The vast majority of television shows don't make it very far. Networks
order dozens of new series every year, launch the most promising ones in the fall... and almost immediately begin cancelling ones that don't live up to expectations, replacing them with the shows that didn't make the first string of launches
, in the hope of eventually getting a schedule of hits. The network model simply isn't generous to shows that don't get off to a healthy start.
But for all the dozens of shows that fail in their first year, there are a few that survive this initial culling, complete their first season, and are renewed for a second. Smooth sailing from now on, right?
Well...not always. Sometimes nobody expected the show to make it
, and so the writers and producers pulled out all the stops in the first year
, leaving nothing to work with for the next season
. Sometimes a show with a novel concept inspires imitators
that either pull off the gimmick more skillfully, or are so ubiquitious
that viewers become bored
with both the original and the knockoffs. Sometimes Executive Meddling
is to blame, especially if the second season coincides with a change in network leadership. Sometimes there's no clear cause at all; the show simply ran out of steam, and Seasonal Rot
kicked in early. And perhaps most common of all, maybe the network just didn't want to commit to two more seasons of the show. Yes, two more seasons. Very, very few American broadcast network shows are canceled after their third season because a show usually needs about 4 seasons' worth of episodes in order to be viable for off-network syndication
, which for producers is often where the real money is. So, if a network looks like it might be thinking about canceling a show after its third season, the studio that produces that show will usually offer the network some sort of incentive to keep it on the air for long enough to reach syndication; as a result, when network programming executives decide whether or not to renew second-season shows, they often do so based on whether they can see having that show on their schedules for another 2 seasons.
In any case, there are a lot of shows that successfully make it through a first season, only to fall victim to a Sophomore Slump
and get canceled by the end of a disappointing second season. In the end, these shows are Short Runners
Note: This only applies to shows that end after their second season. If the show is believed to have declined in quality during the second season, but nevertheless continues for a third season or beyond, that would be a case of Sophomore Slump
(if the show improves with its third season), or Jumping the Shark
(if despite a third and/or additional seasons, the show does not improve in quality over the second). If quality varies during different seasons, you're dealing with Seasonal Rot
Compare Jumping the Shark
. Contrast Long Runners
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- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has a first season bearing arguably some of the greatest pieces of Marvel-adapted animation. In contrast, the second season suffers from having more filler than the first, especially after Jeph Loeb and Man of Action Studios came on as executive producer and creative consultants, respectively. They created so much filler, that subplots the original writers set up earlier went unresolved and/or unexplored by the time the show ended. Their run also saw most of the Avengers get pushed Out of Focus, and Out of Character Moments become more frequent. Plus, the animation in this season sometimes seems cheaper, and the awesome theme song permanently got ditched in favor of recaps of old episodes and a promo for the Avengers movie. The show's low ratings among the target demographic, at least compared to the Periphery Demographic, prevented the green-lighting of a third season.
- The Incredible Hulk: The Animated Series was a dark cartoon — its protagonist was a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, always on the run, attacked from all sides by hero and villain alike. The Hulk is alone. This trope comes along in season 2, and the earlier introduced character of She-Hulk is now in every episode, making it far more Lighter and Softer. Regular teamups with other heroes became a thing, and Hulk wasn't an outcast. This sudden shift in the series' tone led to a swift cancellation.
- Legion of Super Heroes was heavily retooled due to Executive Meddling in its second season, which ended up being its last.
- Sonic Sat AM, though this was more due to the simultaneous cancelation of all of ABC's then-current lineup in favor of original programming than the actual quality of the writing.
- The most prominent reason why Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? never lasted long was because Cartoon Network SOMEHOW thought it was a good idea to air the episode premieres of the second season at 10:30 p.m. and the only other reruns being on Sunday at 4 p.m. Great move, Cartoon Network. REAL great move.
- CBS originally aired The Good Guys, Bob Denver's first series following Gilligan's Island, on Wednesdays during the 1968-1969 season. The fall of 1969 saw the series moved to the Friday Night Death Slot against The Brady Bunch, and The Good Guys disappeared in January 1970.
