6.5k voters

TV Shows That Progressively Got Worse

Updated September 2, 2020 39.9k votes 6.5k voters 345.3k views35 items

List RulesVote up the shows whose quality fizzled (or dropped off a cliff). Vote down the shows you think stayed strong, despite what critics say.

Many of our cultural phenomenons on television have one thing in common: a great first season. That season sets the tone for the rest of the show, and each subsequent season is all about trying to fulfill the promise of the first. Even though many shows remain popular, a number of them have diminishing returns and actually, the show gets worse. This list compiles a bunch of those series, and tries to identify the point in the show's history where things started going wrong. 

Whether it's a full-on jumping of the shark (either figuratively or literally), or just a sense that at some point the series just ran out of ideas, there are many ways that a show can run out of steam. Much of this is subjective, but a lot of these TV shows that got worse as time went on and always seemed like they, themselves didn't quite believe they would actually make another season or know what they would do if they got there. 

There are also some shows that got worse simply because they lost a main actor, or took on one too many notes from the network, succumbing to external forces they couldn't quite control. So take a look at the list and vote for the good shows you think went downhill the most!
  • 1

    When Glee premiered in 2009, it was a ratings juggernaut and cultural phenomenon. Critics' enthusiasm started to wane in season three, but tragedy is what ultimately changed the direction of this series, when one of the two then-series leads, Cory Monteith, died of an overdose.

    Season five tried to work through it in its third episode, and then went on hiatus.  The show came back, but the magic was missing for many fans. All told, how well do you think the show carried on without Cory?

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  • 2
    How well did Heroes deliver on the promise of their stellar first season? That depends on how you felt about the show answering every question with a question. And the construct of having character development run backwards so that Sylar can always be Sylar, and Hiro is always time-traveling. Like many characters in Heroes, maybe the show itself just couldn't handle all of their mighty powers. 

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  • 3
    Who knew that the moment the mysterious "A" was revealed that the show would actually continue? Because then that "A" got killed (but not really), and then a new "A" started torturing the eponymous Liars, and audiences around season three questioned if the show was just doing crazy for crazy's sake. However, some viewers remained for the basic entertainment value. 

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  • 4

    Another pulpy series, True Blood was already showing a bit of age when showrunner Alan Ball left the series after its fifth season. How many more times were we really going to watch Sookie be sought after by the same two vampires?

    When the new showrunner came in, its critical acclaim took a dive, with viewers upset that it became more about action sequences than character development. 

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  • 5

    This was a show that didn't so much get bad as it just became more and more ridiculous in trying to explain how a suburban housewife can continue to sell narcotics after losing (already unlikely) connections again and again.

    When the world tells you it's actually easier to go straight than to be a criminal, and you still decide to go criminal...eh, that turns some people off. Many viewers started giving up around the 4th season, when the narcotic that is literally the title of the show didn't even show up. 

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  • 6

    When The O.C. was starting to show its age in season 3, the showrunners decided to introduce a character death - that of course, being Marisa dying in a car accident, the car then inexplicably exploding in sad, slow motion.

    Pretty much from that point on, the show became about mourning Marisa, because, you know, these are kids and they take things very hard and the psychological trauma doesn't go away. It also makes for a wild departure from what the series actually was meant to be, and viewers started tuning out. 

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  • 7

    A classic case of a series that had a short and a mid-term plan, but no idea what they would do in the long run. Was it the start of the fifth season, where the show jumped five years ahead and essentially tried to reboot itself, that Desperate Housewives entered the realm of  self-parody?

    The result was a series that, if you squint right, looked like the show you remember falling for, but it all seemed to be unfamiliar and odd. Ratings were great, but its cultural cache was on the downslope.

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  • 8

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  • 9
    Take a minute to consider the premise - if a guy tattoos his plan to break him and his brother out of prison, he has to get out by the end of that season. After that? Therein lies the rub for seasons two, three, and four.  Fans and critics alike complained about
    inexplicable plot twists, shockingly inept law enforcement, and a conspiracy that never made sense and never will. 

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  • 10
    For a show that had a high turnover rate, the fourth series was largely the big blow, when all remaining original cast members left. By that point, it was a brand new show, and folks started leaving when they realized their favorite characters weren't at all coming back and these new ones just weren't the same. Misfits managed to make a go of it with a full five series.

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  • 11
    We all know this one, right? In season five, Fonzie water skis and jumps over a confined shark. It was a ridiculous plot device and audiences woke up to the fact that Happy Days had completely run out of new ideas to entertain viewers. Hence, the term "jumping the shark" was born, and has forever remained a cultural phrase for just this sort of phenomenon. 

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  • 12

    The Vampire Diaries just happened to hit the right tone and genre at just the right time. When teens wanted vampires, but not those boring Twilight vampires, this show delivered.

    After getting a spin-off and six seasons, it's certainly given people that fix. But around the fourth season, when schemes felt like they'd happened exactly this way before, and then an obvious backdoor pilot that felt shoved into the show, viewers started tuning out. 

