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The Fourth Wall: Are sharks circling one of TV's most popular shows?

Watch a television series long enough and there comes a moment where you say to yourself, “Self, I think we might be seeing the beginning of the end.”

You no longer accept improbable escapes from impossible situations. You watch an episode, and it reminds you of a nearly identical storyline from an episode years ago. Once-endearing quirks from secondary comic characters now have you wondering why the leads still hang around with the guy.

Or someone introduces a never-before-mentioned Cousin Oliver.

While it used to be clever to say such TV series had “jumped the shark” — or, in movie franchise parlance, “nuked the fridge” — said jumping of said shark has itself become such a cliché that using the phrase itself has ... well ... put on its leather jacket and pointed its water skis to the stunt ramp.

Reality competition series seem fairly immune to this failing. (Honestly, if the Bachelor/Bachelorette voyeuristic meat markets have yet to go from guilty pleasure to just plain guilt for watching, they might be indestructible.)

Survivors are still surviving. Amazing racers are still racing, amazingly. American ninja warriors are still doing whatever it is that American ninja warriors do.

Yet, that doesn’t mean such shows are incapable of being undone by a combination of missteps and changing tastes — which leads us to the one that has won four of the past six Emmy Awards for Outstanding Reality series.

“The Voice.”

NBC’s singing competition, which just completed its 16th “season” over eight years, is donning its water skis over some very choppy waters as a result of a number of on- and off-screen decisions that are bound to have the critical sharks circling.

Shelton is the show’s most-popular coach, and country singers have had a long-standing history of advancing quite far in the competition — in part due to the demographic of the show’s fan base.

It started innocently enough with the institution of a new round of competitions called the “cross-battles.” Instead of the singers from each team dueling among themselves to remain in the competition, the cross-battles would put singers from different teams in the series’s iconic boxing ring stage.

And unlike the coaches picking the winner of each battle, cross-battles would be decided by viewer votes.

This format apparently had worked well enough overseas, but here in the good old U.S. of A. (where we divvy up into tribes), the results left country artist Blake Shelton’s team having far more remaining singers than the other coaches.

Shelton is the show’s most-popular coach, and country singers have had a long-standing history of advancing quite far in the competition — in part due to the demographic of the show’s fan base.

When “The Voice” reached the semifinals, Shelton had five of the remaining eight singers and one of them, Gyth Rygdon, decided on a song choice that he said was from the heart — but also was certain to hit home with his team’s voting bloc ... Lee Greenwood’s classic anthem “God Bless the USA.”

And it’s here where things got uncomfortable.

The performance was not Rygdon’s best of the competition, a point gently pointed out by coaches John Legend and Kelly Clarkson — the latter of whom acknowledged that criticizing any performance of that particular song was problematic.

“I feel like you can’t critique this song or you’re going to hell or something,” she said.

She wasn’t far off — since “going to hell” and “facing the anger of social media” aren’t that different these days.

Clarkson and Legend (the remaining coach, Adam Levine, had been left without contestants by that point, and hadn’t been asked to comment on the performance) were slammed on the internet — not for critiquing the singer, but for “hating” on “God Bless the USA.” More than one comment claimed they “hated America.”

The durability of any TV series — comedy, drama or reality — is to roll with the punches. Cast members leave, viewing tastes change, more competition emerges for an hour’s commitment each week.

In a nutshell (which we spend so much time, the nuts should charge rent), tribal politics had seeped into the popularity contest politics of “The Voice” — with predictable results.

Clarkson’s remaining singer, as well as one of one of Legend’s two, were knocked out by the viewer vote. Shelton had three country singers (including Rygdon) in the four-artist finale.

By this point, the cross-battle format (which hadn’t set well with those who followed teams other than Shelton’s) and the online-shaming of judges created the type of turmoil that might be the exception to the rule of any publicity being good publicity.

In the finale, Levine spoke up in favor of Legend’s remaining singer Maelyn Jamson, saying “this has nothing to do with politics or any of that” but the he believed she truly deserved to win the competition.

Which she did, with Rygdon finishing second as the three remaining singers quite possibly split the vote of country music fans. (Side note: I thought Dexter Roberts, another of Team Blake’s artists, had the strongest night in the finale, and wouldn’t have minded had he bested Jamson.)

Television, and social media, moved on relatively quickly. Jamson (or any of the other finalists) may move on to a big career — although “The Voice,” for all its success as a TV show has had little in producing a legitimate star.

But the fallout continued as Levine, along with his sparring-buddy Shelton the remaining original coaches, announced last week that he was leaving the series — citing a desire to move on to other things.

The durability of any TV series — comedy, drama or reality — is to roll with the punches. Cast members leave, viewing tastes change, more competition emerges for an hour’s commitment each week.

“The Voice” could survive all this. Last season’s controversies can be forgotten, and even the uncharted waters of a season without Team Adam might not be enough to hit a sour note.

But I’ve watched “The Voice” pretty much from the beginning ... and I know a shark when I see one.

If one more “Voice” contestant sings “The Scientist,” Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin will be sending NBC an email from rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.

Robert Galvin