I can think of at least 4 early warning signs of a television show's impending demise:
- An important character dies or moves away.
- Its time slot becomes less than ideal.
- It reaches syndication.
- Its storylines become less and less like the
premise of the show, and more and more like the
ramblings of bored drama students.
Loss of a Character:
It happened to Good Times when the father died. It happened to CHiPs when John Baker moved on. The shows
just lose a significant number of fans when the character
is gone. And those fans who remain might think of the replacement characters (e.g. those blonde haired brothers who were added to CHiPs) as a redheaded stepchild that
they get the uncontrollable urge to beat senseless during
each episode. Which, of course, ruins the entire viewing
experience. Shows can't weather this abuse. Imagine how dead The Brady Bunch would have become if Alice left and was replaced by some personality-deprived lookalike?
Unfortunate Time Slot Change
I saw this happen all the time with Saturday morning cartoons when I was a child. The first few seasons, the coolest new cartoons would be on between 8am and 10am. But once a cartoon was lost to that oblivion of bastard time slots that was the After Soul Train Zone, you could wave goodbye to your cartoon friends. Goodbye to The Snorks. Goodbye to Pink Panther and Sons. Etc.
It's supposed to take 5 years to get a show into syndication. A very small percentage of shows live much longer than that, if they even reached that age at all, of course. This is just a metric of the show's age which can be combined with statistical data about television show lifetimes to conclude that it's almost dead. It's like the way everyone tiptoed around the issue of Bob Hope's age, you know? Everyone knew the guy was due to die sometime
soon, so they shouldn't have expected too many more
specials from him. Even if they could still be good. You know?
Drama Student Crap
Some shows have very explicit underlying premises guiding their storylines. For example, every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation supposedly involved the exploration of strange new planets. But once they started making drivel like that one episode where Riker gets too caught up in his part as a prisoner in some play the crew is putting on, well then you just knew it was dying. Like, once they started acknowledging the camera and tried doing cute philosophical things in front of it, you knew the show Northern Exposure already had a foot in the grave. Most of these kinds of things seem like desperate acts to keep the show going beyond what the writers can come up with for storylines. And they just leverage the show's popularity to try getting away with strange tricks. This doesn't usually prolong the show's life very much.
Whoever linked this to Jump the Shark: thank you! I have seen that episode of Happy Days and it really fits perfectly with this node! That episode was just plain silly.