Every year great TV shows are cancelled, often coming to an end long before fans are ready to say goodbye. But while some, like Castle this year, feel like they have come to a natural end, others like Dollhouse, Alphas and Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles end before they’ve really had a chance to prove themselves.
And then there are those one-season wonders, shows that never survive beyond their debut year. Joss Whedon‘s Firefly is one of the most infamous casualties; despite having a great cast and Whedon’s trademark magic, Fox cancelled the show after its fourteen-episode run. At least the fans had some closure with the follow-up film Serenity, which is more than most cancelled shows get.
The last decade has seen numerous TV shows cancelled after one season, many with a strong premise and the possibility of great things to come. So let’s examine the biggest one-series casualties of each TV season and wonder just what might have been…
10. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip – 2006-2007
Another year and another victim of NBC. If the writers’ strike of late 2007 had never happened, would Journeyman have ended after thirteen episodes? Possibly not. The time travel drama starring Kevin McKidd had a great cult following at the time, but is probably unknown by anyone who didn’t watch it when it originally aired.
McKidd played Dan Vasser, a man who found himself travelling back through time in order to amend events taking place in the present day. His long lost fiance Livia Beale (Moon Bloodgood) turned up as another time traveller originating from the past. Together their story became more and more complex and each event indicated that there was something much greater at play. With a great cast, including Reed Diamond, what should have been a lesser version of Quantum Leap became the highlight of the TV season for many. But, with the writer’s strike, it didn’t make it past the thirteen-episode first season and with it was lost the potential for such amazing television to come.
8. Eleventh Hour – 2008-2009
The 2008-2009 TV season was noticeable for the cancellation of two great TV shows – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Pushing Daisies, but both at least made it to season two before becoming unceremoniously dumped to the horror of their fans. There wasn’t actually a lot to choose from in terms of one-season wonders that year, but Eleventh Hour probably stands out as the one with the most lost potential.
Based on the British TV series of the same name, it featured Rufus Sewell as a government scientist Dr. Jacob Hood, teaming up with Marley Shelton’s Rachel Young to save people from deadly scientific experiments and other mysterious crimes. Dark and dramatic, but extremely gripping, this The X Files-inspired show lasted eighteen episodes and offered something a bit different to the CSIs and NCISs of the world. But, sadly, it was not considered bold and engaging enough to make it to season two…
7. Flashforward – 2009-2010
There were many contenders to Lost‘s TV throne – does anyone remember the cancelled-after-one-season drama The Event? But Flashforward is one of the better shows to emerge after the epic island-based drama ended with its sixth season. Flashforward had a strong hook – the entire world had blacked out and received a vision of the future – and indeed the first season worked cleverly towards that event. Characters tried to circumvent those events, others worked tirelessly to reach it and so for 23 episodes we watched as these different sets of characters took that complex path towards the “flashforward”.
But Lost-fatigue had already set in. Audiences weren’t prepared to devote years of their lives to another unfolding TV mystery (not when the finale of Lost had been so divisive). And despite a strong cast including Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Jack Davenport and Lost‘s own Sonya Walger and Dominic Monaghan, the ratings failed and it ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper and another flash forward cliffhanger. Sadly at this point, not enough audience members were engaging with the show to care.
Perhaps if it had not been billed as the new Lost, or come so soon after that show had ended, Flashforward may have lasted longer…
6. Caprica – 2010-2011
The prequel series to the mega successful Battlestar Galactica was the first of two attempts to extend the franchise beyond its reboot roots, neither of which got that far. But Caprica was the more interesting of the two – a planet-based story of two families and the creation of artificial intelligence that would lead to the Cylon uprising.
It took a little while to find its feet, with its terrorism allegory and the struggle of the characters to adjust to the events of the pilot episode. But, as it headed into the second half of the series, Caprica delved deeper into the origins of the Cylons and the pieces began to move slowly towards the eventual first Cylon war. Events moved faster than originally planned as the first season drew to a close but the slow nature of the show had already turned a lot of fans off and despite the potential of the prequel series, Caprica ended as the forgotten cousin of the mighty Battlestar Galactica…
5. Terra Nova – 2011-2012
We all love dinosaurs and we all loved Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park, so a TV show executively produced by Spielberg, featuring humans and dinosaurs on a weekly basis should have been a ratings winner. But, sadly, the high production costs of $4 million per episode needed strong viewing figures and, when that failed to materialize, Fox pulled the plug after just 13 episodes.
Despite the idea of human colonists on a ravaged futuristic Earth travelling back 85 million years to build the new colonization of Terra Nova, there was a lot of that which people found tired and cliched. A brash military commander, the wayward son, rebels with a good heart and a sinister government organization manipulating everyone; themes audiences had seen many times before. But it was also a lot of fun, the mystery was engaging and, despite some occasional dodgy CGI, a weekly dose of dinosaurs was always fun to watch.
