From polarizing fan-favorites to decade-spanning hits, these 15 shows definitely lasted a little too long and overstayed their welcome.
More often than not, we’re inclined to lament the untimely loss of a television series we loved but was canceled too soon. Because of the rapid turnover in Hollywood, our favorites are sometimes fated for shorter runs and unforgettable legacies. But when the breakout hits evade the pink slip and keep racking up renewals, some of the greatest TV shows can jump the shark and reveal themselves to have overstayed their welcome.
It always goes the same way, right? An excellent first season paves the way for an obvious second season, which may or may not live up to expectations. The additional seasons may or may not improve upon the closely guarded standout, but somewhere along the way, the series takes a tumble in quality and quantity of viewers, leading to the ultimate downfall. In rare cases, some shows catch a second wind or skate by for seasons on mediocre storytelling that neither exceeds nor cedes its own standards.
Now, we’re going to steer clear of highly beloved, inexhaustibly debated pop culture pillars like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other adored elites, which had divisive seasons as they aged. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves about opinions both popular and unpopular regarding those enduring classics. In their place, we’ll be breaking down award-winners and phenomenons alike, shows that left their mark on television… but perhaps a little too long.
Between the seemingly unending runs of Grey’s Anatomy and Family Guy to the steep declines in teen drama wunderkinds Riverdale and Glee, we’re taking a sharper look at shows we loved and maybe could have used a little less of. What went wrong, and when should they have signed off the air? Let’s discuss 15 of the biggest shows that overstayed their welcome.
15. Grey’s Anatomy
Seasons: 16 (and possibly counting)
How it evolved (or devolved): If you can believe it, Grey’s Anatomy first premiered on ABC as a midseason replacement in 2005. Fast-forward almost 20 years (no joke) and the Shonda Rhimes-created medical drama lives on. Back then, and to this day, the series centered on Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), who began as a surgical intern at Seattle Grace Hospital. Many years, deaths, and disasters (PR and otherwise) later, Grey still anchors the oft “dark and twisty” TGIT staple, though the co-workers and love interests orbiting around her at the hospital have changed.
Grey’s Anatomy has weathered more contentious character exits and endlessly debated cliffhangers than a 30-year-old daytime soap. After all, the medical drama has been on the air for three different presidents (as a matter of fact, let’s make it four this year). All these years later, the show hasn’t wavered its focus, even as it shed major players and caused the watercooler to overflow with panic. Like any show pushing 20, it’s experienced its highs and lows, but as it starts retreading old territory and diluting the past, Grey’s is starting to show its age.
Why it should have ended sooner: Like the photo above of Meredith Grey looking a wee bit apprehensive, let’s delicately broach our first show that overstayed its welcome. No one’s rushing to kick Grey’s off the air because, let’s face it, it’s by absolutely no means the worst show taking up space on TV. But we can all agree that 17 seasons, which the veteran will hit when it returns on ABC, is a little much. At some point, it’s time to give Meredith one last wild ride and write her off into her happily ever after. Don’t you think she deserves as much?
“The Tesla Recoil” — Pictured: Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Leonard and Wolowitz are furious after they learn Sheldon went to work with the military behind their backs. Also, while Bernadette is on bed rest, she asks Raj to do some digging when she suspects Ruchi is trying to steal her job, on THE BIG BANG THEORY, Thursday, Nov. 16 (8:00-8:31 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS Ã‚Â©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
14. The Big Bang Theory
How it evolved (or devolved): Whether you’re a casual fan, a diehard fan, or not even a fan at all, you could probably give a plot summary of The Big Bang Theory and it could describe any given season. That’s not to say that the series remained in a state of stasis for 12 years, but like any respectable breakout hit sitcom, it stayed in its lane and powered through. More so than its plot, Big Bang’s characters evolved and drove the story to different places each season.
Oddly enough, The Big Bang Theory didn’t technically devolve throughout its 12-season sprint, though a viewer with a religious knowledge of its season-to-season merits might chime in with a more thoughtful opinion about its narrative. The sitcom peaked in viewership halfway through its run and continued to net millions of viewers ranging in the mid-to-high teens — a feat that just doesn’t happen on modern television. Ratings aside, 12 seasons casts a large shadow over pop culture and probably let the Bazinga bunch (is that what they’re called?) last a little too long.
