I recently watched the last season of How I met your mother, and without giving anything away, I found it a bit anticlimactic. Not that I was expecting to be blown away, because it’s been so long since I actually laughed at something on that show that I cannot actually pinpoint after which season it stopped being funny. I seem to recall that the first two or three seasons were really funny, but who knows.
In my mind, the producers of How I met your mother made two mistakes that ruined the show for me. The first was the name of the show. Thinking back, the show could have been just as successful without making it a story about how Ted met his wife, since that actually has very little to do with what goes on from one episode to the next. Ted could still have been searching for true love, but the producers didn’t need to create an expectation that we would meet this one specific mystery woman at some point. This brings me to the second and biggest mistake they made, which was to let the series run for nine seasons. I’m not saying producers shouldn’t do that, but in this case it was not appropriate, because they chose a central story telling mechanic that doesn’t lend itself to endless seasons. More than that though, they ran out of funny content, and the right time to end the series would be before your show becomes a complete grind. As a result, when I think back about this series, I”ll always have negative memories about it.
Compare this to Friends, a series which is considered by many to be the defining sitcom, and one that I still consider to be hilarious even a decade after the series ended. The producers did not promise the resolution of some overarching plot element at the beginning of the series, by calling it How Ross and Rachel eventually wound up together. It was just a story about six people living in New York, which is perfectly appropriate for a sitcom. Also, even though the series ran for ten seasons, this didn’t ruin it because it was funny for ten seasons. If they had continued for another ten perhaps I would not have had such fond memories of it.
This phenomenon of producers dragging a series out is part of something that I am going to call franchise-syndrome. Franchise-syndrome primarily affects money-hungry producers and publishers, that have realized they’ve stumbled onto something potentially lucrative. The primary side effect of franchise-syndrome is that it causes these individuals to undermine creativity and progress by riding an original concept until everyone that found it interesting has forgotten why they enjoyed it in the first place. It’s like telling a funny joke over and over again, until it stops being funny and starts being annoying.
How I met your mother certainly isn’t the only culprit. Lost and Prison Break are just as guilty, among many others. I’m not sure how either of those series ended, because I lost interest and couldn’t be bothered to see them through until the end. There was nothing wrong with Prison Break‘s plot, but the producers should have realized that the plot came with a time limit. This is particularly true of series which have quite serious narratives and are primarily driven by plot. I understand that these producers want to make use of the audience that they’ve built up, but the best way of doing this is by rewarding the audience with content that is fresh and original, and sometimes that means starting a new series.
If Prison Break ended after one season, and I saw a trailer of a new series from “The producers of Prison Break”, there is no way that I would miss that pilot episode. As it stands though, I would probably purposefully not watch any new series from these producers in the future, in order to avoid wasting my life on another series that will only reach it’s conclusion long after it stopped being interesting.