When to Turn off the Tap, and End a Television Show

If you’re human, you’ll probably be familiar with the concept of things coming to an end. It’s the law to which all things abide, including television shows. With the news that Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ has been commissioned for a third series and BBC 3’s comedy ‘This Country’ will be ending after their third series, the question has arisen: when should television series be ended?

There are certain series that have been canonised for many, and arguably one factor in their being mythologised is when they were ended. The reverence with which shows such as ‘The Office’ and ‘Seinfeld’ are somewhat the product of them ending at the peak of their popularity. Ending after only two six-episode seasons, ‘The Office’ has become one of the most successful sitcoms of all time and has set the precedent which much British TV comedy follows. The creators of ‘The Office’, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, explain that their decision to end the show was because of their fear of diluting the quality. One could almost say the ending of ‘The Office’ was an artistic decision.

Excluding ending a series based on compromising its quality, there are a myriad of factors as to why shows end. A network cancels shows for reasons such as poor ratings or high costs, the writers feeling what they wanted to achieve has been achieved, an irreplaceable cast member leaving or simply that it has gone on too long and exhausted the storylines. A TV-lover could name many series that have ended because of these factors and some more that should have ended for similar reasons.

Trying to understand and pinpoint when the perfect time to end a TV series is, is similar to understanding what makes a TV series successful in the first place. Both have a mysterious quality and a standard formula for success cannot be applied. Oftentimes the question of “when should this show finish?” is followed by “well, what type of show is it?”. American TV shows become almost like institutions, with writers’ rooms packed with people churning out storylines and character developments. In this set-up, a show could run and run. One sees it in Mad Men for example, a hugely successful drama series which lasts for seven seasons over eight years; there seems to be a carousel of writers for each season, not every episode is written by the same people. Perhaps this is what allows a series to last such a long time. When compared with This Country, the differences are obvious, and thus so must its longevity be. Daisy and Charlie Cooper (writers of the comedy) have admittedly constructed the characters and storylines from events that have happened to them in their real lives. The constraints are, therefore, clear.

Some shows, because of their format, have the ability to run for years, even decades. Take The Simpsons or South Park. These shows have important satirical elements, meaning they can comment on real-time events within the plot of the fictional world in which the characters live. The same could not be done with Sex Education, for example.

Nobody wants to hear it but Sex Education will, someday, end. There are only so many scenes of masturbatory embarrassment writers can come up with. For the writers of any show, the quality should come first. We can all name good shows gone bad; this happens when the original integrity of the show fades away and is replaced by flogging a dead horse for that TV money. Writers must be like thermometers, always testing the temperature of their show. Far too often, great TV turns cold and stale.

Image Credit: Netflix