Why it should have ended sooner: Even though The Big Bang Theory’s fandom was more than willing to take a decade-long ride with the sitcom, the fun maybe should have wrapped up after those Emmy nominations started drying up (a hint that Modern Family also didn’t take). Its multi-season renewals and 279-episode accomplishment was, quite frankly, a business decision, perhaps more than a creative one. More episodes meant more money in syndication, which also made it a hot commodity for streaming. Sometimes, less is more. But we’ll never know if that could have been true for The Big Bang Theory.
13. SpongeBob SquarePants
Seasons: 12 (and counting)
How it evolved (or devolved): HOLD ON! Listen, the inclusion of SpongeBob SquarePants on a list of shows that have overstayed their welcome is an invitation for controversy, but we need to have a serious conversation about the future of our favorite sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. SpongeBob SquarePants first premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999 and immediately became the favorite show of millennials everywhere. And now he’s our most-used meme.
However, the animated phenomenon is still airing new episodes, which might be news to some SpongeBob diehards who stopped watching Nick over a decade ago. Now, we all love (supposed) queer icon/ally SpongeBob and all his underwater friends, and we’ve shared countless classic adventures and songs over the years, but it’s increasingly confusing who the new episodes are for. As the Nick staple approaches 300 episodes, critics continue to dog the sponge for its decline in quality, a magic that won’t be found again in the absence of late creator Stephen Hillenburg.
Why it should have ended sooner: One look at the numbers and you’ll understand why Nickelodeon has kept SpongeBob SquarePants around for 20-plus years. Three hit movies, a Broadway musical, upcoming Netflix spin-offs — the enduring legacy speaks for itself. Regardless, it’s hard to defend the unending run of an animated children’s series (emphasis on series) that more than likely peaked in relevance in the mid-2000s. The kids these days could never understand SpongeBob’s impact, and it’s doubtful his 2020 episodes are still making one.
12. 7th Heaven
How it evolved (or devolved): 7th Heaven being on the air feels like another lifetime ago, a time when wholesome, family-friendly shows were still intermingling with envelope pushers on the major networks. The series followed the daily lives of the large, religious Camden family led by a Protestant minister. From the ages of young adults to newborn twins, the Camden house was always overflowing with teen angst, especially as they opened their home to surrogate members.
Although the show was a power player for The WB throughout its run (7th Heaven ranked as the no. 1 show on the network from season 3 through 10), things took a natural downturn when the Camden children started moving away. Jessica Biel and Barry Watson left in season 6, with David Gallagher following the year after. 7th Heaven quickly became a revolving door of newbies that included Ashlee Simpson, Haylie Duff and Tyler Hoechlin.
Why it should have ended sooner: Somewhere in the middle of its run, 7th Heaven ran out of gas and puttered aimlessly through repetitive stories about premarital sex until the finish line. Just because a show ranks as a network’s top ratings earner doesn’t necessarily mean it should churn out almost 250 episodes. The writing wasn’t strong enough to sustain the longevity of a long-running hit. Not to mention, bitter Everwood fans (hi!) will always hold contempt for 7th Heaven since the show’s cancellation was reversed to help launch The CW in favor of another season of the underrated Greg Berlanti drama.
11. Pretty Little Liars
How it evolved (or devolved): The core four (and later five) of Pretty Little Liars may have locked a secret in their pocket, but it’s no secret that the series was a hot mess. Let’s hope enough time has passed since the series’s end that its fans have the self-awareness to be able to admit its myriad weaknesses. Despite its ping-pong in quality, ABC Family/Freeform’s pièce de résistance, arrived with a stellar and laser-focused first season. PLL had us all hooked from the very first promo featuring OneRepublic’s “Secrets.” (2010 was another world.)
But as the narrative continued to grow more and more complicated (and oftentimes contrived and convoluted), Pretty Little Liars became a victim of its own purpose. The girls — who all became stars thanks to the popularity of the show — turned over every rock in Rosewood searching for the identity of the elusive cyber-stalker A and discovered about a thousand other ominous enemies along the way. The sixth season’s midseason five-year flash-forward helped breathe new life into the series, but the nail had already been in the coffin for the little liars.
Why it should have ended sooner: If you’re one of the fair-weather Pretty Little Liars fans who fell off somewhere in season 3 and only returned each year for the finales and multiple A “reveals,” you’re not alone. A series built around one secret is a pretty feeble foundation on which to build a long-running show, which made the breakneck bait-and-switches tiring. Even for a guilty pleasure mystery, its dedication to doing the most and taking itself too seriously dampened the pleasure. Most fans would probably agree that the last season, and the second half of the sixth season, didn’t need to happen or introduce “Uber A.”
