I'd have to say that all TV sitcoms - if they're worth a damn whatsoever - have four truly great seasons in them. Four and only four, but they're just immaculate. Some shows take a while to get going; Seinfeld wasn't a knockout until Season 4, but 4-8 were completely out of sight. Same with the Simpsons, don't really count what they have to say until Season 4 or 5.
Other shows, your Newsradio, Family Guy, Home Improvement, Roseanne, Frasier, Married With Children - they start right off the bat, seasons 1-4 being their best, before petering off a bit. Arrested Development was another one of those shows, but unfortunately they never had a chance to even get to their 4th season (which, by this theory's standard, would've been the best of them all). Although, I guarantee you that if AD had gone on to live through 8-some-odd seasons, all those critics labelling it as their Darling would be asking come 2010, "What happened to Arrested Development? It used to be so funny."
Once you get outside that four-season window, though, you run into comedy that's EHH, but it's not really what it used to be. Left to their own devices, sitcoms will continue with the struggling and the writer-turnover, until eventually they're on for 20 years like the Simpsons nearly has and you're wondering if the people left watching are tied to their sofas by the executives of Fox.
But you know what show managed six of the strongest seasons I've ever seen out of a situation comedy? The Larry Sanders Show. See, it's one of those kinds of shows, like Seinfeld, like Newsradio, like Arrested Development, where more than anything it's character-driven. You get to know these characters, you get to see them in their environment, and you get a sense that they're not just caricatures of personality types. These comedies are the best comedies; they're the ones that are most beloved by audiences.
Friends was like that. At least originally. For four seasons there, Friends jumped out of the gate and had that SOMETHING that wasn't just tits and ass. It was real feelings and emotions behind the comedy. And then Monica and Chandler get married and everyone starts playing slapsticky imitations of their former selves in seasons 1-4. It stopped being funny because you stopped believing these were real people. You could tell they were acting and, what's worse, they were acting TERRIBLY. Frasier suffered from this towards the end, so did Roseanne, so did Home Improvement.
But on the good shows, the actors know exactly how their characters should act. You never see an evolution between real-like character and over-the-top buffoon making bug-eyes for laughs. Such is the Larry Sanders Show. To the bitter end, Larry was an insecure neurotic, Artie was the lovable two-face who'd charm your pants off and rip your throat out at a turn of a dime, Hank was the outlandish boor of a sidekick who always thought he was more important than he was, Phil was the hotshot jackass writer always quick with an insult, Beverly was the caring sure-footed assistant who served as mentor and friend to the other women in the office. You get to know these people, you get to see their flaws and their attributes, you sit there for six seasons with them, and by the time it's all said and done, you realize that - while it's only a dumb little show - you're going to miss these people because you're never going to see them again except in re-runs.
That's what a good TV show will do for you. It'll make you miss their characters when it's gone. It'll make you cream your pants every May because you've got to wait an entire season to see something new. The credits will roll at the end of every episode and you wish you could fast-forward your life to the next week and see what hijinks will happen next.
For most people, The Larry Sanders Show has been off the air for damn near a decade now (if not longer), so they've had enough time to get over it and move on. But, for me, the series finale took place tonight, and now I've got to face a world where Larry Sanders is off the air - both on his fictional late-night talk show and in real life as a character on an HBO series. It's bittersweet, but I know that shows like these - while rare - still come around every so often. Now I just have to be alert enough to watch them while they're on, if nothing else so I can go through the entire experience again.