We’ve almost made it to the end of the year — and the decade — which means, of course, that it’s time to reflect. While 2019 and the 2010s in general have been a period of great achievement for the televisual arts, even a medium at its peak can fall prey to bad habits. To that end, fellow TV fans, let’s take a look at the television trends that are no longer needed in the 2020s and beyond.
1) Franchise Creep
“Brand recognition” has long been a cornerstone of Hollywood’s idea-generation process. Viewers, the thinking goes, are far more willing to try something new if that “new” thing looks a lot like something they already love. Hence, once NBC’s Law & Order proved to be a stalwart ratings performer, the network launched five spinoffs between 1999 and 2017 (six, if you count the scuttled Law & Order: Hate Crimes).
It’s important to note, though, that only two of those spin-offs lasted more than one season (Criminal Intent, and SVU). And yet networks keep slapping well-known titles on bland, unoriginal procedurals in the cynical and lazy hope that viewers will blindly slurp it up. Twice, CBS tried to expand its grotesque Criminal Minds empire, but Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior (a.k.a. Criminal Minds at Quantico) and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (a.k.a. Criminal Minds Overseas) both failed to find an audience and sputtered out. And the lone CSI spin-off to launch this decade, CSI: Cyber, barely lasted two seasons.
Undeterred, CBS will launch FBI: Most Wanted — a spin-off of their solid-but-unremarkable performer FBI — next month. The original, created by Dick Wolf, centers on FBI agents who catch bad guys in New York; Most Wanted will follow FBI agents who catch bad guys on the run. In other relocation news, Fox is taking its hit first-responder drama 9-1-1 on the road in January with 9-1-1: Lone Star. Sadly, it’s not a remake of the network’s gone-too-soon James Wolk soap Lone Star — it is, as you’d expect, about first responders in Texas.
Of course, it’s not easy to come up with new ideas, and networks and studios are businesses — they want to minimize risk and maximize results. But surely even the most burned-out development exec can aim a little higher than “How about [established show name here], but in a different city?” If fans really love a show like FBI, how about going back to the old model of 25, 26, 27-episode seasons? That would give viewers more of what they like, while also leaving room to give new ideas (like, say, Evil) a 13-episode tryout.
2) Reboots and Revival Mania
It would be lunacy to suggest that the TV business should give up reboots and revivals cold turkey. After all, the practice has been around for at least half a century: in 1967, NBC revived its long-running cop drama Dragnet a full eight years after it was canceled. But if the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that very few reboots (same concept, new cast) and revivals (same cast, same concept) are truly worth the trouble. For every win (Twin Peaks: The Return; Will & Grace), there are at least half a dozen creative and/or ratings whiffs (Dallas, Heroes: Reborn, Charlie’s Angels, Prison Break, Lost in Space, Dynasty).
The networks have been particularly remake crazed the last two years, thanks in large part to the huge — but ultimately brief — success of ABC’s Roseanne revival. After the show returned in March of 2018 to a massive 18.2 million viewers, CBS plowed ahead with a new season of Murphy Brown, while Fox dug Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing out of the ABC graveyard and gave it a 22-episode order. And the headlines kept coming: A Designing Women reboot and a Northern Exposure revival from Sony TV; Bewitched in the works at ABC; a Punky Brewster revival from UCP. New streamers hungry for bankable content are also susceptible to reboot mania: HBO Max is working on another Gossip Girl, Quibi is developing an updated take on The Fugitive, and Peacock hopes to gift us with a Saved by the Bell revival sometime next year.
Is there any hope that the madness will end? The good news is the aforementioned shows are just in the development stage. After a strong start, the second coming of Will & Grace is winding down, and there’s also a decent chance that the spectacular failure of CBS’s Murphy Brown — which crapped out after one season — will put a damper on similarly unnecessary network revivals. And sometimes common sense prevails: A proposed ALF reboot from Warner Bros. died after failing to find a buyer.
