Tonight is the last episode of The Office. In its second year without Steve Carell, the show (never the most watched) has become an afterthought. But when things end, people always take notice and tend to reflect on the good times. Personally, I still enjoy an occasional episode of the show, but I acknowledge that it is a shell of its former self. When the series debuted, with the famous “Diversity Day,” episode, it wasn’t like anything we’d seen on American television. Forget that it was an almost carbon copy of the British episode. This was way before anyone in the States gave a bleep about British TV. The overwhelming feeling I had when I watched the show at the beginning was it made me uncomfortable. You wanted to look away, or turn the channel at some of the jokes, but it certainly produced a reaction. Of course, it eventually become cool to watch The Office, precisely for that reason. It wasn’t your typical sitcom.
But nine years can really dull your edge. Especially when the inherent drama has all been resolved. Jim and Pam are together. Michael is off in Colorado. Even Creed is becoming more normal. There’s no question that The Office overstayed its welcome, almost every successful show does, but the question is, how long is too long? How long is not long enough? This fall, we’ll see the return of Arrested Development–a show that many people would say ended far too early. But you could debate that, considering the show never got passable ratings.
So, I’m going to try to figure out the perfect number of years. A sampling…
TWO YEARS–TOO SHORT. Example: Party Down.
Party Down was an amazing show. Too bad it only lasted two seasons and a robust 20 episodes. Part of the problem? It was on Starz. The show may still be on the air if it had started on HBO, but its cancellation has allowed Adam Scott to move on to Parks & Rec, Jane Lynch to Glee, and Lizzy Caplan to any number of things. More proof that it ended to early? A movie version is allegedly being written.
FIVE YEARS–TOO SHORT. Example: The Wire.
The Wire churned out sixty episodes. Which isn’t a ton, but if you consider that each episode was usually a solid hour, you’re talking about the viewing equivalent of about 150 episodes of a sitcom. What The Wire was able to do was to keep introducing new characters and story lines. For the most part, any episode of The Wire could have been the last one for your favorite character. While some people might say that they’d happily watch 12 seasons of The Wire, I think they got it almost right.
NINE YEARS– TOO LONG. Example: Seinfeld.
I guess you know a series went on to long when they produce a finale like Seinfeld. Does anyone like this finale? It has some value, but to me it was always like they just ran out of ideas. I will still watch a Seinfeld in syndication–unless it’s the finale. It’s not a terrible episode, but you just feel like a show that good should have ended better. Or at least it should have ended sooner.
TEN YEARS–TOO LONG. Example: Two and a Half Men.
Can I admit that I watched and (kind of) liked this show in the beginning? I might lose the last of my seven readers with that statement. I don’t know, when the show started Charlie Sheen was less crazy, the kid was chubbier–it wasn’t bad. But Two and a Half Men has violated a major rule. You can’t change the cast. As soon as you replace a character–TOO LONG. There are plenty of examples: Three’s Company, Fresh Prince, Roseanne. It just tells the audience, “We’re milking this.”
As I go through a list of shows, it seems like many died in that 8-10 year range and most were past their prime. The Cosby Show? Was Theo even in the last season? Was Cockroach? It may have been all Olivia. I just watched the 1st season of Cheers (Great), but that went on for 11 seasons. NO. Are you a Friends man? 10 years. Too long.
So, my conclusion is this. The perfect length for a TV show is six or seven years. I guess I’ll decide after Mad Men season 7 next year. Oh my god, there are only about 20 Mad Men left. The horror.