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When Should An Aging TV Show Get Off The Air?


Tonight's the night when Dr. Gregory House hangs up his stethoscope for good. He'll do so in a two-hour finale after eight seasons of this Fox television medical drama. "House" is following the lead of other popular long-running shows that went out quits before their viewers tuned out. Although in the estimation of TV critic Eric Deggans, "House" may have waited a little too long.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's the ultimate TV question: When should an aging show get off the air before it gets too embarrassing?


JERRY SEINFELD: (as Jerry) I told you, George. When you hit that high note, say goodnight and walk off.

JASON ALEXANDER: (as George) I can't just leave.

SEINFELD: (as Jerry) That's the way they do it in Vegas.

ALEXANDER: (as George) You never played Vegas.

SEINFELD: (as Jerry) I hear things.

DEGGANS: NBC's monster hit "Seinfeld" is one of the best examples of a show that got it right. It closed in its ninth season, just as critics began to carp about inconsistent episodes and star Jerry Seinfeld began to feel tapped out - leaving on a high note, as it were. Or maybe a low note. On "House," star Hugh Laurie claims he's doing the same thing.


HUGH LAURIE: The character is so inherently self-destructive to the point of being virtually suicidal, and a fictional character cannot sustain that suicidal tension indefinitely.

DEGGANS: That's what Laurie recently told Terry Gross of WHYY's FRESH AIR.


LAURIE: You can't have a man on a window ledge threatening to jump forever. At some point, he's either got to jump or get back into the building because the crowd below eventually will lose interest. It's time for us to move on.

DEGGANS: I say Laurie's a little late. For years, "House" has been ready for its curtain call, sticking its dysfunctional hero everywhere from a mental institution to prison in search of new drama.


LAURIE: (as Dr. Gregory House) Wilson is dying. Chase is gone. How close to normal do you think we can come?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) He just wants to die with a little dignity.

LAURIE: (as Dr. Gregory House) There's no such thing.

DEGGANS: But there's another reason this series is ending: money. As TV Guide has reported, the Fox network and the production company which makes "House" clashed on how much to cut costs for a new season - often the toughest fight with an aging series.

And ABC's "Desperate Housewives" was killed off by all three of the most common pitfalls for long-running shows: creative fatigue, high costs and dropping ratings. It was once a groundbreaking series about female friendship. But "Desperate Housewives" fell from trendsetter to trashy at astonishing speed.


EVA LONGORIA: (as Gabrielle) I just always had this fantasy, the four of us staying here, you know, our grandkids coming to visit, me staying gorgeous, while the three of you age horribly.

FELICITY HUFFMAN: (as Lynette) You know, she's actually dreamed about that.

MARCIA CROSS: (as Bree) Of course she has.

DEGGANS: And last week, NBC announced TV's next big series finale. Tina Fey's "30 Rock" gets 13 episodes next season to wind down one of television's quirkiest comedies.


ALEC BALDWIN: (as Jack) I was attacked in a construction tunnel. Anyway, this spreadsheet is the current schedule.

TINA FEY: (as Liz Lemon) Wait, you got mugged?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) I got mugged all the time growing up in the Bronx.

FEY: (as Liz Lemon) OK, I got in trouble the last time I said this, but maybe you were asking for it dressed like that.

BALDWIN: (as Jack) I wasn't wearing a tuxedo at the time, Lemon.

DEGGANS: Fey and her oddball crew can step away, ending their seventh season at the perfect moment, just like a certain show about nothing. The only challenge: avoiding Jerry Seinfeld's mistake. He picked a great time to end his show, but finished with a horrible finale. In TV, the only thing bad as sticking around too long is missing the high note at the end.


MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.