BH90210: L-R: Jason Priestley, Tori Spelling, Ian Ziering, Shannen Doherty, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris and Jennie Garth. BH90210, the highly anticipated new six-episode event series, will premiere Wednesday, Aug. 7 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2019 Fox Media LLC Cr: Brian Bowen Smith/FOX
10. Beverly Hills, 90210
How it evolved (or devolved): As one of the first — if not the first — teen dramas to follow its teenage characters through their impressionable adolescence through college and into adulthood, Beverly Hills, 90210 became the blueprint. The first three seasons found Kansas implants Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) settling into West Beverly High and a new group of friends (pictured above in summer 2019’s BH90210 reboot).
After fighting for Donna’s right to graduate high school, the gang headed to California University for four years of college in seasons 4-7, where the series enjoyed some of its craziest episodes. Of course, Doherty left after the fourth season, and Luke Perry’s Dylan departed not long into the sixth season, paving the way for new characters and changing the shape of the series. While the earlier seasons tackled serious social issues, the final three seasons mostly focused on relationships and soap opera twists.
Why it should have ended sooner: Trying to imagine a world where Beverly Hills, 90210 didn’t last for a full decade doesn’t feel right, right? Well, some might argue otherwise. Naturally, fans and critics have their own opinion on where the series took a turn. But the pop culture phenomenon experienced an objective downgrade when executive producer Larry Mollin left after the seventh season. Arguably, the series could have concluded with the gang graduating college and avoided the mess of awkward exits, awkwarder returns and thin stories of the final three years.
9. Orange Is the New Black
How it evolved (or devolved): As one of the first Netflix original series and one of the streaming giant’s most popular original series, Orange Is the New Black burst onto the scene as the hot show to binge-watch every summer. Acclaim gave way to increased viewership and the series became the latest pillar of peak TV and an excellent showing of representation. Based on the memoir of the same name, Orange Is the New Black stars an ensemble cast who bring to life a group of complex women serving time at the Litchfield Penitentiary.
Each season of Orange Is the New Black delved deeper in the past and present of each of the inmates as their collective circumstances in the women’s prison presented its own unique, often devastating, tribulations and traumas. Although the series remained a top draw for Netflix, its fifth season dipped in critical and fan acclaim, marking a noted decline. Some suggest that the series should have called it quits after Poussey’s death rather than plodding forward with its last three chapters, the final of which rebounded and returned to form.
Why it should have ended sooner: Here’s the thing about shows that experience success early in their runs: Their networks tend to mistake acclaim and viewership for longevity. Orange Is the New Black clearly had longevity because it’s a great show that managed to remain relevant for seven seasons. However, that relevancy wasn’t without its rough patches. As a character-driven series, the well eventually dries up and the stories get stale. For a lot of shows, including Orange Is the New Black, extending its time (they’ve got time!) opens the door to weaker seasons.
8. True Blood
How it evolved (or devolved): When a new show premieres and it’s on the cover of magazines, on billboards, and on the top of everyone’s brains, that overexposure can turn a flame into a flicker. True Blood premiered on HBO in the fall of 2008 as the adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ series of novels and grew into an inescapable sensation. From sex and skin to vampire and werewolf drama, viewers were hooked on the addictive plotting and inventive storytelling.
Inevitably, all good things must come to an end, and ahead of its seventh and final season in 2014, True Blood suffered a dip in critical reception. In spite of consistently high ratings, the series’s fifth season marked a drop-off point the final two seasons couldn’t bounce back from. Due to a retreading of old territory and narrative exhaustion, the series offered longtime viewers a lackluster finish that didn’t quite live up to the heights of its strongest seasons.
Why it should have ended sooner: True Blood and other insanely popular shows like it are often built up to be torn down. The swift turnover of making sure a new batch of episodes are set to premiere each year surely weighs heavily on creativity and threatens the expectations of the adoring public. You couldn’t name a beloved, award-winning/nominated show that doesn’t have at least one widely dismissed season. In order to preserve its legacy, True Blood shouldn’t have bit off more than it could chew in those two middling final seasons.
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 26: (L to R) Actors Ashley Fink, Harry Shum Jr., Chord Overstreet, Dianna Agron, Lea Michele, Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith, and Chris Colfer film a scene at the “Glee” set in Central Park on April 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/Getty Images)
How it evolved (or devolved): Even though Glee still holds a special place in the hearts of millions of Gleeks who came of age bopping along to the New Directions’ cover songs, it’s something of a sore subject as more problematic behind-the-scenes details emerge. But looking back through rose-colored glasses (we have to), the musical dramedy followed the exploits of a high school glee club, a group of misfits that came together despite great odds and slushy-centric bullying.
