It can be all too easy to forget, but TV is a business. While network executives frequently acknowledge and tend to appreciate viewer feedback and critical acclaim, a series with low ratings will likely get yanked from the airwaves sooner, rather than later, if the numbers do not improve. Broadcasters are able to fund programming because of advertising, and a show with high numbers brings in the best ad rates. This reality is little consolation to fans when their favorite show is canceled.
Despite their short lives, some canceled series continue to garner buzz years after their early demise, begging the question of whether they should have been given more time to gain an audience. Here are 10 TV shows that were canceled too soon.
10. Wonderfalls (Fox, 2004)
Critics loved this quirky series that Fox mercilessly buried in its little-watched Friday night lineup. Smartly written and brilliantly acted, Wonderfalls chronicled the pratfalls of recent college graduate Jaye Tyler. She has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from an Ivy League university, but is stuck in a job as a gift shop clerk at Niagra Falls as she figures out what to do with the rest of her life. A number of animal figurines inside the store direct her to help people in need. After steadily falling ratings, Fox yanked the series after four episodes, but Wonderfalls remains a cult classic to this day.
9. Commander in Chief (ABC, 2005-2006)
It was a novel concept: do a futuristic drama about the trials of being the first female president of the United States. With veteran film actress Geena Davis as the lead and initially high ratings, Commander in Chief seemed destined for a long life on the airwaves. Davis’ fictional character, Mackenzie Allen, was vice president and assumed the presidency after her predecessor suffered a serious health condition. The show began losing traction midway through the season and a number of efforts to reverse the trend – including the addition of revered producer and writer Steven Bochco – failed. Despite decent cumulative ratings, ABC did not include the series in its fall 2006 lineup.
8. My World and Welcome to It (NBC, 1969-1970)
In an era filled with mind-numbingly simplistic sitcoms, My World and Welcome to It clearly stood out from the pack; for this reason, the series continues to be talked about to this day. Actor William Window assumed the role of John Monroe, a cartoonist for a New York-based intellectual magazine. The titular character would often veer off into animated daydreams and fantasies, based on daily situations. My World and Welcome to It, based on the works of New Yorker contributor James Thurber, had middling ratings toward the end of its one and only season, and NBC made the decision to wield its ax.
7. Jericho (CBS, 2006-2008)
Set in the fictional town of Jericho, Kansas, this post-apocalyptic drama had a very vocal fan base — so much, in fact, that CBS made a rare decision at the close of the 2006-07 season. Jericho initially had been canceled after its first season, but network executives later reversed their decision after fielding numerous complaints and being bombarded by cans of nuts in a nod to a phrase uttered at the end of the show’s first-season finale. A commissioned second season was abbreviated, consisting of a mere seven episodes. Viewer levels were lower than the first season, and the show again met a fate reminiscent of a year prior. Critics point out Jericho was relaunched in the midst of the writer’s strike — a time when networks were airing heavy doses of reruns and cheap reality series; for this reason, the second season might have been lost in the shuffle.
6. My So-Called Life (ABC, 1994-1995)
Teenage angst was never portrayed as vividly as it was on My So-Called Life. Critics and fans closely followed the travails of Angela Chase (Claire Danes) and her pack of high school friends – all trying desperately to fit in and make sense of life. But the show was starving for viewers, facing off against NBC’s red-hot drama, Friends, which debuted the same year. Despite pleas to move the show to another time slot or grant a second-season miracle, ABC executives made the decision not to renew the series.
5. Firefly (Fox, 2002)
Joss Whedon, known for creating a string of TV series (including Buffy the Vampire Slayer) with die-hard devotees, managed to land this space-age western – yes, there is such a hybrid genre in existence in the TV universe – on Fox’s fall 2002 lineup. Fans lauded Whedon and the stellar cast for the entertaining series, set in 2517 amid a spaceship. Unfortunately, the series never attracted a mainstream audience and the network canceled Firefly after 11 of the 14 produced episodes had aired. In the years following the show’s demise, fans were instrumental in having a feature-length adaptation, Serenity, made for the big screen. Comic books and a roll-playing game based on the series also have been created.
4. Bridget Loves Bernie (CBS, 1972-1973)
One of the highest rated series ever canceled, Bridget Loves Bernie was a smash hit throughout its one and only season. But from the get-go the Meredith Baxter-David Birney vehicle was awash with controversy because of its overarching premise. Bridget Fitzgerald (Baxter) was an Irish Catholic teacher, while Bernie Steinberg (Birney) was a Jewish taxi driver. While the tale of two people from such different walks of life falling in love with one another was charming to some, other people vehemently expressed displeasure with a series depicting inter-religious marriage. Because of a large amount of hate mail, CBS executives made the decision to cancel the series, even though it ranked fifth in its solo season.
3. Police Squad! (ABC, 1982)
Madcap creators Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker – the irreverent trio behind Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie – brought their comic sensibilities to the small screen with this spoof of such police procedurals as Adam-12 and Dragnet. In each episode, star Leslie Nielsen delivered a variety of non-sequiturs, sight gags and word play. While such comic ingredients had worked on the big screen in the creators’ films, Police Squad! was unable to deliver a sizable audience during its six episodes on the air. ABC canceled it swiftly, but the series’ legacy lived on, spawning the highly successful trio of Naked Gun films that also starred Nielsen.
2. The Ben Stiller Show (Fox, 1992-1993)
Prior to becoming a household name, comic Ben Stiller headlined his own irreverent sketch comedy series on Fox, itself a young network at the time that was attempting to stand out by taking chances. While co-stars – including Andy Dick and Janeane Garofalo – wittingly parodied numerous aspects of early 1990s pop culture with Stiller and caught the eyes of critics everywhere, the series remained in the Nielsen ratings basement throughout its 13-episode existence. Even with a more generous level of patience at the time than the big 3 counterparts, Fox executives still made the decision to yank The Ben Stiller Show. Stiller, of course, has gone on to Hollywood stardom.
1. Freaks and Geeks (NBC, 1999-2000)
At the turn of the millenium, all of the major networks were seemingly parading teen-themed dramas in the aftermath of the success of Dawson’s Creek. NBC followed the trend in fall 1999, but with a series featuring characters not destined to grace every teen magazine that filled supermarket checkout lines. Set in the fictitious Detroit suburb of Chippewa, Michigan, in 1980, Freaks and Geeks centered on siblings Lindsay and Sam Weir. Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) was exploring the meaning of life and, in the process, began associating herself with so-called freaks amid her quest. Sam (John Francis Daley) was just trying to navigate his way through high school as an incoming freshman with his cadre of so-called geek friends. The writing was so crisp and the acting so superb that the few people tuning in to watch the series in a graveyard Saturday night timeslot began to feel as though they were getting to know these people in an authentic way. Perhaps Freaks and Geeks was too real. Although fan reaction convinced NBC to hang on to the series throughout most of the season, the ratings stayed low and a sophomore season was not granted.