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One Season Too Many!

As we all know, often with TV shows it’s not IF they jump the shark, but WHEN.  Even the best shows, if they are on the air long enough, eventually grow a little tired near the end as jokes become repetitive and characters become stagnant.  Thankfully, most shows end themselves before a total “off the rails” moment happens.  Some shows though don’t know when to quit and go on just that one season too long, often without key actors and with contrived developments that turn off viewers and leave a bad taste in the mouths of even their most devoted fans.

Here’s my list of a few shows that really should have quit while they were (mostly) ahead:

Welcome Back KotterWELCOME BACK, KOTTER: 
When it debuted in 1975, “Kotter” was a hit and was the launching pad for John Travolta’s film superstardom.  Not surprisingly, after Travolta hit big in “Saturday Night Fever,” he decided to curtail his work on the small screen.  He made only a few appearances in “Kotter’s” fourth and final season and was billed as a “guest star.”  Handsome actor Stephen Shortridge was brought in as a Southern-born Sweathog to round out the ensemble.  But, as if that wasn’t enough, series star Gabe Kaplan also truncated his appearances on the show’s final season due to disagreements with the show’s producers.  To fill that void, Kotter’s on-air wife, Julie (played by Marcia Strassman), who had previously only been seen in the show’s opening and closing minutes and never really interacted with the Sweathogs, got bumped up in her screen time by becoming the school’s secretary, effectively taking the place of her TV husband on the show.  “Kotter” largely without Kotter got cancelled shortly thereafter in its 1978-1979 season.

Lavern & ShirleyLAVERNE & SHIRLEY:
Here’s an odd one.  Remember “Laverne & Shirley” without Shirley?  Well, it happened.  After being a monster ABC hit and even surviving a rather far-fetched development which saw most of the original cast pick up and move from Milwaukee to Hollywood, “L&S” reached a major stumbling block in its final season when series co-star Cindy Williams left the series after two episodes due to a conflict with the show’s producers.  So, hence, Laverne (Penny Marshall) had to go it alone.  Though the program was still called “Laverne & Shirley,” Williams was removed from the opening credits in both name and image.  And though such talented actresses as Carrie Fisher and Laraine Newman were brought in for a few episodes to give Marshall a comic partner, the show wasn’t the same without Shirl.  It ended shortly thereafter.

Charlie's AngelCHARLIE’S ANGELS:
Sometimes it’s not just actors leaving a series that can foretell doom, sometimes it’s when they are added.  (I mean we all remember Cousin Oliver, right?)  “Charlie’s Angels” was such a phenom when it began that it survived the departure of Farrah Fawcett.  But when the next Angel, Kate Jackson, flew away, it was pretty much game over.  First, classy Shelley Hack came in but though beautiful, she was rather bland.  Hack though did, at least, fit in and interact with the other two Angels still on the series (Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd) and was depicted as a trained, former police woman.  But after Hack was let go, the show’s producers recruited the late Tanya Roberts as the show’s final Angel.  Though also gorgeous, Roberts’ addition didn’t seemed that thought out.  First, she was not a trained police officer but was introduced as a grad of a “top modeling school.”  Huh?  Additionally, because both Smith and Ladd wanted to lessen their work hours, Roberts wasn’t given much time interacting with the other Angels and the teamwork aspect of the show that made it work before completely disappeared.  Further still, Roberts’ character—Julie Rogers—was shown as capable a detective as both her co-workers.  She could even be a little bossy.  But shouldn’t the former model had deferred some to the original Angels?  It all seemed weird.  The Roberts season would be “Charlie’s” final season.  The fault does not lie with Roberts, or with Hack, though.  I maintain that by the time Kate Jackson departed the series, the bloom was decidedly off the “Angels’” rose by then; they could have hired Meryl Streep for the series and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

