The End of ‘Scandal’ and the Awkward Matter of TV Shows That Overstay Their Welcome at the Party

The impending final episode of Scandal, high-octane though it no doubt will be, reminds me of an odd truth about television series: For every one that ends too soon, there’s another one that stays too long.

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Scandal, which will have run 124 episodes when the Gladiators wrap it all up Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC, was good fun for a while.

But a couple of season ago it just plumb wore me out.

Too many remarkably glib double-time conversations. Too many egregious crimes that some slippery mastermind got away with, because somehow, mysteriously, no one seemed to notice or care. Too many people who seemed to be dead who weren’t. Too many cartoonish plot twists.

The time when Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope was kidnapped to be auctioned off to the highest bidder on the Dark Web comes to mind.

Too many characters also bounced too easily between good guy and bad guy. Come to think of it, that probably describes every character on the show except possibly Olivia’s Dad Eli (Joe Morton), whose heart never rose above the temperature of a cold beer.

I understand that for fans of Scandal and its creator Shonda Rhimes, what I’m saying doesn’t spell miscalculation. It spells mission accomplished.

Rhimes said all along that her guiding principle for Scandal was “Too Much Is Not Enough.” When a writer came up with a sufficiently outrageous idea, she told TV writers a couple of years ago, she never responded by saying, “Great, let’s build up to that.” She’d use it immediately, confident something even more outrageous would pop up for next week.

As a philosophy, it has worked. Scandal was the hottest thing on TV for a while, which doubtless is one reason Netflix recently backed up the money truck to lure Rhimes away from ABC.

Good for her. For me, I’m just saying Scandal isn’t the first or last show that reached some wild-and-crazy peak and left viewers exhausted or deflated while it tried to find a compelling followup.

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Desperate Housewives comes to mind. More immediately we have The Walking Dead, whose audience plummeted after the evil Negan dramatically bashed in the skulls of two characters we really liked. It was a high-adrenalin moment, but while the show tried to figure out what to do next, a lot of viewers took a walk.

For some, I suspect, it was like with me and Scandal. We dated. It’s over.

That said, and to my original broader point, I can name a fistful of cancelled TV shows that I badly miss, that were terminated just as our relationship was warming up.

Recently that includes The Halcyon and Mercy Street. Going back a bit, I’m still annoyed about not getting the fourth season of Deadwood, especially because the reason was the moronic John From Cincinnati.

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I’d love to have seen more I’ll Fly Away and Remember WENN. Another season or two of Ed, Make It Or Break It, FlashForward, Faking It, Rubicon and Friday Night Lights would have made me very happy.

We all have our own version of that list.

At the same time we all have shows we stopped watching, most often because we felt like we’d seen and heard all they had to say.

That includes shows as revered as ER, Friends, Lost, All in the Family and The Sopranos, which by the end was running on fumes.

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My wife says that she’d be happy if The West Wing had stayed on the air forever, and I’d still be watching it with her if it had. I’m not sure that means it could have stayed at the level that made us love it in the first place.

That’s why, every time I think how much I miss Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey or Boardwalk Empire, I’m consoled because pretty much all my memories are good.

Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse? Maybe.

I suspect it’s just better to leave the stage when the audience wants one more song than to keep singing until they wanted one fewer.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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