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Why Does Showtime Run Shows Like ‘Nurse Jackie’ Into the Ground?

Why Does Showtime Run Shows Like 'Nurse Jackie' Into the Ground?

[Contains minor spoilers for “Homeland” Season 3 and “Nurse Jackie” Season 6.]

When “Homeland” took home the Emmy for outstanding drama series in 2012, it was a landmark award for Showtime, marking the first time the premium network had received the award. And it seemed that the network was on its way to being in the same stratosphere of high quality cable shows that HBO had been in for over a decade and AMC had recently invaded with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” 

We know how that turned out, though: “Homeland” ended its Emmy streak at one, and its second and third seasons were considered to be a mess compared to the taut and dramatic first season. This was due in part to Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) still kicking around — because the execs at Showtime couldn’t leave well enough alone.

One thing that’s evident is that Showtime wants to be just like its premium rival up the cable dial: They develop high-concept shows and recruit big-time actors to star in them. A network with lesser ambitions wouldn’t have gotten Don Cheadle to star in “House of Lies,” Laura Linney to get cancer in “The Big C,” or have Matt LeBlanc play a douchey version of himself in “Episodes.

The reality, though, is that Showtime is a freakish hybrid of HBO and a standard broadcast network, one that has a penchant for keeping its hit shows on for far too long, giving creative advice that hobbles other shows and not putting enough promotion behind shows that could use it.

Take the example of “Nurse Jackie,” which ends its sixth season on June 29th. Oh, you didn’t realize that the show was still on? Well, it is — in fact, the network announced a renewal for a seventh season not long after the six season began. You’d be forgiven, though, to think that the show ended long ago, mainly because it felt like it came to a natural end somewhere around the end of Season 3, when the lies and deviousness used by Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) to cover up her addiction to painkillers were exposed. Or maybe that natural ending came at the end of Season 4, when Jackie went through rehab and struck up both a romance with her boss (Bobby Cannavale) and a co-dependent relationship with his son (Jake Cannavale).

READ MORE: No, No, No: ‘Nurse Jackie’ Finally Heads to Rehab

But the show pressed on beyond those points, showing Jackie plow through a year of sobriety while negotiating custody terms with her ex-husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and dealing with the increasing rebelliousness of her teen daughter Grace (Ruby Jerins). Jackie dealt with that along with all the stresses of working in the All Saints Hospital emergency room — and by the end of the season, it seems like everything is right with Jackie’s world, as she’s engaged to nice-guy cop Frank (Adam Ferrara), her new family life is settling down and work is doing well.

But in the last scene of the season, we see her pop an oxycontin capsule she had stored in her engagement ring box “just in case”… and the deceit began anew.

Season 6 has felt like a rerun of the first two seasons, as Jackie comes up with ingenious lies and betrays her family and friends in order to keep her addiction going. She steals the DEA ID of Dr. Roman (Betty Gilpin) in order to get drugs, and persuades a homeless nun to take the rap on her deathbed. She sticks her foot out behind the wheel of Gloria Akalitus’ (Anna Deavere Smith) Mustang so she can get painkillers. She persuades her AA sponsor Antoinette (Julie White) to join her for a bender by saying they’ll both go to rehab, then abandons Antoinette in rehab in order to keep using. She detoxes at home with the help of Frank, Antoinette and former lover/enabler Eddie (Paul Schulze), only to pop pills as soon as she feels better.

It all feels like we’ve been there before. There is an argument to be made, which Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe did last week, that this repetition is “a portrait of addiction that refuses, and then refuses all over again, to soften the truth or give viewers a comforting way out.” But repetition is death to a series, and it gets to a point when you start to wonder if Jackie is just the best liar in the world (as Grace told Frank earlier this season), or everyone else around her is just plain stupid.

This is a sign that Showtime just can’t leave well enough alone when it comes to its shows. What will season 7 behold, Jackie going through rehab again? And what of the inevitable seasons 8 and 9? How many new people will be introduced for Jackie to lie to?