“UNCLE” began in 1964 as a sophisticated TV espionage series staring, as debonair agents, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.  Its combination of great spy stories, great gadgets and wonderful guest stars made it a hit.  The series even won a Golden Globe in 1966 in the category of Best TV Show.  But then the camp aesthetic came to TV (best embodied by the 1966 “Batman” TV series) and, for some reason, “UNCLE” producers decided that the show needed more humor and over-the-top elements.  Suddenly, circa the 1966 season, the show’s characters—Solo and Kuryakin—began facing cartoonish villains and even more ridiculous situations.  A case in point:  one episode of the series in the ’66 season revolved around a giant “stink bomb” about to be dropped on Las Vegas.  The camp approach (which also crippled the show’s spinoff “The Girl from UNCLE,” which also launched in 1966) was despised by the show’s original fans and ratings nosedived.  Though the show came back for a season after the show’s comedy pivot, the series was axed halfway through 1968.

The final season of the original “Roseanne” (ending in 1997) seems like a textbook example of “One Season Too Many.”  Star Roseanne Barr (or Arnold or whatever) had long fought with her TV bosses but, together, they managed to make a very effective sitcom for many seasons.  But then Roseanne really exercised her power and in the show’s concluding season decided that her TV family, the Connors, should win the lottery.  Suddenly, the relatable tale of a low-income family using humor to survive and strive got upended and all of the show’s situations became far-fetched and farcical.  (If the family really were millionaires, would they still live in that same cramped, dingy home?)  Also not helping was the fact that actor John Goodman, who played Roseanne’s steadfast husband, Dan, decided to limit his appearances.  The show’s equilibrium was off.  Then, to make it all the more ridiculous, in the show’s final episode, it was revealed that “Roseanne’s” final season had all been pretend, a story dreamed up by Roseanne.  Hmmm.  No wonder, then, that when the show was revived in 2018 (first as “Roseanne” and then as “The Connors”) almost all these latter-day story elements were jettisoned.  Yeah, I’d like to forget that final season too.

No real cast shake-ups here but certainly a sad last season…or two.  “Moonlighting” was simply great when it began in 1985.  It was a witty, fast-paced detective show completely reminiscent of such classic film fare as “My Girl Friday” and “The Thin Man.”  Cybill Shepherd showed a previously unknown flair for comedy and newcomer Bruce Willis was the debut of a major new talent.  Despite productions delays and rumors of behind-the-scenes conflicts, this story about this unlikely detective duo was effervescent fun.  But then, its two lead characters, after long toying with romantic tension, decided to sleep together and faster than you can say “Sam and Diane,” “Moonlighting” morphed into soap opera.  Gone were the quirky mysteries and rapid-fire repartee.  Instead we got an unfortunate Mark Harmon as Shepherd’s new love interest and more introspective navel gazing than a season of “The Bachelor.”  “Moonlighting,” after its amazing debut and start, limped along, on fumes, until it was finally put out of its misery in 1989.

Some other shows that went on a tad too long:

THAT 70s SHOW:  Again, by the final season, most of the original cast had left, leaving only a few newbies and the show’s parents to carry on to a forgettable end.

BABYLON 5:  At the end of its fourth season, the show’s star Claudia Christian left “Babylon” and everyone expected the show to be cancelled.  But it wasn’t.  Instead it came back for one more year with Tracy Scoggins having to bat clean-up.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE:  In its final season, series star Rob Morrow departed and John Corbett got elevated to lead, a promotion even the actor didn’t want at the time.

GRACE UNDER FIRE:  In “Grace’s” last season, the erratic, off-screen and on-set behavior of series star Brett Butler drove off many of her show’s original co-stars.  Even one of the actors playing one of her on-screen kids chose to bow out.  The exodus required a variety of new characters to be hastily added to the series, including, briefly, actress Julia Duffy.  It proved too much for views and Butler proved too much for the network.  The show got axed halfway through its fifth season.

DYNASTY:  To save costs in the primetime soap’s final year, Joan Collins was reduced to only a handful of appearances.  The same with series co-star Linda Evans.  The wonderful Stephanie Beacham from “The Colbys” came in take up the slack but even she couldn’t do much.  And “Dynasty” without Alexis and Krystal?  Why bother?

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