When Good TV Goes Bad

With Fall TV premieres coming fast, I’m eager to see what the latest crop of shows will look like. I’m optimistic because I can’t help myself but I know that even the best pilots – even the best first seasons – can eventually go horribly, terribly wrong.

With that in mind, we offer a list of the varied ways in which a show can go astray. These are shows that had SUCH promise – and squandered that promised to because a husk of what they once were.

There are many ways a show can go from fantastic to awful. Here are a few.

Jumping the Shark

Happy Days

The truest and original sign of a show that has gone off the rails, “Jumping the Shark” refers to an episode of Happy Days in which the Fonz literally jumps over a shark while on waterskis. If TV was the Bible, this would be original sin.

Loss of Focus


Much has been said about the demise of Heroes. The first season and even most of the second season were outstanding. After that? Woah boy, did it get bad. Some blame the writer’s strike for Heroes’ downfall but no one thing could make a show plummet from such heights.

Heroes was my very first experience in hate-watching tv. I watched it knowing that I was going to hate every minute of it but wasn’t able to turn myself away. And I felt dirty the whole time.


A show based on a bunch of misfits singing fun songs? Sign me up. A movie-of-the-week nightmare about teen pregnancy, drinking, and bullying? Nah. All set. With each passing season, the writing became worse and the characters became inconsistent at best and caricatures at worst.

True Blood

True Blood became a bona-fide hit for HBO on the basis of its over-the-top characters, sultry Southern locations, and massive amounts of hot, explicit supernatural sex. Yet, after a strong first three seasons, the show’s quality declined from erratic to downright horrible as the writers chose to introduce bizarre side plots and tepid villains rather than give screen time to the fan-favorite characters about whom viewers actually cared.

Original Cast Departure

That 70’s Show and Saved By The Bell

Many shows handle the departure of original cast members with grace. ER did it well for years, if not for its entire run. Some build the rotation of cast members into their DNA, like Saturday Night Live and Doctor Who. But some shows simply cannot weather the loss of original cast members, especially if they were leads. That 70’s Show and Saved By The Bell are perfect examples.

Both That 70’s Show and Saved By The Bell suffered the same fate – a network refusing to let it die, even when it should have, even when original cast members left, even when the show became unrecognizable. That 70’s Show was simply not as interesting without Kelso and Eric. And no one liked Tori on Saved By The Bell. No. One.

Complete Disregard For Original Premise


Talk about a show taking a nose dive. What was once a show about a suburban widow selling pot to make ends meet (a kickass concept – well executed in the beginning) turned into a show about marrying a drug lord? And dealing with the consequences when your teenage son kills someone? And college loan fraud? I just… I just don’t even know.


A spinoff of Doctor Who, the show began as the sci-fi giant’s grown-up, sexy friend. But things didn’t last. Torchwood: Miracle Day was unwatchable. I suppose there isn’t much hope for your show after you blow up the titular location, kill most of the main characters, and barely reference the original structure of your program. It went from a group of misfit law-and-order types working together to protect humanity from alien dangers to a show about two people trying to solve the mystery of why no one in the world will die alongside their American sidekick Mekhi Phifer. No amount of John Barrowman could save Torchwood: Miracle Day – and I’d watch him read the phone book.