Remember, this is the same network that took Jenji Kohan’s daring show “Weeds” and ran it into the ground, with Mary-Louise Parker’s character Nancy Botwin continuing to escape the clutches of the law over and over. Even when she finally does get caught, she returns to law-breaking, and continues to get herself and her family into trouble. “Dexter” was also a critical favorite, but became irrelevant by the time it ended last year, with its fans admitting that it likely ran two to three seasons too long

Unlike HBO, which seems to give most of its shows’ creators free reign to decide how long its series will run, Showtime operates more like a regular broadcast network, milking its shows for all they’re worth, way past their expiration date. Sure, HBO isn’t immune to this behavior: “True Blood” likely should have ended when Alan Ball departed. But more often than not, Showtime rides their shows to the point where even its shows’ most ardent fans stop caring what happens, mainly due to either repetition or increasingly absurd plotting. For example, right now “Californication” is limping to a conclusion that it likely should have had two years ago. You might not have known. Because you might have forgotten that show is on the air. 

It can also be argued that, if Showtime hadn’t stepped in and told Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa that Damian Lewis was too valuable to kill off after the first season of “Homeland,” the show could have continued on its Emmy-winning streak, instead of taking two seasons to stretch out the story of Nicholas Brody well past the borders of believability. But it seems like the management of Showtime was thinking more short-term, counting the number of awards Lewis was going to win for his searing portrayal of the returned POW with divided loyalties, rather than letting the story play out naturally.

Now, the show goes into its fourth season with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in Pakistan on a completely new adventure. Will the reboot be able to get the viewers and critics back who threw up their hands in frustration over the ill-conceived love affair between Carrie and Brody, one that ultimately undermined the show’s tension? Who knows? But what we do know is if the show had been allowed to move on in 2012, not 2014, it would have been better off.

So let “Nurse Jackie” be a cautionary tale to the folks at Showtime. Yes, Edie Falco may get yet another comedy actress nod, and no one will ever object to seeing Merritt Wever (the only truly funny person in this so-called “comedy”) getting her Emmy due. But those individual performances will validate to the Showtime execs that the show is on the right track. It isn’t, and the longer it goes, the more that’s going to become apparent. Though no one will be around to watch it go completely off the rails.  

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Sorry about so many typo’s – I was pissed!!!!


Well, after the airing of the final episode tonight, you can also add that the creator’s of this show are full of sh+t too! I was honestly looking forward to seeing ‘Jackie’ get her just deserves in the end as promised by the powers that be at Showtime, regarding this season and it’s ending! – and, since I do pay an extra absorbent amount of money monthly to be able to watch ‘Nurse Jackie’ and a few other series offered by Showtime – I feel entitled to at least a somewhat decent ending to series I’m invested in! – or better yet – at least the ending that was promised and promoted by Showtime for this season of ‘Nurse Jackie’ – and especially all the hope used about ‘Jackie’s’ demise! I WAS SO PISSED WHEN AFTER WATCHING THE LAST EPISODE THAT I WANTED TO THROW SOMETHING THROUGH MY TV! The "almighty creator’s" had promised fans that the very last episode would, first, tie everything from beginning to end together, then we were told about how hard they had worked to reach just the right decision about ‘Jackie’ – the due process for all the wrong deeds ‘Jackie’ had committed throughout all the seasons! BUT – THAT SURE THE HELL DIDNT HAPPEN! THEY DID NOTHING MORE THAN LIE TO THE FANS OF THIS SHOW – THOSE OF US WHO HAVE DEVOTED ENDLESS HOURS WATCHING THIS SERIES SINCE IT FIRST AIRED! I could understand not liking an ending, I could even get it if I just didn’t understand the ending – BUT TO HAVE NO ENDING AT ALL IS JUST PITIFUL! My ten year old could have written a better ending!!!! All I could come up with as the reason why this happened as it did was – either these half-baked writer’s are rejects from HBO’s Soprano’s series – because that’s the "hard work" they talked so much about before this season started – coping HBO’s ‘The Soprano’s’ ending! – The ‘Nurse Jackie’ ending ended up being no ending at all! WHO DOES THAT TO FANS OF A SHOW? I guess Showtime does! You do not leave a storyline like ‘Nurse Jackie’ open with no ending whatsoever! How stupid could someone be doing that? It’s not like I won’t get over it – or can’t live without a decent ending – but I do expect to get what I am promised when I pay for something! Looks to me like Showtime either needs to leave the series making to HBO and STARZ – or hire new writer’s with at least a fifth grade education!!!!!

