I propose that there are
four five categories of TV series distinguished on the basis of how long they run and the quality, or lack thereof, of the show more or less objectively defined (to the extent that one can do that).
1: Shows that jumped the shark
These are shows that become redundant, lose their writing quality, or for some other reason reach a point where they get bad. That point is, of course, the “Jumping-the-Shark” moment. The phrase “Jump the shark” of course comes from an episode of Happy Days when Fonzie, water skiing, jumps over a shark. That was apparently a bad episode and is thought to mark the decline of the show from something a lot of people liked to something that needed to end. But then it didn’t end.
<li>Lie to Me</li>
<li>The Cosby Show</li>
<li>Will & Grace</li>
2: Shows that are inherently immortal(ish)
These are shows that have a formula that allows them to remain high quality indefinitely, and for which the writing and directing and overall production value remains at high quality. It is hard to decide if a show that has been running for some time belongs in this category, or if they will someday jump the shark. But the examples given here have been on a long time and seem to lack sharks. The Simpsons, for example, has been running a very long time and last time I checked was still as funny as it ever was. Doctor Who, of course, regenerates, and the time element of the equation for that show is different for all other shows because on Doctor Who time is a wiggly wobbly timey wimey thing.
<li>Law and Order(s)</li>
<li>The Big Bang Theory</li>
<li>Son of Anarchy</li>
<li>That 70s show</li>
<li>Star Trek, original series</li>
3: Shows that were
killed ended during their prime
These are shows that might have been of category 1 or 2 above had they been allowed to continue, but were terminated while they were still good, but after a longish run. I like to think these shows would have been in category 2, but that certainly not need be the case. It is sad or disappointing when they do end, but that they were shut down while still good is actually a good thing even if it hurts a little.
Star Trek, original series
<li>Breaking Bad; Seinfeld</li>
<li>The West Wing</li>
<li>The Dick Van Dyke Show</li>
<li>six feet under</li>
4: Shows that die a young and undeserved death
These are shows that has promise, were good, but for marketing or other reasons ended after one or two seasons even though they should not have. I believe it is necessary to have an arbitrary distinction between categories 3 and 4. I’m going to set that at a maximum of three seasons. I could be talked into four seasons.
House of Cards (if rumors are true that it will have only two seasons)
My so-called life
Primeval US version
The Bletchley Circle
Torchwood (if we take 4 seasons as the cutoff)
5: Shows that die a young and richly deserved death
“These are mostly uninspired ripoffs of something that was successful a season or two earlier.” (John McKay) It is hard to find examples of these shows because they are obscure, and they may occupy a similar obscure space to gems that were also terminated early. In other words, for me, if I’ve not seen the show I can’t identify it as NOT having filled a niche somewhere. I’ve not seen any of the examples given here but they seem like good candidates.
<li>Heil Honey I'm Home!</li>
A key feature of this nomenclature is the distinction between categories 3 and 4. In looking for examples of shows that ended way to early (after one or two seasons, mainly) I discovered that those who have talked about this on the internet seem to make no distinction between a show that runs 12 years and then ended but “we want it back” and one that runs only a few seasons. I think they are very different.
Please enter your suggestions or complaints below. Not that there would ever be a difference of opinion about any of this.