Breaking Up With a Show

The winter television hiatus might also have you questioning whether or not you’ll return to a show. My students discussed their media breakups last semester and came up with a comprehensive list of what makes them want to leave a show. These are reasons a television show/viewer relationship may go stale:

1. No Carrot to Chase: You aren’t seeing much suspense in the show. Some common suspense busters are life changes, including characters’ marriages and the introduction of a baby. Grey’s Anatomy seems to be in this territory. He picked you, he chose you, he loves you. Done.

2. Genre Violation: A show changes from its original winning formula. The primary example my students gave was Glee’s switch from cynical musical to musical musical. In their opinion, it lost some of its snarky, interesting commentary.

3. Gimicks: You know a show has jumped the shark when it’s focusing less on its stock characters and winning formula. Instead, it’s including more gimmicks (like a leather-jacket clad water skier jumping over a shark) or guest stars. Roseanne’s final season is the epitome for me.

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4. Chaos: Some shows scramble too hard to maintain their audience by introducing many outlandish plot ideas. My students were particularly troubled by the chaos on Nip Tuck, Weeds, and (un-ironically) Sons of Anarchy. Lost’s directionlessness would also fit here.

5. Temporal Gap: Life changes can lead to relationship dissolution. The same holds true for television shows that skip ahead to new life situations (e.g. the One Tree Hill gang heading off to college).

6. New Actors: Two Darrins, two Beckys, two Aunt Vivs, and viewers are not fooled. Substituting actors instead of changing characters is often tough for viewers to take.

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Unfortunately, The Office has many of these characteristics. I’ve got no carrot to chase now that Pam and Jim are married with children, no Michael Scott to cringe at, and many gimmicky episodes that lack the show’s initial charm (head lice, anyone?).

In her analysis of cult texts, Sarah Gwennlian-Jones writes of a need to “diminish the threat of an unwelcome cognitive collapse into recognition of impossibilities–a collapse that would demolish immersive experience of the fictional world” (94). Many of the reasons viewers break up with their shows can be traced to no longer suspending their disbelief. Without the suspension of disbelief, immersion and enjoyment decrease. Is it possible that The Office’s gimmicks and chaos make it harder for me to believe that someone like Dwight Schrute could exist? Does this mean I should cancel my trip to Schrute Farms?

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