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Television fads, genres, and specific shows may fall out of popularity over the course of time.

Live Action TV

General

  • Can an entire network be deader than Disco? If so, then if MTV isn't there right now, then it is perilously close. Even when the channel's decay became evident in the late '90s and early '00s, MTV was still a relevant force in American pop culture, turning many bands and artists into superstars and airing shows like The Real World, Beavis and Butthead, Daria, and Jackass that hauled in viewers by the boatload and had people talking. And that's not even mentioning the power MTV wielded back in The Eighties. Now, while it's still kept relevant by a handful of hit reality shows and the Video Music Awards, most young people and former fans know it primarily for being the poster child of Network Decay.
  • In the United States, daytime soap operas have fallen victim to this trope. Back in The Seventies and The Eighties, ratings for daytime soaps hit peaks of 30 million viewers for events like the Spencer wedding on General Hospital, and ad revenues from them helped to fund the Networks' elaborate, expensive, all-but-nonprofit news divisions, as well as tide the whole network over in years when the Prime Time lineup was struggling. Now, soaps are lucky to pull in three million, and some people are recommending that the networks drop them altogether and replace them with talk shows and other daytime fare -- which some networks are already doing. The phrase "soap opera" has come to be synonymous with pure dreck in the minds of many TV fans, associated with bad writing, outrageous plots, and shoddy acting, something that can be seen whenever disgruntled fans of a Prime Time series talk about how bad writers or actors "should never have been let out of daytime." A list of theories explaining this fall can be seen on the Soap Opera page.
  • Reality TV did in the trashy tabloid talk shows of the '90s, which quickly lost their monopoly on the display of social rejects, miscreants, and degenerates hungry for their 15 minutes of fame. Unlike talk shows, reality shows didn't have the middle man of a host who was ostensibly trying to "help" them, and had more variety than the basic talk show format. Today, the only "Trash TV" hosts still standing are Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, their competitors (Geraldo Rivera, Phil Donahue, Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake, Sally Jessy Raphael) having all been canceled. Oprah Winfrey, now retired herself, who popularized the "Trash TV" format, distinguished herself by going "upmarket" in the mid-nineties, during the height of the trend.
  • It is probably not a coincidence that the Variety Show died out around the same time that specialized cable channels began taking off, since they allowed viewers to enjoy just musical groups, stand-up comedy, etc. without having to wait out performers and segments they weren't interested in. Once in a while, a performer will try to revive the format, but this never works. Later, NBC tried to pull it off with The Jay Leno Show. They were hoping that cheap, product-placement-backed programming would allow them to stem their losses. It didn't work so well, suffering from such abysmal ratings that NBC attempted to move it to late night after half a season. And It Got Worse -- this led to Conan O'Brien's departure from The Tonight Show when he objected to the schedule change.
    • The death of the variety show could also be attributed to the decreasing cost of televisions. Back in The Fifties and The Sixties when variety programs were at their most popular, a television was an expensive investment and there would typically be only one TV per household, if the household had a TV to begin with. When televisions became much less expensive, the need for specialized programming to appeal to the various members of a household became much more apparent. Then cable television took off in The Seventies and The Eighties and put the final nail in variety's coffin.
    • In a similar fashion; the Sports Anthology genre (invented and led by Wide World of Sports[1]) died out with the rise of sports networks like ESPN, which offered the kind of variety of sports Wide World offered 24/7.
  • Space adventure (or spaceship) based sci-fi shows, once the staple for television sci-fi, disappeared after the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise. The Stargate Verse also slowly faded into the purgatory of Saturday afternoon reruns. Genre TV shows are now essentially represented by Earth-based, character relationship-based drama shows with a few sci-fi elements thrown in, such as Eureka, Lost, True Blood, and the new V. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica despite its outer space setting, still focused more on character relationships and political drama than space adventure. The same can be said for the current incarnation of Doctor Who (2005-) which especially downplays its pulp science fantasy roots. This widespread paradigm shift is commonly attributed to the desire to attract more female viewers.
  • "Next Generation" type television shows: These were shows that essentially updated classic shows from two or three decades past and provided an in-universe continuation of the premise. Surviving cast members from the original often appeared either in guest roles (playing older versions of their characters in keeping with the actor's advancing age) or only in the pilot episode in which they simply pass the torch. Named after Star Trek: The Next Generation which takes place in the Star Trek timeline 78 years after The Original Series. This has been replaced by "re-imaginings" which do not take place in the same universe as the original series and are not subject to the continuity of the original series. However, original series cast members can and do make guest appearances as characters who may be completely different from the character they originally played. Richard Hatch, Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica, appeared in the 2003 reimagining as a character quite different from Apollo. Jane Badler plays a character named Diana in the 2009-10 V series, but not the same Diana that she played on V in 1984-85.
