The Life Of A Television Show

The nexus of this column was the flap over Charlie Sheen demanding over $1 million per episode for the 2011 season of “Two and a half Men”. Sitcom stars demanding huge paydays after several successful seasons are nothing new. Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker) disappeared for three episodes in 1974 while getting his demands met by CBS. Redd Foxx (Fred Sanford) did the same thing. After it is all said and done, this tactic has been pretty successful for motivating the networks to come across with the cash. This did get me thinking about the unfortunate practice of keeping some shows around after they should have been gracefully and respectfully retired. Of course, income almost always trumps grace and respect with regard to T.V. show runs. Here are some examples:

All In The Family, on from 1971-79, 231 episodes. It’s hard to argue how outstanding the show was. At the end in 1979, Carroll O’Connor returns for four more seasons as Archie Bunker in the very forgettable “Archie Bunker’s Place”. It was all about the money. The spin off homeland project free tv cheapened the original show, and fortunately does not appear in re run syndication. Hugely successful: Seinfeld, running from 1988-98, 180 episodes. I used to sit in my living room and actually laugh out loud at the first few seasons of this wonderful show. I did not watch the last two seasons, (although I watched the last episode), also disappointing. Some shows actually do gracefully take their leave when it’s time to go. M*A*S*H’s 251st and last episode in 1983 is one of the most watched television broadcasts in American history. People had parties for this occasion from cost to coast. Fans of the show were sorry to see it go, but knew instinctively that it was time.

Some shows go out with a wiper rather than the bang of Mash’s final episode. The Guiding Light, the longest running show in history, first on radio from 1937-52 then on CBS Television for 15,761episodes ending on September 18, 2009. Was “GL” on too long? Not being a soap opera watcher, I can only surmise that after 57 years CBS thought so. I predict The Guiding Light’s run record will never be broken by any non-news show. On rare occasions shows are cancelled by networks and fans collectively make it known that they want the show back. Examples of cancellations returned by popular demand include: “Get Smart”, Star Trek (3rd and final season), Baywatch, and my favorite recent one: Family Guy, a true modern classic animated sitcom.

Some shows may never wear out their welcome. Sesame Street, entering it’s 41st season and north of 4,000 episodes always has a new crop of viewers. Similarly, Saturday Night Live, on now for over 35 seasons and nearly 750 episodes, also continuously gains younger viewers and loses older ones, which is part of it’s long running success.


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