Rebecca Clark

The Wire ran for 5 seasons over 7 years that it has been on the air, from 2002-2008. Dexter, however, was outstretched to EIGHT seasons over EIGHT years.

Sure, the show has reached its peak with Season 4, the John Lithgow season, but the bigwigs at Showtime were too lazy to end it at its height, and instead kept chugging it along.

The biggest problems lie within of not keeping the main cast, it’s the network executives, the executive producers, the brilliant writers that a show’s life begins with, and the showrunners. After a decade or more, you’re gonna lose a chunk of the audience and it won’t be the same.

Another network that is doing it right is the BBC. The Brits know when to end their shows. ;)


Did Nurse Jackie finish for good? I saw the show 6/29/14 and this sunday the 6th of july was looking for it?

Eduardo Corochio

Another moron writing articles on the internet. Your entire schpeel here is pathetic and poorly thought out.


Showtime just doesn't know when to stop a show. Having seen all the shows mentioned here (Californication, Dexter, Homeland, Nurse Jackie, and Weeds), and having given up on ALL of them, I completely agree with every point brought up in this article.

The problem with Showtime's way of storytelling is the lack of consequence on the part of its hero/heroine. The end of each season feels like a reset, where all the progress the character went through is lost, and by the time the show is canceled, we've seen the schtick over and over again.

The biggest offender of this, is of course, Nurse Jackie. EVERY season finale felt like a cheat. I will never forget how ridiculous the cop out of its season 3 finale was – where Jackie fell the drug test, but administrator Akalitus threw away the result(!!!) and instead of Jackie finally coming clean to her poor husband Kevin who has been nothing but accommodating to Jackie with all her excuses, it was revealed that he was somehow the bad guy by cheating on her (!!!!!), even though that's what she's been doing all this time. So by the end, all the build-up of season 3, which is after already copping out in season 1 and 2 finales, the show decided that nothing Jackie do will ever result in any change. Every season we will be stuck with watching her being an awful person and a saint and seem to learn nothing and everyone around her doesn't do anything about it because god forbid Nurse Jackie the show can ever work if Jackie is somehow hold responsible for her actions.

It left me so upset that I never bother watching the show again (shortly after, the original showrunners departed and even with the hope of the new showrunner righting the ship and the great performance from the cast, it did not compel me enough to return). The same could be said with all the Showtime shows that started out great but ran into the group, but Nurse Jackie takes the gold on this kind of no-consequence Showtime brand of storytelling. And yet, ratings keep growing! Showtime will never cancel any show until once-loyal fans HATED them by the end.


I watch a lot of premium shows. Nurse Jackie is jaw droppingly fabulous this season ( ditto
says my nurse daughter) and I hope it continues for several more.


I would put Weeds first on the list as a show run into the ground. The move to Mexico was pretty good at first then the last two seasons shouldn't have existed. The big sign that the show was suicidal was dumping Romany Malco in the most awful was possible. There were other good parts after than but they ended up failing. Dexter went on a season too long began to get its steam back in the first half of the last season and lost all credibility in the last half of the season and finale. The proper thing to do was focus on the unjust killings of LaGuerta and Doakes. Without that finish, Dexter couldn't hope to redeem himself. Homeland might have carried on the Brody romance a bit too long but listening to critics tell them to kill Brody was wrong. The killing of Brody was a terrible ending to the 3rd season and made me emotionally give up on the show. Then Carrie doesn't want to take care of the baby. Way to go! Nurse Jackie lost its way when the two producers left. The whole show changed tone even the color pallet of the show was altered. Last season was terrible and this season is an improvement but only because the show went back to some of its roots. The tone is still a mess and seems to come from a handbook on how addicts behave. All actors of color have been dismissed. Mo Mo from season 1, Sam from season 2-4, and the lackluster Dr. Prentiss. I watch the show, can be moved by some things this year but am disgusted at the same time. This show had verve and now it is just miserable.


this is just your dumb opinion. i think nurse jackie is best its ever been.

