'Big Love' Says Goodbye: When Great TV Shows Know When to End

"Canceled." It's the one word that fans never want to hear about their favorite TV shows. But what happens when it's the show's producers who decide to end the show? Well, generally, that's a good thing.

On Oct. 28, HBO announced that its polygamist drama, Big Love, will return for its fifth and final season on Jan. 16. "When we created Big Love in 2002, we had a strong conception of the journey the Henrickson family would make over the course of the series, of the story we had to tell," executive producers Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer said in a statement.  "While we were in the writers' room this year shaping our fifth season, we discovered that we were approaching the culmination of that story."

The Big Love producers couldn't be more right. The fourth season of Big Love started to slip (Chloe Sevigny, one of the show's sister wives, even called it "awful") and once the Henricksons decided to announce their polygamist lifestyle to their community, well, there just wasn't much more storyline left to explore.

Wouldn't you rather the producers be selfless (it's their paychecks that will be affected!) and end a show when they know their story is winding down? After all, there are only two other fates a show can face:

Option #1: A show gets canceled prematurely. When this happens, there are two possible sub-options. A show never gets to wrap up its story, or its forced to tie up all of its loose ends in one final, rushed episode. October Road (ABC) had to conclude its story with a previously-unseen episode on their Season 2 DVD. Fans of Las Vegas (NBC) are still upset that writers weren't given the time to write a satisfying ending. Pushing Daisies tried to polish off the characters' storylines at warp speed in one abrupt final episode.

Option #2: A show gets dragged out past its prime and dies a long, slow death. This is even more depressing when it happens to a really great show. Welcome Back, Kotter tried to survive past the departure of John Travolta, which was not easy to watch. The X-Files continued on for four seasons after the film was released, and even tried to last after David Duchovny exited the show, causing the show to end on a sour note. ER lost most of its original cast and yet it still kept trying to revive patients. And current shows like Desperate Housewives, which admittedly is still drawing in huge numbers, will probably recycle storylines until the cows come home.

So, yes, what the Big Love producers are doing is the best thing they can do. Though no TV watcher ever wants to say goodbye to the characters they've known to grow and love, it sadly has to happen at some point. And what's more appropriate than a fitting goodbye? More producers should take notes from shows like Lost, Sex and the City, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under (which arguably had the best series finale ever), and finish off their shows at the right time. Though we may be sad at first, we'll thank them in the end.

What's the worst TV cancellation? Chime in below!

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