Glee seemed to peak in quality in its second season, just before the series became aware of its own power and popularity. While the third season still featured some great episodes, musical numbers, and guest appearances, nothing could top the first two blockbuster years. Once the original New Directions graduated and went their separate ways, the last three seasons struggled to find focus and meaning as they tried to cover far too many bases than necessary.
Why it should have ended sooner: Glee should have ended after the 13th episode of season 5, full stop, no questions asked. “New Directions” acted as the perfect sendoff to the New Directions. The sixth season, which required back-breaking contrivance to get the whole crew back at McKinley, didn’t need to happen. There’s an argument to be made for Glee ending after the original New Directions graduated in the third season, which would have avoided the bumpy semi-move to New York City in season 4. Regardless, something should have been done to save this cursed show.
6. How I Met Your Mother
How it evolved (or devolved): As How I Met Your Mother got deeper into the mythology of the titular premise, the plot grew more and more complicated. And with those complications came fits and starts that basically served to draw out the satisfying moment of meeting the mother of Ted Mosby’s (Josh Radnor) children. In the first season, Ted became enamored with Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), but Future Ted (the voice of Bob Saget) clued us in on a sobering, if not maddening, detail: Robin wasn’t the mother.
Ted dated more women throughout the years, and the series seemed to become less about meeting the mother, even as yellow umbrellas and near-misses in Rachel Bilson’s apartment (a long story) teased the hell out of us. How I Met Your Mother wouldn’t introduce Cristin Milioti as the mother, Tracy, until the season 8 finale, which was both a breathless reveal and a sort-of bummer since we had never, ironically, met her. The reveal led to the extremely polarizing series finale, which found Ted running back to Robin years later and enraging fans.
Why it should have ended sooner: There’s no telling what How I Met Your Mother could or should have done that would have appeased fans or secured its legacy apart from a truly hated series finale. (HIMYM will never live “Last Forever” down, ever.) In the end, that’s the story the creators had meant to tell, and they told it to the best of their ability. But that doesn’t change the fact that season 6, 7 and 8 felt like killing time (or cashing in on success) and merely served to further solidify Barney and Robin as endgame, negating the actual ending we were ideally supposed to cheer on.
5. One Tree Hill
How it evolved (or devolved): Attempting to fill the gap left behind by Dawson’s Creek, The WB wasted no time in debuting a new teen drama in One Tree Hill. In its early days, the series was a soap opera sendup of small-town America through the dueling eyes of estranged half-brothers Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan Scott (James Lafferty). Whether they shared exes or sparred on the basketball court, the Scott family drama permeated Tree Hill, North Carolina.
One Tree Hill traced the high school lives of its core group of teens for the first four seasons, during which the teen soap flirted with genre, going thriller for a memorable prom and going contemplative indie for quieter moments. Zigging when other teen dramas zag, One Tree Hill fast forwarded through the kids’ college years and met back up with them as adults from season 5 to its final run in season 9. The conclusion of season 6 bid farewell to series mainstays Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton… and it all went downhill from there.
Why it should have ended sooner: If at the height of One Tree Hill’s popularity in the first three seasons, some sentient being whispered in our ears that it would last for nine seasons, we’d probably scoff and quip, “Yeah, right.” Well, we’d be dead wrong. Somehow, One Tree Hill outlasted The O.C., which had the foresight to bow out before tarnishing its legacy (as if it had a choice after Marissa’s death, but let’s not digress!). After Peyton and Lucas rode off into the sunset, it just became a totally different show. Many fans left along with Murray and Burton (guilty!), and the show should have followed suit. Did we really need Dan’s redemption arc in the final season? No.
4. How to Get Away with Murder
How it evolved (or devolved): As a serial drama starring Viola Davis from Shonda Rhimes and a companion to Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, legal drama How to Get Away with Murder was all but destined to be a long-running hit. The series centered on lawyer and professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) as she chose five of her students to intern at her firm. Little do they know, they’ll end up accomplices in a murder investigation involving another student and Annalise’s husband.
From episode to episode, How to Get Away with Murder kept us rapt with each unexpected cliffhanger. Thanks in part to Davis’s Emmy-winning performance and clever writing, the series maintained its strong suits through its third season, but somewhere in the middle, unnecessarily complicated stories made it all the more confusing to remember just which murder they were trying to get away with. The twists took a few too many turns to support its original premise.
