TV networks can be so cruel; they introduce characters, families and new friends you love to hang out with each week. You laugh with them, you cry with them and then they take them away from you. Forever. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Many shows get pulled way too soon, usually due to low ratings, which is not always the fault of the show. Some of the lucky ones survive the first season, but failing to keep the audience’s attention, getting moved to a worse time slot or simply becoming old news due to a sparkly new show on the network, fall at the second season hurdle.
Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing, The Newsroom) Sports Night, sci-fi V, the dark but delightful comedy Pushing Daisies and the cult classic Twin Peaks all only latest two seasons on ABC. David Lynch’s bonkers, yet brilliant, series is set to hit our screens again however as Showtime are set to launch a revival with filming starting next month.
Critically acclaimed Deadwood lasted three seasons on HBO before getting the boot as did UPN/The Cw’s Veronica Mars. Mars thankfully received a return to the silver screen in 2014 however the Starz series Party Down, which featured most of the VM cast and which lasted only two seasons, has had a recent set back in a possible big-screen adaptation.
Then there are the shows that didn’t even get the chance to shine and were cancelled after one season:
MTV’s animation Clone High was probably unlucky in the fact that it wasn’t picked up by Cartoon Network as it probably would have found a nice home amongst the likes of The Regular Show and Adventure Time. Terriers (FX) was the brain child of Ocean’s Eleven and Matchstick Men writer, Ted Griffin. With The Shield’s creator Shawn Ryan as executive producer along with Gotham’s Donal Logue and True Blood’s Michael Raymond-James in the lead roles, everything was looking golden for the show. Critical praise was not enough to save this brilliant show about unlicensed private detectives as the series was cut due to low ratings.
One show which was first to spring to mind when writing this article was the terrific Rubicon. As it goes, living in Ireland, we get some TV shows a good while after they premiere in the States. I watched Rubicon religiously as it ran over here and as the finale finished up I jumped straight online and had the immediate heartbreak of finding out that it was already cancelled. Like I said, TV networks are so cruel. It’s a fantastic drama dealing with conspiracy theories, world politics and secret societies. And maths. I like maths.
And so I come to Fox. The greatest bastard of a TV network that ever existed. Before I get into the many series that they threw to the curb after only one season let’s all join together and raise our collective middle finger to Fox for cancelling one of the greatest TV shows of all time; Arrested Development. Sure they came back with a series on Netflix, but it was never really the same. If they had kept going, sure it may have gone the way of many once-great shows and dwindled into a hit-and-miss comedy, but it probably would have continued on being pure brilliant. Hang your head, Fox, hang your head.
Here are my Top 10(ish) shows that I like to mentally flip the bird towards Fox for cancelling:
The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. (1993-94, 27 Episodes)
Bruce mother-fucking Campbell. He’s a hero. In this little-known series Campbell plays the titular cowboy Briscoe County, Jr. who is a Harvard-educated bounty hunter in the American West of 1893. Incorporating elements of science-fiction and steampunk genres the show was ahead of its time, these elements are often put down to the work of co-creator Carlton Cuse who went on to write and produce for Lost. The series was an action-packed comedy with a great supporting cast and of course Bruce mother-fucking Campbell.
The Tick (2001, 9 Episodes)
A live action show based off the 80s comic book character and the 1994 animated series, The Tick just didn’t get the audience it deserved. Portrayed by “hey I know his voice” actor Patrick Warburton, The Tick was an absurd spoof of the super-hero genre and as Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly wrote ”It was too smart. Too funny. Too weird. So, of course, it failed.’’ All eight, and one unaired, episodes are available to watch on Hulu. If that’s your thing.
Enlisted (2014, 13 Episodes)
Off the back of his work on Scrubs, writer and producer Kevin Biegel had his own TV show picked up by Fox. Enlisted was a military comedy revolving around three brothers. Although the series was most certainly a comedy, the chemistry between the brothers was the short-lived series’ real winner. Starring Geoff Stults (7th Heaven), Chris Lowell (Veronica Mars) and Parker Young (Suburgatory) the series’ time-slot was moved before eventually losing out to yet another reality TV show, namely Kitchen Nightmares. Shameful.
Terra Nova (2011, 13 Episodes)
Back in 2011 the critics went bananas for the pilot episode of Terra Nova, unanimously naming it “one to watch” for the upcoming season. The hype was not to last, as the mid-season lag seemed to hammer the nail in the coffin of yet another Fox show. Critics tore it apart, probably due to their high praise just a few weeks before. Even a strong finish to the season couldn’t rectify the damage done in the mid-season stagger. The season could have gone on to do good things but they unfortunately shot themselves in the foot.
The Lone Gunmen (2001, 13 Episodes)
Another show that many people (at least this side of the Atlantic) may not have ever heard of, The Lone Gunmen was a spin-off of cult classic The X-Files. Centred on three nerdy conspiracy theory nuts, nicknamed The Lone Gunmen, the series was created by the brains behind the original series’ Chris Carter, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan (who went on to make something called Breaking Bad). Although it was critically loved, the audience ratings were too poor and so Fox cancelled the show after 13 episodes… on a cliffhanger! The bastards. Thankfully The X-Files was still on the air and they covered their bases with an episode in the following season entitled “Jump the Shark”.