Terra Nova had a lot of potential and some engaging characters. There were a number of intriguing twists come the finale that left the remaining audience hooked. Sadly, there were not enough people watching to warrant a second season.
4. Awake / Alcatraz – 2012-2013
The 2012/13 TV season delivered not one but two potentially great shows, both with very intriguing premises. Both were, in essence, crime procedurals – a genre that tended to do well in mainstream US television – but, sadly, the uniqueness of both shows meant they never got the strong audiences figures the US networks were hoping for.
First up was Awake, starring Jason Isaacs as a detective surviving a car crash with his wife and son. The twist? He was flitting between two realities, one where his wife lived and son died and the other where his wife died and son lived. It was a powerful piece of drama and the crime procedural element only heightened it; he would solve the same crime in both his “waking” and alternate “dream” state, using clues from both to solve the mystery. Despite being a critical success, NBC cancelled the show after its thirteen episode run due to low ratings.
While not as clever as Awake, Alcatraz was another JJ Abrams executive produced TV series with a lot of potential. On March 21, 1963, 256 inmates and 46 guards disappeared from the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary without a trace; now they’re appearing in the present day. It was a gripping time-travel mystery with a great cast, ER‘s Parminder Nagra, Lost‘s Jorge Garcia and Sam Neill himself leading the investigation. Unfortunately, Fox cancelled the critically well-received show after just one 13-episode season, ending on a major cliff-hanger and the death of a pivotal character that was about to send the show in a thrilling new direction…
3. Almost Human – 2013-2014
This futuristic detective show starring Karl Urban has classic sci-fi status written all over it. Urban’s John Kennex was a gruff, weary detective, recovering from an incident that almost killed him and forced to team up with an android partner, Michael Ealy‘s Dorian. There was more than a touch of Blade Runner‘s Rick Deckard in Urban’s Kennex that made him an engaging grey character at times and, over the course of the thirteen episodes, it was a joy to see his grudging friendship with Dorian evolve.
But while the relationship was a core part of the show’s success, Almost Human also had a great support cast too, including Mackenzie Crook and Minka Kelly, and the show made great use of the futuristic setting to put some unique sci-fi twists on crimes that were two a penny on standard modern-day crime procedurals. There was also an intriguing mystery at play, with the threat beyond “the wall” and the mystery of who killed Kennex’s father delivering plenty of potential for future seasons.
Sadly, Fox swung the axe; a rubbish time slot contributed towards lower than expected ratings and Almost Human became the latest sci-fi show to die prematurely on the infamous network.
2. Forever – 2013-2014
Judging by the premise, Forever should have been terrible. An immortal medical examiner dies over and over again, solving crime with a New York detective. And yet the ABC drama starring Ioan Gruffudd had a certain charm that made it a joy to watch from beginning to end.
It certainly helped that it had a good supporting cast and a great recurring mystery in regular villain Adam. The bad immortal’s true identity was a bold twist and that was a thrilling momentum as the season headed towards its final episodes – and the threat of certain death surrounding the weapons that originally “killed them.” Thankfully, the season ended with a certain sense of closure; there was plenty of potential for future years but at least Forever didn’t end with a massive cliff-hanger.
1. Limitless – 2015-16
Like Forever, Limitless was another show that should have been a bit rubbish. A TV spin-off of a great, but not amazing film – and with a central premise about the main hero taking drugs – and it should have been a disaster. After all, crime procedurals where a rookie teams up with a detective or agent are commonplace these days – from Castle to Lucifer – they’re all a unique spin on a standard genre. So what made Limitless so different?
Fortunately, it turned out to be the highlight of the latest TV season; fun and innovative, with a great cast and plenty of drama and laughs to keep audiences entertained week on week, Limitless was a show that rose beyond the premise. Jake McDorman’s Brian was a lovable lead. He was funny, witty and full of charm and the cast – his FBI handlers Mike and Ike particularly – added to the magic. But it is the post-modern, comic-book nature of the show that really sold it. Brian posting videos of cute animals to distract the audience from the boring bits, the animated maps around New York and hilarious stories like his obsession to get to headquarters in the FBI, capturing the FBI’s 10 most wanted and his escapades in Russia made the season a delight to watch. It was also a great, fun show for Jennifer Carpenter to take on after Dexter ended with a whimper.
Sadly, CBS sought to cancel the show after its 22-episode run and, despite shopping it around to other networks, there was not enough interest to carry it on, which is a huge shame, as TV will be a little less brighter with this latest TV casualty no longer in play.