Everyone has a TV series they loved that, in their opinion, was cancelled too soon. Shows we cherished, pushing our friends to watch them and spending way too much time on Facebook and Twitter singing their praises only to see the news that there would never be another season.
Be it Arrested Development getting cancelled after three amazing seasons (but saved by Netflix! Yay!) or Bones ending after a staggering twelve seasons, there will always be someone sad to see it go.
But some shows really did disappear too soon. Some TV series were cancelled by the network before a final resolution could be reached, while others just went away because of low ratings or other reasons that aren’t all that common.
Here, we’ll reminisce about some of our favorite shows that were taken from us too early, even if they went on too long for most of the viewing audience. These are the shows that left the fans in a lurch, forever wondering what happened to the characters they loved, never knowing if that “will they won’t they” guy and gal ever finally got together. The shows that pop into our heads late at night while we try to sleep, keeping us up as we remember our favorite moments.
Or, at least, we’ll look at fifteen of them. And some of these you may never have even heard of, while others you’ll look at and smile, knowing that you don’t suffer alone. Here, for you, are fifteen TV shows that were unceremoniously cancelled.
In 2002, Joss Whedon was the king of TV. His two shows on the WB network (now called CW), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, were big hits both with viewers and critics. Fox, which produced both shows, decided that they wanted in on some of that Whedon gold and picked up a third show from him to air on their own channel.
It didn’t work out.
The show, Firefly, centered on the crew of the Serenity, a ship flying through space and captained by a man who refused to accept the end of the galactic civil war. Pretty quickly, it was clear that Firefly wasn’t getting the ratings it would need to survive – possibly because Fox chose to air the episodes out of order, using the second episode as the premiere, which made everything real confusing.
The show was cancelled with 14 episodes already filmed, of which Fox only aired 11. When Firefly hit DVD, it found a following, and that following was loud. They were so loud that Universal Pictures green-lit a movie that would be used to both end the series and maybe turn the failed show into a theatrical franchise. Sadly, the movie was a box office disappointment.
14. The Honeymooners
Without Jackie Gleason, there never would have been a King of Queens, no Flintstones, and no Married With Children. Every sitcom about a put upon guy with a go nowhere job and a wife who is way too hot to waste her time with him owes its existence to The Honeymooners.
And while The Honeymooners, which first aired in 1955, sits high on the iconic TV show list, it shocking lasted just one season. Born out of a series of sketches on Cavalcade of Stars, the Kramdens and their upstairs neighbors the Nortons lived in small apartments in Brooklyn with barely enough money to scrape by. For 39 episodes, Ralph and his best buddy Norton would come up with get rich quick schemes or find themselves mixed up in other wacky problems that sitcoms still use today. Each episode had the same, simple message – no matter how bad things get, you’ll always have your family.
For 102 episodes, audiences tuned in each week to see Gordon Shumway, an alien from the planet Melmac, make the life of Willie Tanner as hard as possible. While the other members of the Tanner family loved Gordon, who they lovingly called Alf (short for Alien Life Form), Willie was constantly worried that the US government would catch on to the fact that he was harboring a being from another planet who loved to eat cats and stand behind the couch.
You couldn’t get away from Alf, the character or the show. From the live action series, to an animated series, to endless merchandise, from 1986 to 1990 the big nosed puppet was everywhere. And then suddenly he was gone.
In the season four finale, Alf receives word from some of his pals that they have purchased a planet and they want him to come live there. As Alf gets ready to join his pals, he is caught by the US government and taken captive. The episode ends with a “To Be Continued…” that was never continued. While the ratings were still pretty solid, NBC chose to cancel the series. We’ll never know what happened to the lovable alien or the Tanner family.
12. Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks, created by Paul Feig and produced by Judd Apatow, was our first look at some of the biggest names in comedies today, including Seth Rogen, Martin Starr, and Jason Segel. Along for the ride with them were James Franco, Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley and, for one episode, Shia LaBeouf.
The show, which centered on siblings Lindsay and Sam Weir as they tried to get through high school at the start of the 1980s, lasted just 18 episodes (with NBC only airing 15 of them) before getting cancelled. Still, the adventures of the freaks and geeks at William McKinley High gained a cult following over the years.
Since it’s cancellation in 2000, Freaks and Geeks has found itself on Time Magazine‘s “100 Greatest Shows of All Time” and TV Guide‘s “Top Cult Shows Ever” – and with good reason; Freaks and Geeks is one of the most honest looks at the life of a teenager that has ever been put on TV.
