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Why do the good die young?

Molly Griffin | Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fans of “Arrested Development” knew it was coming.

With low ratings, changing time slots and several near-cancellations, the show remained one step away from getting axed throughout its run. In spite of vocal fans, adoring critics and an Emmy win for Best Comedy series, the show still suffered from low ratings. With Fox’s recent announcement that it was cutting its order of the show’s current third season, the death knell sounded, and fans began to mourn.

The end of “Arrested Development” brings up the question of why some shows get cancelled in spite of loyal legions of fans and how others can hang on for years longer than they should. Also, in today’s entertainment world, filled with options like TiVo and DVD sets of television shows, is there any hope for fans once a studio has turned its back on a good show?

Some shows seem doomed from the start, while others are seemingly ended without any prior warning. Cult favorite “Freaks and Geeks” made it through one season but seemed doomed to be cancelled from the beginning. Most shows, while finding their footing, have terrible first seasons, but studios appear less and less willing to incubate shows through this difficult period.

“Joan of Arcadia,” while making it beyond the one year mark, still received – ironically – no mercy when it came to getting cut out of the television schedule. The show was well-regarded by critics and viewers alike, but a slump in the ratings led to a swift cut and somewhat unexpected axe from the network.

In other cases, ending a show can be a lengthy process. Longtime favorites like “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Seinfeld” ended because their stars decided they were ready to leave, not because they failed to get a stay of execution from the studio. “The X-Files” survived the exit of not one but both of its central characters before ultimately getting the axe, proving just how much it can take to get a successful show cancelled.

“The Simpsons” is an example of a show that, despite its success, may be ready for cancellation. Either that, or they need to lure back some of the other writers from the past when the show was in its prime. “The Simpsons” simply isn’t as good as it used to be, and the new episodes may be ruining the legacy the show established for itself long ago. The show will continue to run on fumes for as long as it can, but in some ways, canceling it now and cutting the damage to the show’s legacy might be a better option.

For long-running shows like this, bowing out gracefully is probably the best option available. Few shows can remain consistently good for extended periods of time, and it always looks better for a star to leave a show than to get the axe. Others will continue to run on fumes, doing untold damage to their future legacies.

While the cancellation of a show can seem like the end, even in the age of DVD sets of television shows, there are a few success stories around to give confidence to depressed television fans everywhere.

When it first debuted on television, “Family Guy” wasn’t a huge ratings winner. It managed to offend many of the viewers who did tune in, mostly because they were expecting another “Simpsons” instead of what they got. Fox cut the show, but massive sales of the series on DVD actually inspired the network to revive it. Its current less-than-stellar ratings may give more credence to the popularity of television on DVD than to reviving programs, but it still offers some hope to those mourning a cancelled show.

When one network doesn’t work out, other stations can step in and give an abandoned show a home. Cult favorite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” faced cancellation on the WB, but was picked up by UPN and survived for two more seasons before finally, excuse the pun, getting staked.

“Buffy” creator, Joss Whedon, penned another show, “Firefly,” that got canceled after one season, in spite of being a huge cult hit. While it wasn’t revived on television, it did come back in a big way – on the big screen. The movie “Serenity” was based on the show and became a hit after being released.

These shows can offer some hope to viewers by offering the assurance that shows tenuously near cancellation can still find homes, albeit in often non-traditional places.

By looking at some examples from television’s wildly chaotic past, fans of “Arrested Development” may not find solace, but at least they can see that there some options. And even if this is the end for the Bluth family, one can always argue that it’s better to go off the air then to be stuck in the mediocrity of shows like “Yes, Dear,” the next incarnation of “The Bachelor” or one of the multitudinous spin-offs of “Law and Order” or “CSI.”

If the show does fail to find sanctuary from getting cancelled, fans may miss quoting lines “Hey hermano” or “No touching!” They will, however, appreciate never having to say anything resembling, “Do you remember when ‘Arrested Development’ used to be good?”

Contact Molly Griffin at mgriffon@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.