The Fall of Television, Unless I Already Used That Title Once

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Do you smell that? It’s the scent of fall television! (It smells like Charlie Sheen.) All your favorite shows are back with brand-new episodes! Unless your favorite show was “Joan of Arcadia,” in which case you’ll be disappointed, not to mention a nerd. But the rest of us are excited!

Unfortunately, TV shows change over time. Rare is the series that’s as good in its later years as it was in the beginning. Everyone knows “The Simpsons,” while still generally funny, is nothing compared to its heyday. Fans of “Seinfeld” watched sadly as that show went downhill in its final seasons, culminating in a weirdly disappointing finale. And remember how “Cheers” began as a sitcom set in a bar in Boston, but by the end it was about a psychiatrist in Seattle? What was up with THAT?

HOW SOME CLASSIC SHOWS WENT DOWNHILL
– In the later years of “Little House on the Prairie,” Laura Ingalls Wilder left the town of Walnut Grove, Minn., and became a stripper in Minneapolis, dancing under the name “Half Pint.”

– The last few episodes of “I Love Lucy” were nothing more than 30-minute increments of Lucy stuffing chocolates in her mouth, a desperate attempt to relive the glory days of that one great episode.

– The last season of “Sanford and Son” didn’t star Redd Foxx, but rather the corpse of Redd Foxx, manipulated with wires and pulleys and voiced by an impersonator.

– When Gary Coleman stopped being adorable on “Diff’rent Strokes,” they replaced him with Webster.

– The final season of “The Twilight Zone” included episodes with these anti-climactic endings:
1. His grandmother, who he thought had been dead for 30 years, turns out to have been dead for 31 years, because he had the date wrong.

2. The effect of traveling back in time is that now, in the present, stop signs are more lavender than red.

3. The identity of the mysterious man who made unusual bargains with the hero and brought him wealth and fame but at some price is revealed to be Stephen Walstein, wealthy philanthropist.

4. The magic box that sends pictures through the air turns out to just be a TV.

– In the last episode of “Joan of Arcadia,” Joan went on medication that made her crazy visions go away.

Often, the reason a show takes a turn for the worse is that producers notice one element that seems especially popular, and they begin to overdo that element. Thus, we are able to predict…

HOW SOME CURRENT SHOWS WILL GO DOWNHILL

– Dr. House’s famed incivility on “House” will become so overdone that he will stop giving patients medication and simply stand at their bedside and mock them as they die. Perhaps he will also poke them with sticks.

– You like the wordy, fast-paced dialogue on “Gilmore Girls”? Then you’ll love the new format, where the soundtrack has been sped up to chipmunk levels, thus making room for even MORE talking. It’s like a tsunami of dialogue, right there in your living room!

– This season, each new episode of “Lost” will include three minutes of plot development accompanied by 57 minutes of flashbacks. By Season 3, the show will consist entirely of flashbacks, and the castaways’ current plight will only be referred to in the TV Guide episode previews.

– People love the bad auditions on “American Idol” so much that they’re going to make a switch: From now on, it’s the WORST singers who will win, not the best ones. And by “from now on,” I mean “they’ve already started, and her name is Carrie Underwood.” (Oh yeah. I went there.)

The line about "Gilmore Girls" being a "tsunami of dialogue" was swiped from my friend Monty, who said it in an online discussion in late December, just after the Asian tsunami, when the reference was not just amusing, but inappropriate, too. It's one of the reasons we love Monty.

Of course I did use the title "The Fall of Television" once before, for another column, but it applied to this one so much better. See, I'm talking not just about the fall season, but also the "fall" (i.e., decline) of TV shows. Get it?

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