The other day we finished watching the 3-season show "Arrested Development" on Netflix, which I had last seen when it was on the air half a decade ago. This clever and untraditional sitcom had become a cult favorite among die-hard fans, but never picked up a strong enough following and was eventually cancelled due to low ratings. It's not hard to figure out why the ratings were so poor--unlike a lot of shows, the "Arrested" episodes don't really stand alone, and it takes a few episodes to "get" the characters and understand the references to recurring issues from earlier shows. Still, there was quite an outcry when the show was cancelled, though, and a lot of fans had hoped some other channel would pick it up (as FX did for "It's Always Sunny" after that show was cancelled on Fox).
Though the third (and final) season of "Arrested" was excellent, I'm not so sure additional seasosn would have been a good thing. Generally, a series goes through the following steps:
1) First season--a bit dry, showing some promise, but characters not fully fleshed out yet. See, Seinfeld, Simpsons.
2) Second season--gaining a strong following, finding its rhythm, great episodes with fresh ideas. Characters now finding their groove.
3) Third season--now strong, with best writers brought on board, characters hitting on all cyllinders, the best shows coming out here.
4) Fourth season--still pretty good, but showing some wear. Some good episodes, but a number of "filler" ones, and characters starting to get "cheered" by the studio audience just for stepping into the room (see, Seinfeld, with Kramer). Worth watching, but the signs of decline are there.
5) Fifth season--show is beginning to coast, writers getting lazy, episodes resorting to gimmicks such as "visits to strange lands" and "new characters" and "characters having sex with each other" and "ooh, a baby!" Also, this is where original characters begin leaving the show. The viewer doesn't feel too bad missing some of these episodes.
7) Sixth season--show is in obvious decline. Episodes become painful to watch, as you see the once-great show no longer entertaining, and you see characters you used to love become insipid. Nerds start discussing when exactly the show "jumped the shark" but it's pretty clear that the shark has been jumped a while ago. Viewers tune out now.
8) Seventh season--absolute crap, cancellation threatened.
Now, some shows work off a different timeline--the Simpsons, for example, hit their stride by the second season and took many more than three seasons to show signs of laziness and decline. And, even today, the show can put out some solid episodes, and even their weaker ones can stand up to much of what's on TV today (and they're on a mind-blowing 21st season). But most shows do fall into that pattern, and I'll prefer to remember "Arrested Development" as one that ended at its peak rather than slid down the hole of crap.