Why it should have ended sooner: While not entirely a misfire, How to Get Away with Murder could have benefited from even tighter pacing. Capping the seasons at 15 episodes, rather than the network-standard 22, was a wise decision that ensured Davis would sign on. But looking back, the series would have been better served for further trimming. Six seasons feels right for this show, but maybe 10 episodes per season or an anthology format could have prevented the narrative from getting so isolating that you forgot why Sam’s penis was on a dead girl’s phone.
3. 13 Reasons Why
How it evolved (or devolved): For some reason (we didn’t get 13 of them), a show that had a super-specific focus and starting point wasn’t a limited series. 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name, premiered on Netflix to heated criticism but also fanfare. Parents’ councils loathed the series’s no-holds-barred depiction of suicide (which has since been removed), while select fans championed the honesty with which the show touched on issues.
After telling the story of Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide in the first season, and unraveling the sequence of events and smattering of people she detailed on 13 tapes, the second season focused on the court case resulting from her death. Most people didn’t even want that season to happen, and the graphic content of those episodes made the renewals for seasons 3 and 4 all the more polarizing. You might love 13 Reasons Why, but the show moved so far past its original premise that it proved there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing… or a thing.
Why it should have ended sooner: 13 Reasons Why wasn’t so much of a teen drama as it was a “teen trauma,” a new sector of the genre that finds teenagers dealing with real albeit unimaginably dark problems all at once. The series was smacked with accusations of glamorizing these issues, namely suicide, right out of the gate, and those accusations didn’t cool down as subjects such as sexual assault and gun violence were used as casually as a love triangle. Your mileage may vary, but 13 Reasons Why was anything but subtle and should have bowed out after one season.
2. Family Guy
Seasons: 18 (and counting)
How it evolved (or devolved): Ironically, Family Guy ran into some cancellation trouble during its infancy. Fox canceled the animated sitcom after its first two seasons, but a third season aired and marked its seemingly official cancellation in 2002. However, due to newfound interest in home video releases and re-airings on Adult Swim, Family Guy returned in 2005 and never looked back. During its early seasons, the series built its own vocabulary of running gags, inside jokes and classic episodes, earning the seventh season an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Peter Griffin (Seth MacFarlane) continues to pummel his way through New England one colossal misadventure at a time. Throughout the years, Family Guy has hit peaks and valleys in quality and joke telling, catching heat for being behind the times and other valid criticisms. The series has also grown out of some of its past crutches (like Stewie’s quest for world domination, for starters) and grew into some new ones. As the show has aged, it’s adopted an air of self-awareness that’s both refreshing and sometimes misplaced. Family Guy might not hold the power to engage in the cultural conversation that it once had, but it’s still here nonetheless.
Why it should have ended sooner: As The Simpsons (now going into its 32nd season) has proven, animated sitcoms can go on forever. Who knows how many episodes the Springfield bunch will hit before it’s all said and done, but that doesn’t mean that’s right. Family Guy shouldn’t follow suit, and, in fact, it probably should have called it quits anytime in the past decade. It’s nostalgic and a fun way to pass the time for 23 minutes, but the Griffins haven’t done anything particularly novel in the past few seasons. How long can Brian and Stewie recalibrate their friendship? The real question we should be asking is if we, as a culture, have evolved past the need for Family Guy.
Seasons: 4 (and counting)
How it evolved (or devolved): Appearing out of thin air to revive the phenomenon-level teen drama obsession, Riverdale bowed in 2017 on The CW as a genre-retelling of the Archie Comics. This time, Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Veronica (Camila Mendes), and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) were solving mysteries and dodging serial killers in their now-seedy small town. The 13-episode first season hit big with Netflix binge-watchers, launching the series into success for season 2.
However, and this is a big however, Riverdale’s second season wore on the new group of viewers who fatigued of the expanded 22-episode-spanning Black Hood mystery. The series continued to shed viewers as the third season’s camp-heavy mystery surrounding cults and fantasy creatures tested the patience of casual fans who were just here for a good, non-confusing time and maybe some old fashioned teen drama love triangles. The anemic fourth season hardly course corrected.
Why it should have ended sooner: Oh, Riverdale… How the masses love to hate you. Regardless of its noted decline in quality (please, let’s be objective here, people!), The CW’s crown jewel teen drama still enjoys a rabid fandom. And that’s not unfounded. Riverdale remains a top tier guilty pleasure, a 45-minute recess to unplug your brain and let the crazy wash all over you. But it’s not too much to ask for clearer plotting. For the love of the Gargoyle King, this show should get one more chance in season 5 to regain its former glory and maybe a shortened final season.
Which TV shows should have ended sooner? Share your picks in the comments!