If I'm anything, it's loyal. To a fault, as some like to say. For example, I'm staring into the abyss of a football season where my beloved 49ers will likely lose well-over 10 games, but you'll still find me every Sunday I can at a sports bar to catch the game. Stupidly enough, I show the same loyalty to many of "my" TV shows, and between "needing" to see and judge every new network program and pick-up my favorite returnees, my DiVo is already threatening to delete old programs.
But last night, while watching the premiere of ER, I realized that this loyalty is a one-way relationship. TV doesn't care about me. If it did, it wouldn't insult me with some of its horrible program. And the shows with which I've built a relationship for, in some cases, a decade, they don't care about me either because if they did, they would go away quietly leaving me with my memories of really good television.
I find myself saying that I don't have the time for TV like I used to, and that's not really true. I think I've just increased my standards. I used to give almost every new series a real shot to make my regular rotation. Unless a pilot made my eyes bleed and head hurt, I'd watch two or three episodes to give the show a chance. It's almost an imperative because by necessity, most pilots suck. They're all exposition, introducing the characters, format and the theme and if there's room and time, just maybe hinting at what kinds of stories it will tell.
But I can't do that anymore. Sure Hawaii and The Benefactor may have been so awful that no further viewing was necessary, but in other years, I might have checked out LAX more than once. This year, I've pretty much said, "Feh." (More on that next week when I roll out my Fall Season Pre-/Re-view.)
But what about those shows I have watched religiously? Those aging wonders that I loved year-in and year-out, but as they age, they really become no better than a mediocre entry like LAX or Medical Investigation? Why do I stick with them, hoping and praying for a return to their former glory when most likely, these stories and characters are simply played out. We don't follow the same reality show contestants for years on end; their "lives" are finite. All stories have cycles, and the reason why I do have such immense respect and awe for those TV show-runners who do consistently produce really good work is because of how hard it must be to keep reinventing the lives and stories of these characters, enough to keep people coming back every week. Many series with potential don't get the chance to grow, but as many that succeed stick around too long.
I've often found myself feeling obligated to a show. NYPD Blue is a perfect example. I think I've actually watched every episode of the show's now 12 seasons, and at this point, I really don't know why. They've recycled storylines so many times, it really isn't that interesting anymore. But there's some connection to the show and its characters, and with the news that this year is its last, I want to know how things will end. After ER last night, however, I'm considering dropping the series from my watchlist. It's just dull. And ridiculous. And boring. Just like Dubya saying things are better in Iraq and we're safer because of the war doesn't actually make it true, NBC's promotional department consistently telling us that ER will shock and surprise and provide the greatest moments in the history of television doesn't actually have any influence on how tired the show has become. But ER isn't going anywhere. Not for a couple more years at least. So should I cut ties now? With no end in sight, it seems almost easier.
Two years ago, after sticking with The Practice at least one season too long, I cut it loose. What had once been one of my absolute favorite shows on television had become so absurd that I was surprised Advil hadn't realized they had an ideal advertising opportunity. And yeah, I felt better once it was gone. I went back to watch an episode here, episode there; I caught the "series finale" which was this weird amalgam of a finale and a pilot (for the new Boston Legal), and was bored silly the whole time. I went through a similar experience a year ago with the admitted guilty-pleasure Charmed, which dispensed with the pleasure and just sent me the guilt. I also had a relatively easy time giving the hand to Will & Grace which ceased being funny after its first (oh, maybe its second) season but seems to have convinced people that as long as a sitcom has a situation (or a high profile guest star), it doesn't really need comedy.
I'm teetering on Alias (which doesn't return until January) and The West Wing. They both disappointed the hell out of me last year. Two episodes in, I find I'm not all that interested in Survivor the ninth time around, and the new version of The Bachelor absolutely has, to use what's now a cliché, jumped the shark by cribbing ideas (the women pick which of two guys they want to be the bachelor) from its own bastardized competition, NBC's For Love or Money (the men picked from two women in the version earlier this summer).
Saying goodbye to a show you've watched for years really isn't that different from saying goodbye to a person. You develop a relationship with those characters, one strong enough to make you want to return to their world and peek into their lives on a regular basis. I'm certainly nowhere near asking my TV for a divorce, but for a few of my primetime friends, I think a permanent separation is on the horizon.