has it this show was killed
because Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd’s characters finally
consummated their relationship. The legend is wrong. What ruined
"Moonlighting" — a bracingly funny private detective series where the
bickering, sexually-charged heroes were often aware they were in a TV
show — was the long delay it took for the two to hook up, in part
because Willis and Shepherd couldn’t stand each other, in part because
creator Glen Gordon Caron was so slow to produce episodes that there
would be huge gaps between new installments. By the time Willis and
Shepherd got together, everyone had already stopped watching.

Felicity's haircut
"Dawson’s Creek" (WB, 1998-2003), "Felicity" (WB, 1998-2002) & "The
OC" (Fox, 2003-07): Dramas about teens and young adults inherently
have a short shelf life, because the target audience is more fickle,
and it doesn’t take much to get them to bolt. "Dawson’s" became a
victim of its own stylized, repetitively articulate dialogue, and the
other, better WB shows it spawned. The head of the WB actually blamed
the fall of "Felicity" on star Keri Russell cutting off her trademark
curly hair. "The O.C.," meanwhile, burned through five or six years
worth of story in its first season and had nothing left by the time
renewal came, other than to introduce a series of boring replacement
characters.(The fourth season was a major creative resurgence, but by
then, few viewers were left to notice.)

"Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-1989): Born from an NBC executive’s request
for "MTV cops," this Michael Mann-produced drama would be hugely
influential to both filmmakers (thanks to its editing style and heavy
dependence on popular music) and would-be fashion plates, all of whom
grew their beard stubble to a fashionable length, threw on pastels and
threw away their socks. Like any fashion trend, "Vice" fell out of
favor after a couple of years, and the season where Crockett and Tubbs
switched to earth tones marked the beginning of the end.

"In Living Color" (Fox, 1990-1994): When it debuted, "In Living Color"
was celebrated as an antidote to the then-15-year-old formula of
"Saturday Night Live." New stars! New characters! Cutting-edge racial
humor! After a while, though, it turned out that Keenen Ivory Wayans
and company were actually even more willing to recycle the same
characters and jokes over and over and over again. The show ended with
a whimper, but the Wayans brothers, Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx all
became movie stars to varying degrees, so they have no complaints.

"Joe Millionaire"
"The Apprentice" (NBC, 2004-07), "Joe Millionaire" (Fox, 2003) and
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (ABC, 1999-2002): Some reality shows,
like "American Idol" and "Survivor," prove remarkably durable. Others
are lucky to pump out one or two good seasons before crumbling. The
original, non-celebrity version of "Apprentice" fell apart after the
first season, once Donald Trump realized he was a TV star and began
basing his behavior and firing decisions accordingly (and once the
producers mistakenly believed that Omarosa was the reason the first
season was a hit and began casting more and more obnoxious, untalented
troublemakers). "Joe Millionaire," with a handsome but poor
construction worker posing as a wealthy heir, was a show that by its
nature shouldn’t have been tried more than once, but that didn’t stop
Fox from trying (and failing miserably) with a second edition
featuring gold-diggers from other countries. "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire," meanwhile, was so popular in its first two seasons that
ABC eventually put it on most nights of the week — and the
overexposure killed the primetime version in a hurry.

One of the things all these shows (including "Heroes" and "Betty")
have in common is a certain novelty factor that was there, independent
of the quality of the show itself. ("Ally McBeal," for instance,
combined legal drama with fantasy with farce with musical numbers,
while "Moonlighting" and "The OC" both brought self-aware comedy to
their respective genres.) And novelty fades, which can be particularly
damaging if the quality fades with it.

Or to put it another way, if I was a producer on "Glee" right now, I
wouldn’t be resting on any of my recent awards show laurels.
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