Adam Scott Thompson

… yes …


I liked Homeland well into the second season. Seeing Carrie realize that she was right all along, seeing her arrest and interrogate Brody was great because in the first season no one trusted her (including herself eventually). The tables turning was a lot of fun. I wouldn't want to sacrifice episodes like Q&A. I didn't mind Carrie falling in love with Brody either. That made sense to me: he'd been her obsession for a long time. Her life revolved around him all through the first season. They had a sexual connection obviously. And hating what someone's done doesn't mean can't love them. Maybe it doesn't "make sense". But since when do people's feelings make sense? But that said, I do think that Brody should have died at the end of season 2. Even though Season 3 had some good moments, it felt like they were dragging the Carrie/Brody relationship out, well past it's expiration date. Damien Lewis wasn't used that much, and the focus was on his family, which felt like filler. My hope for the show, is that they get a recharge now that they've stopped dragging out that plotline. It's still a timely show with great performances and a compelling lead character.

I don't watch Nurse Jackie (or I didn't past the 3rd season) but as I understand it, relapsing is a fairly realistic storyline for an addict. In order to keep viewers interested they do need to treat it differently in the context of the story: Jackie can't just do the same thing over and over because that gets boring for viewers, even if it is realistic. The writers need to change some external factor so that Jackie's relapse plays out differently if they want to keep the show going.

But regarding Showtime in general, they also prematurely cancel stuff. Dead Like Me only got two seasons. The United States of Tara got three. The Borgias got three. The Tudors ran for an appropriate 4 seasons. That was how long it took for the to tell the story they wanted to tell. Then it ended.

On the flip side of things, Shameless's 4th was arguably it's strongest so far. It had the highest ratings, took the show in a different direction, introduced potentially new storylines and gave several key characters important steps toward personal growth. Could they run it into the ground in the 5th season? It's possible. But they could also continue in the made of stronger storytelling for another season or two.


Holy hell, this season of Californication is the worst by a million miles. Should have ended it after last season.


While I agree how they royally screwed up the Dexter finale, still, I think this writer has ADD attention span, or can't live without the constant quest for the BBD… At any rate, he's exaggerating a bit on both Jackie and Homeland… When it comes to Jackie, I have known addicts who have managed to manipulate successfully for decades, until they ended up dried up pariahs living in poverty, with all bridges burned, and no one to love… That is where I see Jackie headed… The writers are astute enough to know, addiction is a dead end and there are no easy ways to make addicts see the light, other than hitting rock bottom then digging under the damned rock… Jackie though a good person who really cares about people, her addict blinders makes her so despicable that any sane person should never even wanna' say the word 'drugs', let alone try 'em, and the writers are clever enough to give that public service.

As for Homeland… I would venture to say that other than blowing up Langley, Homeland is the tame version of most of the secret reality of actual spydom. If we knew just how many agents are toeing the line between loyalty, duty and lust, and perhaps even love, even this 'bored' writer would be shocked.


"But what we do know is if the show(Homeland) had been allowed to move on in 2012, not 2014" You defenitely mean killing off Brody in the end of season one – In that case, I wouldn't even bother to see the show))


I will say one thing though: United States of Tara should've been given a proper sendoff. That was a show that ended way too soon.


Nurse Jackie is still really freaking good. This season has been surprisingly great. Just when you think Jackie can't get any lower she does (in completely believable scenarios).


I've loved every minute of this season of Nurse Jackie! It's getting darker and darker. Jackie may be the new Heisenberg! (Ok, perhaps a stretch.) I do agree though that Californication has lasted much longer than necessary.


Watched Nurse Jackie for the first time on 6/21/14. It was interesting, but is the foul language really necessary? That is a big turn-off and will not watch it again.


But they denied me a fourth and final season of The Borgias. Sad face.


Rip off the band-aid!

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