Goodbye. It is a word that is often used to express that the end of a special friendship or era is near (for example, a pending graduation from USC).
However, at times the word can feel just as pertinent when applied to television. Sometimes, all it takes is one episode to make a viewer become entranced with a show. These fans then follow that show relentlessly — watching it as it ascends to emotional heights, but also sticking with it (like a dedicated USC basketball fan) when the program suddenly plummets to terrible lows.
What happens when a show has spiraled so far down that fans acknowledge that it has lost the essence of what made it great? Do consumers feel they have a moral obligation to continue watching a show, simply because they have invested so much time and concentration in it?
Sometimes, producers try to breath new life into shows that clearly need to go off the air.On Thursday, the CW aired The Original, a show based on the vampires from The Vampire Diaries who started the whole vampire race. Despite how lame and outrageous The Vampire Diaries has become, the CW clearly still thinks they can suck some more money out of the franchise by creating a spin-off series.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon. For example, Gossip Girl is one unavoidable case study.
The first few seasons feel fresh and juicy because the characters are catty and unpredictable, and the high school premise, which is admittedly a little outrageous, whisks viewers into the upper Manhattan world of champagne, glamorous penthouse apartments and perfect-looking people.
But then the show takes a more unbelievable, radical direction. The students graduate from their wild high school, get their own apartments and find jobs (surprisingly easily, actually, considering the job market at the time). Identities are stolen, they go off to “college” and Blair gets engaged to a prince.
An overly drawn out plot is not the only way a show can also outlast its expiration date, though. Shows can also get old fast when its stars depart.
This couldn’t be more true for The Office. Now on its ninth season, the show has lost some of its most-beloved cast members, such as Steve Carell, Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak. Though new characters have come in to fill their shoes, they do not connect with the storylines in the same way that earlier characters did. This distance might be because viewers didn’t get to watch them evolve season to season.
Surprisingly though, despite this, the fan base remains loyal to the show.
Similarly, earlier this year, network executives behind Community fired the show’s creator after a change in network management. Community has one of the most passionate fan bases in recent memory, but after the unexpected firing, fans were left with the dilemma of whether to keep watching or ditch the show, according to Albert Ching of The Atlantic.
Ching said that although continuing to watch endorsed the disappointing firing of the show’s initial creator, not watching “would mean abandoning the characters and storylines that fans adore.”
The fourth season opened with a slight increase from the season-three premiere, however, showing that audiences are still willing to watch despite a new showrunner.
Obviously, there is something special that makes people continue to tune in, despite their feelings toward the creative direction a once-beloved show has taken. But the question remains: Why? How is it possible that people continue to watch shows that have gone bad even while admitting the decline that these programs have taken?
It seems the most plausible answer to this phenomenon comes not from an obligation, but a feeling of dependence.
Audiences attach to the characters, the stories and the reliability of a weekly television show. Blair can marry a prince. Carell can leave The Office. Yet vampires can have a dramatic historical spin-off series. And fans will keep watching because, at a certain point, a TV show is like a reliable, handy and entertaining companion. Every week, devoted watchers can go home, throw on their pajamas, grab dinner and sit in front of the TV to watch an hourlong episode.
When the show is on one of those annoying summer breaks, despite viewers’ gripes about the show, they still miss it. It’s like when a friend goes away. You still feel their absence — no matter how annoying he or she might be — when they leave town for awhile.
This analogy might be truer than you think. More and more it seems people are describing their relationships with a TV show like a romantic relationship. TV, after all, is enjoyed week after week unlike other forms of media, such as movies and video games, that are often one-hit wonders.
If you think about it, people devote a portion of each week to watching shows, they enjoy catching up with them in the comfort of their own homes and they miss their favorite shows when they go on hiatus.
Essentially, similar to a positive romantic relationship, TV shows provide reliability and comfort. After a long day, something trustworthy will be waiting at home.
In fact, a show may be even more dependable than a person. When The Office says it will meet you on Thursday at 9 p.m., it will be there. It doesn’t matter that the cast has changed and the story lines are faulty. Despite this, there is some comfort in knowing that when camped out, sad, distressed and stressed from daily life, The Office will still be waiting.
But, though it’s hard to bid farewell to a show that has been watched by many devoted fans since day one, every show must run its course. Every reign must come to an end, which means that viewers perhaps need to take it upon themselves to decide when that is (because sometimes the networks and producers are too invested in the show’s profits to nip the fragmented relationship in the bud).
Saying goodbye to over-done shows where the main stars are barely in it only makes room for new and better, fresh-faced shows.
So goodbye, Glee. Goodbye, The Vampire Diaries. And goodbye to the train-wreck that is the Secret Life of the American Teenager. It’s been a long run. It’s been great — thrilling, really — to let you into my life.
But it’s time to face the facts: We’re just at very different points in our lives right now, and it’s time for me at least to finally tune out.
Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column ran Mondays.