Mr. TV: Enough Is Enough

It boggles my mind that a new season of sitcom Scrubs is kicking off on ABC tomorrow at 9 p.m. with not one, but two episodes.

After eight long years (the first seven on NBC), the veteran sitcom shifts from the hospital to a med school setting with only Donald Faison and John C. McGinley returning as regular cast members. Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke and others from the overrated comedy will make occasional guest appearances.

Does anyone really think changing settings will rejuvenate this dead-as-a-doornail sitcom? Other than clan Douglas moving from the Midwest to Southern California on family sitcom My Three Sons, my answer is no.

While I commend Scrubs for trying something new, don’t be fooled. The series was never a ratings hit, even when it aired between Friends and Will & Grace from 2002 to ’04. One former NBC exec, in fact, actually verbally threatened me when I failed to list Scrubs on The Programming Insider as a “winner.” “You better watch your step,” he yelled just as the phone was angrily slammed in my ear. We haven’t spoken since.

I started to worry that my co-workers would find me slumped over my desk with a knife in my back one Friday morning. I mean, God forbid if Mr. TV calls it like he sees it. While I understand that ABC is keeping Scrubs alive because it produces it in-house and can potentially make money in off-network, enough is enough already.

There are other examples of shows that out-stayed their welcome. Legendary All in the Family, which morphed into Archie Bunker’s Place, moved the main setting into Archie’s local pub and killed off beloved Edith after one retooled season (actress Jean Stapleton was tired of playing the role). Legendary characters like “Dingbat,” “Meathead” and Archie’s “little goil” were replaced with the likes of forgettable Murray Klein, Billie Bunker and Gary Rabinowitz. Murray who? Billie who? Gary Rabinowhat? As Jo Anne Worley on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In would squawk, “borrrring.”

Another Norman Lear sitcom, Sanford and Son, was also revamped. For five-and-a-half seasons, the chart-topping sitcom featured Redd Foxx as an elderly, crusty junk dealer living with Demond Wilson as his level-headed son and partner. But when the two actors left in the spring of 1977, the producers came up with one of the worst ideas in TV history: to turn the junkyard into a hotel (I’m not kidding), christening it The Sanford Arms. Five episodes into its run the show was mercifully put out of its misery.

The 1970s also, of course, introduced us to those working class underdogs, Laverne & Shirley, who critics loathed but audiences loved. Spun off from Happy Days, there were two initial main settings: the duo’s endearingly shabby basement apartment and the Pizza Bowl, which was run by Laverne’s crusty papa. But when ratings got soft, the gang (Lenny and Squiggy included) was shipped off to uneventful Burbank, Calif. Break out the gong, Chuck Barris.

I also remember when Nell, Addie and little Joey gave New York an ill-fated chance in the final season of sitcom Gimme a Break; when the Conners struck it rich on Roseanne ; when J.R. married country-bumpkin Cally Harper on Dallas; when frumpy cousin Rose was living in Grandma and Grandpa’s room in The Waltons; and when the dumpy little house on the prairie suddenly had a strange family named Carter living in it on the re-titled Little House: A New Beginning. Was Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls wasted when he built that oddly crooked house? And, given how buck-toothed Half-Pint managed to miraculously grow  a set of perfectly straight teeth, who was the unheralded orthodontist in Walnut Grove?

Needless to say, I can go on and on with other shows that should have ended sooner. The moral here is that sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone and let a show die with some dignity. This late into the game, Scrubs has definitely joined that sad line of leftovers.