Almost Human (2013-2014, 13 Episodes)
After his titular role in Dredd, it was a pleasant surprise to see Karl Urban take on a TV series on top of his growing Hollywood commitments. For some reason though the fans weren’t as ready to sit down to watch him every week as they were to stream to the cinemas to check him out. Portraying tough-guy Detective John Kennex, Urban was joined by Michael Ealy (Barbershop, Seven Pounds) in a unique take on the AI genre. Ealy plays an AI partner to Urban and is so convincing he is “almost human”. Created by Fringe show runner J.H. Wyman, the show worked as both a cop-drama and a sci-fi thriller, maybe people just wanted to watch one or the other. Either way the ratings were low enough for Fox to pull another plug.
Everything Judd Apatow Has Ever Done.
Judd Apatow luckily never packed things in after a disappointing run in his early days of TV. The Ben Stiller Show (yes, the Ben Stiller) was a sketch comedy show which ran for 13 episodes from 92-93. It featured Stiller as the host and joined by regular guests such as Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo (Wet Hot American Summer) and Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul). Fox decided the ratings were too low and packed it in. After it was cancelled it won the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program. Good call Fox.
Next up for Apatow was the brilliant Freaks and Geeks. Okay, this wasn’t actually on Fox, it was NBC, but I’ll get back to Fox now in a second. Apatow teamed up with Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters reboot) for this universally loved tale of burnouts that launched the careers for many of today’s stars; James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini, Martin Star and John Francis Daley. Only 12 of the 18 episodes even made it to air back in 2000.
In 2001, undeterred by previous network problems, Apatow created his own baby; Undeclared. Along the same vein as Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared followed the likeable yet nerdy Steven Karp, played by Jay Baruchel (This Is the End) as he heads to college. Featuring Apatow’s future faithful Carla Gallo and Seth Rogen, along with Baruchel, the series was met with universal acclaim and currently has an impressive rating of 85/100 on Metacritic. Guest appearances from the likes of Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell could not encourage the bums-in-the-seats ratings and the show was axed after its 17 episode stint. Thankfully the critical praise and cult following led Apatow to become a household name and he soon became (and kept) the mantle of a Hollywood comedy guru.
Firefly (2002, 14 Episodes)
And so here we are. The greatest tragedy in Fox history. One of the greatest tragedies in TV history (in my personal opinion). The cancellation of the fantastic Firefly.
Fox really show their true colours on this one, thankfully through extensive interviews with cast and crew and Joss Whedon’s biography by Amy Pascale, we can see Fox in all of their terrible bastardly glory.
Firefly may very well have been doomed from the start through no fault of its own. Fox just did not get on board with the plot, the premise and character development.
Regarding the adorable and happily married couple of Zoe and Wash, Fox were upset that Mal (Nathon Fillion) won’t be bedding his co-pilot. Whedon elaborated on Serenity: The Official Visual Companion:
The last thing that Fox said was, ‘We will pick up the show, but they can’t be married.’ And I said, ‘Then don’t pick up the show, because in my show, these people are married. And it’s important to the show’
Once they eventually picked up the show and let Whedon keep his married pair they banished the series to the Friday night death slot. The slot is renowned for low ratings as I guess most people make plans for the end of their working week. But the show must go on and it was sent to the Fox marketing department to set up the promos, and boy did they get it wrong.
Instead of promoting the series as the gritty space western it is, they tailored a set of promos setting it up as a zany comedy using tag-lines like “The most twisted new show on television” and “Out there? Oh, it’s out there!”. They also took to describing the characters as a “flighty pilot” and a “cosmic hooker”. As Pascale points out in the book, this would have turned off the people who loved the show and people who actually wanted ‘that’ show would have been disappointed with the spirited action/western/comedy/drama we all love. They even fitted in “Prepare for Warp Speed” in one awful ad. These people were getting paid for this…
As if things weren’t already bad, the powers that be decided that the pilot wasn’t edgy enough and set at too much of a relaxed pace, so they jumped straight in and played the second episode and left the pilot until after the finale. No heartfelt, passionate back stories, just straight up action. It was confusing and unwarranted.
As a result of all this and whatever else, Firefly just didn’t hit the ratings they needed to keep afloat. I doubt the network’s execs were too pushed to begin with. The fans petitioned, to no avail and it was a long wait until Serenity hit our screens in 2005. Since then the devoted fan-base have tirelessly tried to get the rights into the hands of those who want the series back on TV. Thankfully, as with a lot of cult favourites, Firefly has lived on through conventions, throwbacks, video games, a series of really great comics and in 2012, 10,000 fans lined up outside Ballroom 20 at the San Diego Comic-Con for the 10th Anniversary reunion panel. This is clearly a dearly loved show.
I could have written a piece about how amazing the show was, how it still stands up today, but instead please stand with me and raise that middle finger one last time at the network that tries to keep good TV off the air; Fox, I hate you.