  • Network newscasts. In the past, families gathered around the TV every evening to watch Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather for 30 minutes. With the growth of 24-hour news networks and online news, many people stopped watching the traditional newscasts, which are on when most people aren't even home.
  • Kid Com shows that don't involve some kind of celebrity focus are starting to die out. There are very few Dom Com low-concept shows that focus on the characters living a relatively normal life. The reason is the success of Hannah Montana and executives trying to capture that market to get the next big Idol Singer.
  • The "classic Sitcom" format, while still somewhat popular among audiences (most of CBS' biggest hits are such shows), has lost just about all artistic credibility thanks to a backlash against it during the 2000s by Ricky Gervais in Britain and shows like Modern Family, Thirty Rock and the remake of The Office in the US, which leads to such shows being regarded as cheap, unfunny trash next to single camera comedies and live stand-up. Many TV critics have even made a point of saying that they will not even watch any new comedies made with the traditional studio audience (or, worse, a Laugh Track) and multi-camera setup. Older shows like All in The Family, Fawlty Towers and Seinfeld that used the format are spared by virtue of the Grandfather Clause, but modern shows that are made in that style are typically viewed as Lowest Common Denominator fare at best.
  • "Late Night Creature Feature"-style shows: A former staple of Friday and Saturday night television, particularly on stations that weren't network affiliates, were locally-produced shows dedicated to airing B-grade horror or science fiction movies, with such umbrella titles as Chiller Theater or Shock Theater. Notable, invariably tongue-in-cheek hosts of such shows included Vampira, Doctor Madblood, and Svengoolie; Elvira, Mistress of the Dark kept the format going well into The Eighties. (All this was parodied by SCTV with Count Floyd.) The timeslot wasn't neccesarily late at night -- it may have been as early as 9 p.m., or alternatively scheduled for weekend afternoons. But as The Eighties progressed, the films aged along with the viewers that appreciated them, the "Big Three" networks began adding more and more national fare to the late and overnight schedules, pay and basic cable networks bought up the rights to many movies en masse (USA Network, in its first two decades, had the weekend block Night Flight and its successor Up All Night, which were effectively their versions of this concept), and independent stations dried up as new networks like Fox took them over. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is widely considered the Last Of Its Kind, but there have been a few stabs at reviving the format with public domain films for the syndication market, such as Elvira's Movie Macabre and the San Francisco-based Creepy KOFY Movie Time.
  • Low budget, high concept TV shows that use the Canada Does Not Exist trope. During the late 80s and early 90s, these were a staple for shows in multiple genres such as action-adventure (Highlander), youth drama (Catwalk or Degrassi), sci-fi/horror (Friday the 13th: The Series), and police drama (21 Jump Street). The low low budget connected with small-name actors (many of them Canadian) allowed for a proliferation of inexpensive entertainment aimed at various niche audiences. The nowhereland setting for these shows allowed for them to appeal to viewers in both the U.S. and Canada. Today, the new low-budget market is Reality Television which can be produced in Hollywood and appeal to a mainstream American audience. Although in terms of dollar amount, Episodes of Reality shows today probably cost more than an average episode of Highlander, they are easier and faster to produce and have a quicker return in revenue. Other genres are still around but mostly manifest themselves as expensive tentpole franchises with high production values, big name stars, and an unambiguous major American city setting.
  • The Jiggle Show. During the Seventies and Eighties, shows like Three's Company, and Charlie's Angels, and, to a lesser extent, the Wonder Woman series and The Dukes of Hazzard that were long on beautiful actresses but (percieved as) a little short on plot were incredibly popular, and the joke was that they were especially popular amongst sexually frustrated men who would be willing to sit through thirty minutes of flimsy dialogue for the chance to see Suzanne Somers in a bikini or Farrah Fawcett run after a bad guy in a tight sweater. The genre peaked with Baywatch, but rise the rise of both the internet and more accessible pornography, along with more liberal views of all things related to sex, shows that are expecting to coast on the beauty of their casts are finding themselves disappointed.
  • Anthology series: The visual version of short story collections. Essentially any regular series without a recurring cast or continuing storyline from episode to episode. Anthologies can contain a little of everything, allowing for many styles of writing, acting, and direction. Each installment is a self contained story with no relation to other episodes in the series. Once very popular for genres which involve Hitchcockian twists or morality plays. Especially with horror where the concept of recurring characters somewhat removes suspense. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt or Tales from the Darkside are some of the most acclaimed examples of anthology. Anthologies often allowed exposure for upcoming actors and a fun break from the usual for already established actors. Today's television is more character and plot oriented, which requires developing plots and story arcs along with gradual character development. Impossible to accomplish with anthologies where each story must be told in one hour.