3) The This is Us Effect
In a remarkable show of restraint, network television waited two whole years to rip off NBC’s This is Us, which became an instant hit when it premiered in 2016. The first copycat contender was ABC’s A Million Little Things — about a group of friends who are rocked by an unexpected death — which the network billed as an “emotional mystery.” Though the show earned a second season, if the comments on EW’s recaps are any indication, viewers are running out of patience with its cloying melodrama.
Somehow, NBC managed to come up with an even more annoying This is Us rip-off called The Village. Everything about this one-and-done drama was laughable, from its ultra-corny tagline (“Love is the thread that connects us all”) to its premise, built around a bunch of neighbors in a Brooklyn apartment building who socialize with each other by choice. (Had any of the writers ever been to Brooklyn? Or an apartment building?)
The most galling This is Us wannabe comes from Fox. Almost Family centers on an only child who discovers that her dad, a famous fertility doctor, secretly used his “material” to impregnate over 100 patients. While the show wants to be a heartwarming drama about how we’re all connected, it plays more like a reproductive horror film.
Please, TV Gods, stop trying to make another This is Us happen. It’s not going to happen. The NBC drama broke through the broadcast clutter because it did something viewers hadn’t seen before, and by now we’ve seen enough “emotional mysteries” to last us at least another decade.
4) Endings That Aren’t
Controversial opinion alert: Some shows should end after one season. Period. And that goes double for shows that were originally conceived as limited series because the story they were telling had a clear beginning, middle, and end.
From day one, HBO sold Big Little Lies as a limited series, which made sense given the caliber of talent involved. And it was a thrill to see Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Reese Witherspoon together on screen. By the end of the seven-episode season, however, the story laid out in Liane Moriarty’s book was all but exhausted. Rather than developing a new project for the actresses — this is what anthologies are for, ladies! — HBO delivered a second season that was ultimately a rehash. Sure, that courtroom showdown between Kidman and Meryl Streep was weirdly mesmerizing, but I’d much rather see the ensemble bring a new narrative to life.
TV seems to have forgotten that it’s okay for stories to end. Killing Eve’s brilliant first season built up to an ideal series finale… until it copped out at the last minute. That might’ve been okay if Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Eve’s visionary creator and showrunner, was able to stick around for future seasons — but she moved on to other projects, and Eve’s second season took a steep dive in quality as a result. Netflix’s adaptation of Charles Forsman’s graphic novel The End of the F***ing World changed the ending so that teenage runaways Alyssa and James could keep on running. Unfortunately, those 10 additional episodes only served to diminish the power of their original story.
More often than not, attempting to extend a show’s life beyond the limits of its story results in diminishing returns—both creatively and in the ratings. And Lord knows there’s too much to watch already; according to The Hollywood Reporter, 322 scripted shows premiered in the first half of 2019 alone. A humble request from overwhelmed viewers everywhere: If you’re going to give us more of something, please make sure it’s worth it.
5) Christmas Movie Overkill
When does holiday cheer start to feel like a hostage situation? Lifetime, Hallmark Channel, Netflix, and several other networks will air 105 new Christmas movies between October and December of this year. It would take you nearly nine full days to watch them all back to back — and that’s just the new ones! Providing cheesy-sweet holiday comfort food has been big business for basic cable for years, beginning in 1996 when The Family Channel (now Freeform) launched its annual 25 Days of Christmas marathon. Over the last few years, though, this seasonal treat has transformed into an all-out arms race of festivity, with Lifetime (30 movies this year) and Hallmark (40 movies) battling it out for holiday supremacy.
There are only 24 hours in the day, even for the most dedicated Christmas movie fan. More importantly, there are only so many interesting story ideas. As it is, every mass-produced holiday film today follows a pretty standard blueprint (man and woman hate each other, then fall in love) — there are only about six different plot variations to choose from (holiday homecoming drama, stranded in a snowstorm, rekindling old flames, etc.). These movies are so formulaic, they’re starting to make holiday movies about formulaic holiday movies (see: UPtv’s A Christmas Movie Christmas).
Seriously guys, even comfort food will make you sick if you eat too many helpings. If we could reduce the number of movies to double digits in 2020, I’ll consider it a Christmas miracle.