11. Star Trek
It is impossible to imagine a reality where Star Trek isn’t part of the pop culture lexicon, but that very thing almost happened.
It was a battle of attrition to get Star Trek on the air in the first place. Creator Gene Roddenberry had to film two pilots, getting rid of the cast of the first one and replacing them all – expect for Leonard Nimoy as Spock – to get the show picked up. The network worried that viewers in the south would freak out over Spock’s devil ears and tried to get Roddenberry to get rid of them, but he refused.
Finally, in 1966 Star Trek, made it onto TVs across the country, but it wasn’t a big hit and it was expensive to boot. The show was almost cancelled by NBC after its second season, but was saved by a letter writing campaign, as well as a rally held in front of NBC studios in Burbank. Still, after all the letters and rallies, the show’s ratings dropped, and Star Trek was axed after three seasons.
In the 1970s, Star Trek went into syndication, and a new generation of teens and kids found it as it aired every day just after school. Soon, Star Trek conventions popped up around the country. When Star Wars came out and was a massive success, Paramount Pictures decided to make Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
10. Bridget Loves Bernie
In 1972 there was no better time-slot for a new series than the one that Bridget Loves Bernie got. Airing between All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bridget Loves Bernie should have been a big it. Here’s the kicker – it was, but it still got cancelled after just one season.
The show about a newly married couple from different faith – Bridget was a wealthy Irish Catholic girl and Bernie was a struggling Jewish taxi driver – averaged 24 million viewers a week, making it the 5th highest rated series for the season, but some Jewish groups felt that the show mocked their faith.
While CBS executives met with leaders of the Jewish community to try and fix the issues they had with the show, some extremists went and did what extremists always do – they took things to the extreme side.
Bomb threats were called into the studio while the show was filming and producer Ralph Riskin began to receive death threats. Rather than deal with the danger of extremist attacks, CBS chose to cancel Bridget Loves Bernie, but not before costars Meredith Baxter and David Birney fell in love in real life.
9. Married… With Children
There are two shows that made the Fox network a success. The Simpsons, which is still on today and is nearing 30 seasons, so you know that won’t be on the list, is one of the shows. The other show was the first one Fox ever aired, Married… With Children.
Married… With Children was about the daily lives of the Bundy family, mostly focusing on patriarch Al Bundy as he went through each horrible day hating his job at the shoe store, not wanting to have sex with his pretty hot wife, hating his children, and dreaming of the time he scored four touchdowns in a single game in high school.
The show was a hit from the start, as well as a source of controversy. Family groups detested the Bundy clan and the overly sexual humor that the show relied on but, for eleven seasons, the show was a hit for Fox. Then, just after the eleventh season finished airing, Fox cancelled the show. Even worse, Fox didn’t tell the cast and crew about the cancellation – they learned about it from friends or strangers who saw the news.
Fans of Married… With Children are still hoping for some sort of closure for the show, but with star Ed O’Neill busy on the hit series Modern Family, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a new series any time soon.
For how short the show lasted, just 36 episodes, Deadwood has left a lasting impact on the world of pop culture – and not just for the amazing amount of swearing the show had.
The series brought viewers through the early years of Deadwood, South Dakota as the place went from being a poorly named camp into a poorly named town, focusing on the battle between sheriff Seth Bullock and saloon owner and real mean guy Al Swearengen, mixing historical facts with historical fiction to tell an amazingly intense and engaging story. Widely acclaimed by critics, Deadwood won eight of the twenty eight Emmy Awards it was nominated for before HBO ended the series with season three.
Since its cancellation in 2006, Deadwood‘s fans, which have grown in size thanks to the DVD release, have been begging HBO to allow creator David Milch to end the story and, recently, word got out that Mich had submitted the script for a two hour Deadwood movie to HBO. Whether or not Milch’s movie gets made remains to be seen.
7. My Name is Earl
When small-time crook Earl was hit by a car, breaking almost every bone in his body, the worst pain was that he lost a lottery ticket worth $100,000. While in the hospital recovering, Earl comes to the conclusion that being hit by the car and losing the ticket were due to all the bad karma he had racked up from his years of thievery.
Once out of the hospital, Earl set out on a quest to fix his karma by making a list of all the people he’s wronged and all the bad things he’s done and fixing each one.
For four seasons, fans watched as Earl and his weird group of friends made their way through their lives. When season four ended with a “To Be Continued…” fans sat down to trade theories on what would happen in season five, only to learn that the series has been cancelled. That is some bad karma.
6. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
In 1993 there was no hotter TV couple than Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman didn’t just turn Teri Hatcher into a star, it made her the most downloaded person on the Internet – in 1995 a picture of Hatcher nude with Superman’s cape covering her body was downloaded an average of 20,000 times a month for six months straight. Those numbers may seem small today, but in 1995 they were amazing.
The show, a modern telling of the story of Superman, focused less on the heroics and more on the steamy romance, and it was a big hit for ABC right up until Lois and Clark got married, at which point the ratings dropped faster than a speeding bullet.
The show’s fourth season ended with quite the cliffhanger; a time-travelling H.G. Wells showed up with a baby wrapped in Superman’s cape, handing it over to the two main characters.
When Freaks and Geeks ended, Judd Apatow wanted to keep the crew together – he felt a responsibility to these kids who had worked so hard to make a great show. With that in mind, Apatow left high school behind and headed off to college, creating Undeclared.
The show, which focused on an uncool kid looking at college as a chance to reinvent himself, starred Jay Baruchel, Carla Gallo, Charlie Hunnam and Seth Rogen. Some of the Freaks and Geeks cast, including Martin Starr and Samm Levine, made guest appearances while Jason Segel was a recurring character. The show was filled with comedic talent, from a pre-Saturday Night Live Amy Poehler to then-current SNL cast member Will Ferrell to former SNL god Adam Sandler, but none of that was enough to get the show past the first season. Not even a then unknown Kevin Hart.
4. Pushing Daisies
If you like a show created by Bryan Fuller, you’re likely in for some serious heartache. The man is an amazing talent, but his shows just don’t seem to last long. From Dead Like Me to Hannibal, Fuller’s shows struggle to get to a third season.
In the case of Pushing Daisies, things got real odd. The series, about a man who can bring a dead person back to life with a touch, including the woman he loves, was witty, beautifully filmed, and very eccentric. The show started off as a critical and ratings darling, with a truncated first season of just nine episodes due to a writer’s strike. A second season with an initial order of thirteen episodes was ordered, and everyone was pretty sure the season would get to a full twenty-two episode order, but the ratings declined quickly. ABC cancelled the series and left the three final episodes off the schedule for nearly a year.
3. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
If you’re going to make a TV series based on a long running movie series that is filled with confusing time travel and killer robots, you’re pretty much spitting into the wind.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which picked up four years after the events of Terminator 2 (ignoring Terminator 3) started off as the highest rated new series for the 2007 season, but by 2009 it was over. The show’s super-serialized format made it hard for new viewers to jump in, and many people who got in at the start of the series quickly got bored with it.
After 31 episodes, Fox pulled the plug, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ended on a cliffhanger with the teenage John Connor stuck in a future where he never led humanity in the revolution against the machines. The same year the series ended, Terminator: Salvation hit theaters. It made no mention of the show.
2. Spider-Man: The Animated Series
You don’t see many cartoons that end with open plot threads – mainly because most cartoons don’t have ongoing plots – but Spider-Man: The Animated Series was able to pull off just that feat.
The cartoon, which followed the adventures of everybody’s favorite spider-powered superhero, ended the third season with Green Goblin sending Mary Jane Watson into a portal to who knows where. In season four, MJ returns and Spider-Man reveals his true identity to her before they get married. Things are pretty great for the web-slinger and his love until they learn that MJ isn’t actually MJ! She’s a clone! Oh the horror!
At the end of season five, Spider-Man, with the help of Madame Web, sets out to find the real Mary Jane, but not before they meet Stan Lee and drop him off on the roof of a random building. At that point, the series was cancelled, so we have no idea if Spidey ever found MJ.
Soap, a spoof on soap operas, was a show well ahead of its time that still managed to run for four seasons and have a super successful spin-off. The series focused on the families of sisters Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell and played with all the basic soap opera tropes, which made for some great comedy.
Before the show aired its first episode, people were protesting it after Newsweek writer Harry F. Waters called it a “sex farce” and claimed that there was a scene where a priest is seduced in a confessional (that scene never happened in the show). Adding to the anger of American TV watchers was that the character Jodie Dallas, played by a young Billy Crystal, was openly gay – something that, in 1977, had never been done on TV.
The protests and controversy made Soap a big hit at first but, once people calmed down, the ratings dropped. The fourth season ended with a number of cliffhangers, almost all of them dealing with main characters being shot, and almost all of them left unanswered.
Two years after Soap was cancelled, a spin-off about the character Benson – aptly titled Benson – showed that at least one of the characters from Soap had indeed died.
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