HBO's True Blood, which returns for its final season Sunday, is a prime example of a TV show that kept going long after it should have ended. It's not alone, though: Other shows have stayed too long at the party, including Dexter and Law & Order: SVU. Why is it that some shows stay on air well after they've run out of creative juice?
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This Sunday night, HBO's supernatural drama "True Blood" begins its seventh and final season.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUE BLOOD")
ANNA PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) Nobody in this town knows vampires better than me.
SIEGEL: The show's heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, and her vampire-fighting friends have created a huge hit for HBO. But for a while now, our TV critic Eric Deggans has not been impressed. Eric, you think "True Blood" should have left the air years ago?
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, you know, shows that have gone on long past their sell-by date suffer from a condition I like to call excessive hookup syndrome. Now, this is when writers pair up the main characters in a TV show in every conceivable romantic combination. And on "True Blood," Sookie Stackhouse has dated a 150-year-old vampire; she's dated another vampire who was his rival; she dated a guy who was half-vampire and half-fairy; and now she's dating a werewolf. So here we've got a clip from Sunday's show where Sookie, who is a fairy who can read minds, is fighting with her werewolf boyfriend after a vampire attack nearly destroyed their town.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRUE BLOOD")
PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) You're supposed to love me and support me. And even you are blaming me for this, blaming me for what's happened to this town. And blaming me for Arlene being missing.
JOE MANGANIELLO: (As Alcide Herveaux) No, I'm not.
PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) I read you thoughts.
MANGANIELLO: (As Alcide Herveaux) It ain't fair to judge me and push me away 'cause of something I thought.
PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) I know that, too.
MANGANIELLO: (As Alcide Herveaux) I love you.
PAQUIN: (As Sookie Stackhouse) You're not telling me anything I don't already know.
DEGGANS: Kind of hard to win an argument with a girlfriend who can read your mind.
SIEGEL: (Laughing) Yeah. She already knew. I have never seen "True Blood," but I gather this was once a very big deal for HBO, this show.
DEGGANS: Oh, yeah. "True Blood" was once seen as this really groundbreaking drama at HBO. And the story about vampires deciding to live publicly in a small Louisiana town had all kind of references to the struggle for gay people to live publicly against prejudice. But producers seemed to run out of things for the characters to do a few seasons ago, and then creator Alan Ball left the show.
SIEGEL: Now, I guess another show that would fit in this category is one that we've watched in my house for many years, "Law And Order: SVU." I can barely say it. We always call it SUV.
DEGGANS: (Laughing) Exactly. "Law And Order: SVU" has a different problem. Now, it has shown police officers acting so outlandishly that every season, the stuff they do just gets more and more unbelievable. Now, we got a clip showing lead character Olivia Benson. She's been kidnapped by a serial rapist, and she's turned the table on him. And she's threatening to shoot him in the head. It's overacting, an unreal situation - just one horrific glob of bad television.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT")
MARISKA HARGITAY: (As Olivia Benson) I want you dead. I want a bullet in your head.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That's it.
HARGITAY: (As Olivia Benson) I want you in the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Come on.
HARGITAY: (As Olivia Benson) Nobody will miss you. Nobody will mourn you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Just do it. Do it right now. Come on, while you're angry. Just shoot me.
DEGGANS: Now, this episode looks mostly like an excuse to tie up the star, Mariska Hargitay, for two-episodes worth of torture images. I mean, this is when you know a show has run out of gas, when their last bid for attention involves brutalizing their lead character.
SIEGEL: So why do shows like this stick around, as you would say, past their sell-by date?
DEGGANS: Well, one reason I think is 'cause fans can't stop watching them. You stay attached to the characters even when you know the stories they're featured in are terrible. And shows with a consistent audience are valuable. And it's tough to admit when a signature show lost its mojo. Showtime's "Dexter" helped define that network's approach to drama. But by the time it ended, after eight seasons, it was obvious producers had kind of run out of plotlines. Fans wanted to see how the show ended, but unfortunately it involves serial killer Dexter Morgan faking his death in Miami and working as a truck driver somewhere in Oregon.
SIEGEL: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.
DEGGANS: Glad to be here.
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.