Specific

  • The Ur Example for television may be TV personality Arthur Godfrey, who was extraordinarily popular in the early '50s. Viewers turned against him after his folksy, friendly, gee-shucks demeanor was shown to have been an act; he was actually a cruel, egotistical taskmaster who fired a popular singer on one of his shows on the air for going to his grandmother's funeral instead of taking a dancing class he didn't actually need.
  • A variant: Ally McBeal never went from all-popular to all-hated, having both admirers and haters at its peak. Instead, it went from The Extremely Important Show That Expressed The State of The American Woman Today to a half-forgotten joke that's best remembered for featuring the first online Memetic Mutation to become mainstream, the Dancing Baby, and for being that "single female lawyer" show that Futurama made fun of. Everybody, love it or hate it, used to think it was a cultural milestone. Time did a cover story on it, calling it a low point in the history of American feminism, and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd went through a period where she mentioned it in literally every single column that she wrote. A decade later, it's a footnote of the late '90s. It's telling that Hayden Panettiere's time on the show is barely mentioned, not even as an Old Shame.
  • This Life occupied a similar position in the UK as Ally McBeal did in the USA, albeit as a less comedic form of drama -- something akin to being the most important show on TV in the mid-to-late nineties. Then, once the late-twenty-somethings who watched it grew up and had children, the younger generation couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Sex, drugs and young lawyers? Old hat.
  • During its network run, Murphy Brown was one of the most talked about, critically acclaimed shows on the air. Today, it's nowhere to be found in syndication, and first season DVD sales were so poor that the second season was never even released. The show's reliance on topical humor is almost certainly a factor; jokes about Dan Quayle aren't nearly as funny 20 years later. It definitely doesn't help that its defining moment, Murphy's pregnancy and the subsequent feud with Dan Quayle, not only happened relatively early (the show ran for another six seasons after that), but has aged poorly -- it seems quaint by today's standards for Quayle to have made such a big deal about a single mother on television.
  • The only reason why The Beverly Hillbillies got to number one in the ratings is because old people loved it. CBS eventually figured out that, although it was getting great ratings, those ratings were coming from an audience that advertisers didn't care about, which led to its cancellation. The same thing happened for several other shows, like Mayberry RFD and even Gunsmoke. There's even a whole page at The Other Wiki, "rural purge", about these cancellations of rural-themed and senior-targeted programs. Several of the other shows listed on that page (Hogan's Heroes, Family Affair), which were also popular in their day, are similarly no longer appreciated as anything but kitsch, mainly due to the fact that most of the people who liked them in their heyday were over 50 when they were canceled, and are now dead. While they still have their viewers (judging by the ratings for TV Land reruns and the existence of DVD box sets for many of them), few will cite them as truly great television.
    • In The Nineties, older viewers might explain why Touched By an Angel was a Top 10 show at the height of its run. It often outdrew The Simpsons in its Sunday night time slot (despite never being a critical favorite and regarded as Glurge at its worst), it launched a Spin-Off in Promised Land (which lasted three seasons), and reruns of the show were central to the young PAX network's lineup. When its time slot was switched to Saturday nights for its final two seasons, ratings plunged, and while it's still in reruns on the Hallmark Channel, it's mostly seen as a joke now.
    • This happens a lot, though... lots of classic series, even ones that are considered good, are often given a backseat because they don't attract the audiences the powers that be want. Or they just don't attract that much attention in general, with the audience becoming younger, not many people remember it as much as others did. Of course, the lack of readily-available reruns these days doesn't help.
  • As noted above, shows that fall victim to The Chris Carter Effect have a tendency to slip into this once their lack of long-term Myth Arc planning becomes apparent.
    • Let's start with the Trope Namer. The memory of The X-Files' excellent early years was irrevocably sullied not long after the movie came out. Its final three seasons were widely ill-received, leading up to an embarrassing and frustrating case of No Ending that, to many fans, showed that the writers had no clue what they were doing and were making things up as they went along. What die hard fans were left had their interest killed by a ho-hum movie released in 2008.
    • Twin Peaks, like The X-Files, was once a cultural phenomenon. Now, if the show is ever brought up, it's either by worried network execs afraid that their hit genre show will become the next Twin Peaks, or by fans who think that their show has Jumped the Shark. Like The X-Files, it is today remembered as a prime example of how to run a great show into the ground by not thinking ahead.
    • Heroes. Back in the first season, everybody was praising this show as the next Lost, and it managed to be a credible rival to that show, even breaking out of the Sci Fi Ghetto and getting an Emmy nod for Best Drama Series. Then, Bryan Fuller left to make Pushing Daisies, and the 2007-08 WGA Strike killed an entire half-season's worth of plots and a planned Spin-Off. The show spent the next two seasons flying off the rails and hemorrhaging viewers as the writing staff struggled, and failed, to figure out how to salvage it. Not even Fuller's return in the fourth season could save Heroes, as NBC, reeling from the flop of The Jay Leno Show and fed up with the show's big budget and lack of ratings to show for it, pulled the plug at the end of that season, just as it was becoming good again. Once viewed as the show that would save NBC after many of its hit '90s sitcoms came to an end, it instead came to be seen as a symbol of all the problems that NBC had over the course of the '00s.

Notes

  1. The original American version, not the still-airing Australian version
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