Television, as a platform, is relentless. But while there is a need for shows to fill the schedules of the multitude of channels at our disposal, the question of how long to continue any one show is difficult. The balance between new and continuing programmes has to be kept at a level that will both please and stimulate audiences. Which has lead me to ponder whether some programmes currently being produced have outstayed their welcome in our television guides, or have for the sake of their dedicated fanbases continued to a point where they can no longer bow out gracefully. It’s certainly an interesting talking point – especially when you consider the choices that some writers make in order to make sure that their creative projects go out ‘with a bang’ or ‘on a high’.
Last Christmas saw the choice of one such writer being brought into effect; after three series, a live tour and a ‘fitness’ dvd involving maracas, comedienne Miranda Hart decided to end the story of her alter-ego in two final episodes of her eponymous BBC sitcom, Miranda. Without explicitly spoiling, the result was a gently amusing and heart-warming conclusion that tied up all loose ends and permitted every character with a chance to shine one last time. It was quite literally the perfect ending, with more than 8 million people tuning in to watch the penultimate episode on Christmas Day and around 7 million watching the finale on New Years.
However, at the same time as Hart was saying goodbye to her comedic brainchild, another BBC comedy – which shows no sign of stopping – took the top spot on the Christmas Viewing figures, with close to 10 million people watching. The show in question is the irrepressible Mrs Browns Boys, which features writer Brendan O’Carroll dressed in drag to become the rambunctious Irish housewife, Agnes Brown. Though the viewing figures – and it’s recent NTA win for Best Comedy – speak for themselves so far as how popular the show currently is, Mrs Brown’s Boys is certainly not a comedy that whets everyone’s sense of humour. For every person that finds the exploits of the Brown family hilarious, there is another that finds nothing funny about a man in a dress who’s sole cues for laughter are in his constant utterances of the words ‘Mammy’ and ‘feck’.
It can of course be argued, that all shows undergo this divided level of love/hate opinion. But the real question is this: Does the momentarily solid popularity of a show warrant it’s unlimited longevity on our screens? Keeping in mind that audiences are forever being catapulted with new shows and talking points by all the major competitive channels – is it wise to keep going until the viewers eventually get sick to death of you? Or is it better to do as Miranda did and call it quits while you’re ahead – leaving a more positive memory in both the public and critical mindset? Is it even fair to continue some shows- that have had more than enough time to shine – when other beloved cult series like BBC Three’s zombie drama In The Flesh are being cancelled because of budget cuts?
In order to investigate further, I’ve decided to look at a few examples of series that might be in trouble, so far as the tightrope between longevity and quality are concerned. Arguably waning in their later stages, the following shows are at the mercy of suffering the effects of competing in a digital era, where people want things to be both instant and consistent. Leaving the question; to end or not to end?
Doctor Who: The TARDIS has seen better days…
Though a beloved staple in both televisual and British history, it can be argued that the adventures of The Time Lord have been disappointedly waning in recent years. After an incredibly successful reboot into the nation’s consciousness in 2005, Doctor Who has certainly become popular amongst a new generation of children and older Whovians alike. But almost 10 years, 9 series and 4 regenerations into it’s secondary run, is it not getting a little old again? The most recent series, in which Peter Capaldi took over the TARDIS console, did not do as well as earlier seasons – either critically or through viewing figures. Showrunner Steven Moffat is often vilified as the culprit for some of the weirder/weaker plots and storylines – but could it just be that the show has run it’s course for a second time? While Whovians would understandably be dismayed by even the notion of such an argument – and would no doubt defend the show to their deaths – it’s certainly a question to be pondered, as less hardcore fans continue to slip away and viewing numbers remain unfavourably static.
Supernatural: Despite the obsession with Apocalypses and Death, the end of this show is far off…
Another fandom favourite, that will no doubt have a queue of fangirls arguing it’s corner, Canadian fantasy-horror seriesSupernatural has been running for 10 seasons now. And it could be contended that despite it’s sporadic popularity, the initial spark of the show has long since gone. According to creator Eric Kripke’s original plans, the demon-hunting exploits of The Winchester brothers were meant to conclude in Season 5. But because of popular demand from an army of dedicated fans, the show has continued to churn out plots that have only made the individual storylines of the characters more complicated – therefore isolating casual or new viewers. Not to mention that the constant development of the show has hurt it’s international broadcasts – with E4 only just picking up Season 9 for UK viewers, after Sky Living dropped it. It’s a tough call, but with an eleventh series already in the pipeline, the series shows no sign of stopping yet. Whether this relentless production will do the show as a whole any favours critically however, is yet to be determined.
CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds: Has the whole crime caboodle gone too far?
Crime drama is undoubtedly a popular choice amongst worldwide TV audiences. And shows like Broadchurch andTrue Detective only go to prove why this genre – when executed well and succinctly – can be hugely successful. Of course it can be argued that even those shows have put themselves in a perilous position by continuing with new casts or familiarly twisted storylines. But when looking at this genre specifically, it’s the relentlessly ongoing US serial crime dramas that look the weakest. CSI is possibly the most troubled of the bunch, with it’s various spin-off shows and their constantly fluctuating casts, becoming really rather tiresome of late. Crime is something that happens every day, everywhere. But just because we are sourced with constant inspiration, does that really mean we have to go through the same monotonous structure of these shows – in which a team of skilled investigators find a case, go out to catch the criminal, and then ultimately solve the case, ready for the next one? If Broadchurch has illustrated anything in it’s first series alone, it’s that audiences don’t mind the focus being on just one horrific and mysterious event – if anything it’s more compelling, because of it’s unpredictability. And while the predictable and familiar nature of shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS can be comforting amongst the violence of some cases – and easy to follow for casual viewers – it’s still at the risk of waning behind newer, more exciting shows.
Ultimately, there’s nothing we can really do, except watch – or not watch. If this debate has gone to show anything, it’s that the way that television is developed is a complicated business; consolidated by popularity in fandoms and criticism just as much as it is by the budgetary decisions of broadcasters. Ending anything is a tricky decision to tackle – as the BBC Trust are finding, with the public outcry caused by their plans to cut BBC Three. But really, it’s not the channels themselves that need omitting – it’s the content on those channels that needs to be reviewed, and ultimately decided – for their own dignity – by the writers and show-runners who create them.
Have something to add to the debate? Feel free to send in your comments!
This article was written for The Indiependent. It can be found in it’s original form here.