Desperate last-ditch efforts to keep shows interesting

When a once-beloved TV show starts showing its age and viewers start showing their boredom by clicking to something else, the show has two choices: bow out gracefully or change everything about itself in an attempt to win back the fickle masses. Typically, the latter approach fails miserably, but that hasn't stopped many a show from trying.

'That '70s Show'

When a show's most popular characters start to leave, that's usually a sign the show needs to wind down. But for some reason, That '70s Show chose to weather the departure of Ashton Kutcher (Kelso) and Topher Grace (Eric) and keep on keeping on. But rather than focus on the remaining characters, they chose to gift us a brand new friend. For what ended up being the final season, they invented Randy, a new member of the tribe who resonated with basically nobody, yet was promoted as a big honkin' deal, not to mention Donna's new crush.

As the Washington Post pointed out, there was just nothing interesting about Randy. He wasn't developed enough as a character to make us care about him, and Josh "Not Seth" Meyers simply couldn't breathe any real life into the guy. Poor Randy wasn't even featured in the series finale, in favor of cameo appearances from both Kelso and Eric. For once, the show got it right: if you're going to say goodbye, do so with the people you've known and loved the longest.

'Will & Grace'

Some shows try to save themselves with new characters or wacky plot twists. Will and Grace, meanwhile, tried to spice up a dying show by turning into the next Love Boat: less a show than a parade of washed-up guest stars who are literally only there because they said "yes" to the paycheck.

As the New York Post explained, by Will & Grace was starting to fall apart by Season 6. To cover for this, the show trotted out guest star after guest star. For the most part, these weren't A-list celebrities at the top of their game, but rather falling stars who were hoping a guest stint on a beloved sitcom might stop their career from bleeding. And so, we got Janet Jackson, Demi Moore, Cher, Woody Harrelson, and others who really needed a boost at the time. As John Hein, the creator of the website Jump The Shark, put it, "The show really has turned into the land of very special guest stars." The problem was twofold: many of these stars weren't who people wanted to see at the time, plus there were simply too many of them, so viewers quickly stopped caring. To paraphrase The Incredibles, when everyone is special, nobody is.

Will & Grace limped on for a couple more seasons before finally getting axed in 2006. Amazingly, over ten years later, it's been picked up for two new seasons starting in September 2017. Hopefully this time, they leave the "special guest stars" at home.

'The Flintstones'

It's sometimes hard to remember, but The Flintstones was once a weekly sitcom, with seasons and everything. And like every sitcom, it eventually ran its course. According to TV Series Finale, viewership dropped significantly by Season 6 and the show was desperate to regain some luster. It did so by introducing a new character, but not just another caveman or anything — no, we got the Great Gazoo, who turned out to be anything but great.

For those lucky enough to have missed the 11 episodes he appeared in, Gazoo was a little green alien banished to Earth by his people. Most Earthlings couldn't see him, except for Fred and Barney because … plot. He could make anything appear out of thin air but was most known for insulting his new cavebuddies incessantly, mostly by constantly calling them dum-dums. Unfortunately for the show, a magical being from another planet was simply too unrealistic, even for a show that featured elephants as vacuum cleaners, pterodactyls as record player needles, and Neanderthals speaking perfect English. The show was canceled after the sixth season, and Gazoo was rarely brought out of the mothballs again … until 2000's Viva Rock Vegas movie, where a live-action Gazoo wound up being the creepiest thing humanity has ever produced.

'Family Matters'

Urkel was part of Family Matters since midway through the first season, and he was pretty weird almost from the start. Not just weird in the "he talks funny and breaks everything" sense, but more "this guy is creating science fiction in an otherwise mundane family sitcom." But while Urkel was doing sci-fi stuff early on in the show, like inventing an Urkel-Bot and a potion that turned him into a suave ladies' man, the last couple seasons — when the show was starting to die — really amped up the ludicrous.

As The Robot's Pajamas pointed out, most of Urkel's craziest, least realistic story arcs happened in the show's final three seasons. For example, in one episode, he manages to shrink himself and Carl down to 2 inches tall. He later creates a cloning machine, and his crush, Laura (who is not a scientist), somehow changes one of them into a suave, ladies' man alter-ego of Steve. Still later, he invents a teleporter that takes the entire family to Paris. Or how about the time he invented an actual time machine and traveled to the era of the pirates? Or went into space? All this, mind you, was accompanied by normal sitcom subplots like "Laura borrows her mom's earrings for a party and then loses them." Neither side of Family Matters made viewers happy by that point, and the show ultimately disappeared like Judy Winslow.

'Two and a Half Men'

Like That '70s Show, Two And A Half Men attempted to survive losing its main characters, and ultimately failed miserably. After Charlie Sheen got injected with a dangerously high dose of tiger blood, he was replaced by, of all people, Ashton Kutcher. But that's nothing compared to how they handled the departure of Angus Jones, who played the half-man, Jake.

In the Season 11 premiere, we were introduced to Jenny, who turns out to be the daughter of Charlie Sheen's character (also named Charlie, helpfully enough). And obviously, as TV Guide puts it, "the apple definitely doesn't fall far from the tree." Charlie was a debauched alcoholic whose favorite pastime was sleeping with beautiful women. Jenny, on the other hand, was a debauched alcoholic whose favorite pastime with sleeping with beautiful women. Yes, they completely copied the character, as if to tell viewers "if you can't have Regular Charlie Sheen, then perhaps you'll like Pretty Charlie Sheen." Sadly, by that point the magic was completely gone, and Two Guys And A Girl went bye-bye, even killing a Charlie Sheen stand-in during the finale. If you're going to go out, go out swinging.