- Room For Two, an ABC mid-season replacement in 1992, overperformed in its short first season, ending as one of the top 20 shows on network television. Its second season saw its ratings plummet, though.
- The Ropers, a spin-off of Three's Company, did great as a six-episode tryout on Tuesday nights following its parent show. But once it was moved to Saturday nights for Season 2, the ratings fell and the show limped through the year.
- Time Gentlemen Please, Al Murray's sitcom, got a second season, and was so poorly received that neither full series was released on DVD until 2009.
- I'm Alan Partridge (Series 2) basically killed the series until it was revived a decade later. The second went overboard on the sitcommy elements, particularly Alan's Ukrainian girlfriend Sonja, and whilst the first one could have you feeling sorry for Alan, the second made him wholly self-centered and unlikeable. The travel tavern in the first series was a much better setting than the caravan, because it allowed Alan to interact with more characters. The second series is certainly watchable, just a step down.
- Bracken's World had so bad a first season (1969-1970) that NBC had to change it significantly. Nothing helped — not even with the addition of Leslie Nielsen — and by the end of 1970 the series was history.
- CBS' expensive Prime Time Soap Central Park West was heavily retooled after an under-performing Season 1, missing half the original cast. The retooling only alienated the show's dwindling fanbase, and it was canned at the end of Season 2.
- Dark Angel
- Joss Whedon's Dollhouse survived its first season but was cancelled at the end of its second. Fans love to argue over whether or not Fox really felt the show deserved a second season, or were just trying to avoid a repeat of the situation with Firefly.
- Human Target.
- Joan of Arcadia, thanks to heavy Executive Meddling to make it more marketable to teens, eliminating the premise of Joan rescuing lives and helping her father solve crimes, and centering it around high school drama.
- She Spies started off as a successful Affectionate Parody of the whole Spy Fiction genre (it originally had a production team consisting of veterans of Moonlighting, and made similar use of Fourth Wall abuse.) In the second season, the production company changed (to the company that produced Baywatch,) and the show underwent a massive retooling (the only things that remained were the three lead actresses and the general Boxed Crook premise.) The tone shifted from light-hearted parody to straight drama, it became much more of a lukewarm retread of Charlie's Angels, and was cancelled.
- Smash was already a victim of deteriorating ratings and Snark Bait (the term "Hate Watching" was popularized by this show) during its first season. NBC fired creator Theresa Rebeck, replaced her with the show runner from Gossip Girl, and heavily retooled the cast, ditching most of the more infamous scrappies. However, the network also stranded it on Tuesdays in between cycles of The Voice, where its lead-in was the incredibly weak rookie comedy The New Normal. Smash predictably collapsed further in the ratings, and continued to be Snark Bait with critics, but without the same level of cultural awareness from the first season (when it aired behind The Voice). NBC eventually banished it to Saturdays partway through its second season to quietly dispose of what was once believed to be their future franchise drama.
- Touch is similar to previous Fox series Dollhouse in that it only got two half-length seasons of 13 episodes each, with one first-season episode not even airing during the regular season (it was aired as a bonus in September 2012, six weeks before the intended second-season premiere). Weak ratings for the bonus episode were probably the reason why Fox chose instead to postpone the premiere for nearly four months until it could take over the Friday Night Death Slot following the ending of Fringe, and the new season's ratings were just about as poor as those of Fringe - a huge shocker, considering it had the strongest debut of Fox's four freshman series of 2011-12. Unlike Fringe, however, Touch sadly didn't have the benefit of a large and devoted fanbase to keep it alive, even with the Darker and Edgier, more Myth Arc-oriented turn the second season took.
- Twin Peaks. David Lynch explicitly stated that he never wanted to bring the Laura Palmer story to a close, preferring to use it as a frame for the sub-plots and span it over several seasons, but ABC didn't think the audience would stick around. As a result, her killer was revealed halfway through Season 2 and the show became nothing but sub-plots. Lynch justifiably backed mostly out of its production to continue with his film career, directing only a few episodes with others directed by filmmakers of various skill levels.