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  • 13

    The four-season show Felicity, surrounding the traditional "freshman, sophomore, junior and senior" years of college had a ratings drop right after the first season. Two things happened - first was an incredibly ill-advised time slot change, and second Felicity, with long-flowing curly locks, got a hair cut.

    Viewers often conflate the hair change with public backlash, which is funny -- do you think it's true?

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  • 14

    Sometimes, shows try to fix flagging ratings with a musical episode. Sometimes, they bring in a character death to really shock the audience out of complacency. Here's the thing, Grey's Anatomy, in its seventh season, did both. And in the exact incorrect order - going into a musical episode right after the death of one of its characters.

    The musical episode was widely polarizing, and it seemed to signal to viewers that Shonda Rhimes was running out of ideas for the series. Of course, this moment didn't seem like the beginning of the end, and in fact, it isn't. It's going on season 12, and no one knows just how long it's going to go.

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  • 15

    Many largely agree with star James Van Der Beek's assertion that Dawson's Creek, a show that even in its low points still had value, was already jumping the shark in its second season.

    "When I had to convince Katie [Holmes]'s character to wear a wire to snitch on her drug dealing dad because a molotov cocktail had been thrown through a window, I remember thinking, 'What show am I on again?'" All too late, the series had the kids moving on to college and Dawson to Los Angeles. Did you go with them? 

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  • 16

    Dexter was pulpy from the beginning, and everyone was down for that, but when the police were both annoying and incompetent, it just started rubbing viewers the wrong way.

    Secondary storylines always felt like padding, but the big turning point may have been in season three, where Doakes is murdered after finding out Dexter's secret - and no one seems to be able to figure it out - people realized the show was being silly and wasn't trying to innovate. 

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  • 17
    The first season of True Detective was this strange, instantly gripping phenomenon that was widely praised by fans and critics. It was utterly unique. Season 2 tried to recreate the magic with a new cast and premise. The Internet exploded with reactions to the season opener, negative far out numbering the positive (or at least they were more public.)  The detractors complained it took itself way too seriously and became boring.   Since then, among critics, the consensus is that there is no consensus. But what about you - does True Detective still have you under its spell?

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  • 18

    When you really get down to it, how many times do you actually want to see Hank Moody sleeping with the wrong person and drinking too much all the while everyone seems to be totally okay with what he's doing?

    Around season four, which dealt mostly with him trying to get out of charges stemming from sleeping with an underage girl, was when audiences started backing away from Californication

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  • 19

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  • 20

    It's only in retrospect that How I Met Your Mother revealed how progressively worse it was getting - at the series finale,Ted Mosby met the mother of his children, who (SPOILER) subsequently died, Robin and Barney broke up and Ted and Robin eventually got married.

    It was a very polarizing episode, making all the growth these characters went to seem like it was never going to matter. Going back through the series viewers came to realize that the show really didn't have very many interesting ideas, and if they did, they were certainly going to reverse them later. 

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  • 21
    Like many shows, Entourage played with a formula:  Vinny Chase tries something new, doesn't really put much effort into it, everyone freaks out around him, and then it typically ends up being okay. But the gang from Queens was entertaining, so the formula was fun for several years at least.  Did the plotline around the movie "Medellin" seal the deal for you? Did too much Eric/Sloan drama cause you to break up with the show in season six? Or did you hang with the boys through their final Hollywood ending?

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  • 22

    Sex and the City ran during a time when the housing market hadn't burst and there was some money in our pockets, so watching four well-earning women work out their relationship problems in the most expensive city in the world seemed to be okay for their viewers.

    However, then the housing market collapsed, and Sex and the City turned to releasing films - and their way of life started to alienate viewers living through the Great Recession. SATC's New York started looking like a city from a bygone era. 

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  • 23

    The X-Files was (and is) about Mulder and Scully. That was just that. Already long-in-the-tooth, losing Mulder after season 7 was the beginning of the end. People wanted David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson together, solving cases, one being the believer, and the other the skeptic.

    When you lose part of that, those episodes are immediately diminished. But the series kept going two more seasons of that. 

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  • 24

    Scrubs' inevitable decline really didn't occur as a result of the series quality failing. It largely just came about right around the time Zach Braff decided to start directing indie movies for hipsters.

    There were only so many seasons where we could watch Turk and JD act like high schoolers in a hospital. Was it a stretch to think its very specific mix of wacky/earnest could last for nine seasons? Indeed, it was only supposed to last for seven - NBC let Scrubs go, which was when ABC picked it up. Do you feel it was on life support those final years?

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  • 25
    Everyone loved that, in Coach, Hayden was a Division 1-A football coach in freezing cold Minnesota. When he becomes the coach of an NFL team in Orlando in 1995, the tone of the series just clashed. Ultimately, the show was concluded in 1997. However, Netflix, never okay with letting anything die ever, has ordered a new season of the show, focusing on Hayden's son. 

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