'The X-Files'

Just because a show jokingly admits to jumping the shark doesn't mean it hasn't. Case in point: The X-Files, in which an episode actually titled "Jump the Shark" proceeded to do just that.

The cracks were starting to show in X-Files by Season 9 in 2002. It had lost David Duchovny and had no real hope of recovering. So, as recapped by Salon, it did something truly unexpected, mainly because it wasn't very intelligent at all. The Lone Gunmen, the show's popular trio of conspiracy theorists and hackers, appeared for the first time since their spinoff show (also called The Lone Gunmen) got canceled. Fox celebrated their return by promptly killing them off, during an attempt to foil a bioterrorist's plot. They called the episode "Jump the Shark," by the way, because the storyline involved bioweapons that would be released via shark organs. In other words, not only were these popular characters killed off, and not only were they killed during a random monster-of-the-week episode, they were killed during a really dumb one.

This attention-grabbing move didn't help the show any, and X-Files's ninth season became its last until 2016, when it was revived for a six-episode tenth season. The Lone Gunmen remain dead, though they could've easily been retconned back; what if the dead ones from before were really just aliens in disguise?

'Robin Hood'

Every show has a core group of characters that the show can't really live without. In the case of Robin Hood, it's awfully hard to tell the outlaw's tale without his love interest, Maid Marian, there from start to finish. But guess what the BBC chose to do anyway. Yep, they killed Maid Marian.

At the end of the second season, in an attempt to spice things up, the villainous Guy of Gisborne stabbed Marian straight through the stomach with a sword. She survived long enough for an impromptu marriage to Robin, though! They're pronounced man and wife, then she pulls out the sword and promptly dies. Also, bonus, this came during the Christmas episode because apparently Brits go all in to make their viewers sad. Most of those viewers never felt jolly toward the show ever again; ratings dropped even further in the third season, and the show got the big boot. That's when it became clear that killing Maid Marian was just a half-measure. These Brits went all all in and killed off Robin Hood himself in the series finale. While he did take the Sheriff of Nottingham with him, this can really only be described as a very gutsy televised scorched-earth.

'Roseanne'

For seven seasons, Roseanne was a super-realistic portrayal of a typical middle-class, blue-collar family. Then came Season 8, when the show dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time since it debuted, according to Uproxx. With that ratings freefall (and Roseanne's fear of losing fame, according to her New York Magazine article), came plot changes. At the end of Season 8, John Goodman's character, Dan, has a heart attack. That's pretty left-field, but it at least made sense. He wasn't the healthiest of horses.

But with Season 9, anything sensible went right out the window. Dan recovered from his heart attack, and the family was now super-rich, having won $108 million in the lottery. This begat a season filled with wacky, absurdist adventures including a spot on Jerry Springer, Jackie dating a prince, Roseanne fighting terrorists with Steven Seagal, Roseanne becoming a pro wrestler, Dan's mom trying to murder him, and other typical slices of blue-collar life. Roseanne's Wacky Adventures proved unpopular with viewers, and the show ended on perhaps the laziest plot twist ever: Season 9 was fictional. Dan actually died of his heart attack, so Roseanne, the character, coped by writing a book and inventing a bunch of weird stuff.

Lesson? If you want to keep your show on the air, don't do anything Roseanne Season 9 did.

'Mork and Mindy'

Mork and Mindy was a huge success for its first couple seasons, but like most gimmick shows, the "wacky alien doesn't fully get Earth" gimmick wore thin after a while. In fact, according to io9, by the time Season 3 had wrapped, ABC was contemplating ending the show outright. They would only allow the show to continue if it changed virtually everything. And so, with the choices being "work" or "no work," Mork and Mindy changed a ton. Most notably, the pair got married and conceived a child. But because this was a wacky alien comedy, Mork got pregnant, not Mindy. Also, he laid an egg about three times his size and hatched an old man. Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams' real-life comedy mentor, played the pair's baby boy, with the explanation being that Mork's race ages backward. Clearly, Mindy's genes were super-recessive.

This visually amusing stunt worked well enough to get the show through a fourth season, but it wasn't enough to secure anything after that. After a year of old-baby shenanigans failed to tick the ratings significantly, ABC told Mork and Mindy to nanu nascrew, canceling the show outright. Sadly, we never did get to see Jonathan Winters become a man before our very eyes.

'The Cosby Show'

Cousin Oliver syndrome refers to anytime a TV show tries to gain back lost viewers by adding a cute kid to the roster. This rarely works and, in the case of The Brady Bunch's adding Cousin Oliver, it resulted in the show's rapid demise. You can say the same thing for a less talked-about example of Cousin Oliver syndrome: Olivia from The Cosby Show.

By Season 6, The Cosby Show was beginning to show its age. As told by Caseen Gaines's book A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic, many of the show's children had long grown up, leaving it with a distinct lack of youth and cuteness. And so Olivia, the 4-year-old stepdaughter of Denise (one of the grown Cosby Show kids) suddenly joined the fray. Cute as she was when making sassy faces or lip-syncing old blues tunes, many viewers saw right through the character. The show tried to extend its life by bowling people over with precociousness and adorableness. It didn't work, and The Cosby Show ended after Season 8. Olivia's actress, Raven-Symone, gained far more success when she got her own not-at-all-gimmicky show about how she could see the future. Nice.