You would think that with years (sometimes decades) of experience in the entertainment business, studios would know what will and won’t work in the world of TV. Audiences can be fickle, however, and don’t always get it right. Like comic book series, a good show sticks around for just a season or two too long; even worse, there are times when a TV show barely gets any chances to land, despite having a seemingly strong fanbase.
Unfortunately for the fans, having a cult following and being adored critically sometimes aren’t enough in a world that’s often dominated by how much money something makes. Some of our favorite shows may only get to have a handful of seasons air, while other less beloved shows get to stick around forever. The sad reality is that unless your favorite show is universally appealing, there’s always going to be a chance that it will be cut down in its prime. With that in mind, we’re here to take a look at 13 TV shows that were canceled way too soon (in no particular order).
13. Angel (1999 – 2004)
Many of you might be thinking that a TV show that ran for five seasons and 100+ episodes really couldn’t have been canceled “too soon.” However, that’s not the case with “Angel.” A spin-off to the very popular “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” focused on David Boreanaz’s vampire character Angel as he worked in Los Angeles as a private detective.
While “Buffy” was more focused on telling the stories of teenagers growing up, “Angel” very much dealt with the trials of grown adults navigating the world. Not only was it shocking when “Angel” was canceled, it came as a double whammy to fans of the show. Instead of having a concrete ending, the show was forced to end on a cliffhanger, leaving the fate of not only “Angel,” but the entire world in the balance. Fortunately for them, the character was brought back in 2007 in comic book form, giving his stories new life, though it’s still tough to think what could have been when it comes to the Joss Whedon drama.
12. Dollhouse (2009 – 2010)
In the world of having your TV show canceled too soon, Joss Whedon may be king. Not only did “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” get canned too early for most fans, an incredible 4 out of 5 TV shows he’s created have been canceled earlier than expected. One of these, “Dollhouse,” told the story of various “dolls” (individuals who were programmed with personalities/skills) that would be used by a shadowy corporation for various purposes.
For many, this show was hit or miss, but as far as execs go, it was nearly 100% miss. Not only did the show suffer from poor ratings, it was also slotted in on Friday nights, which is a tough place for any program to succeed. For a series that featured its characters being “reset” every episode, which made each week feel just as important as the last, it was a tough sell from the very beginning. Still though, the writers seemed to just be getting into the groove of focusing on every character (rather then the admittedly boring protagonist) when the show was dropped after two seasons. At least you still have “Agents of SHIELD,” Joss!
11. Utopia (2013 – 2014)
Many of you (sadly) have probably never heard of this entry, but if you have, you would know it more than deserves its spot here. The UK drama “Utopia” told the story of a group of people who come across a sequel to a cult graphic novel that supposedly predicts some of the worst disasters in the world. This leads to the group being targeted by an evil organization known as The Network. In typical “drama/thriller” style, the group has to uncover what is happening before any of the disasters that are predicted occur.
As far as dramas go, “Utopia” was a breath of fresh air. The show was flush with style, packed with mystery and had enough high stakes action to fill up multiple seasons. It barely managed to get itself renewed for a second season before sadly being dropped due to budgetary reasons; Channel 4, the studio, was already funding a ton of dramas. Fans are still clamoring for someone else to pick up the show, but nothing has come about yet. For a brief moment, David Fincher was set to direct an American adaptation for HBO, although budget disputes between the two canceled the project in 2015.
10. The Tick (2001 – 2002)
Back in 2001, “The Tick” was brought to life by FOX as a show that could bring some extra lightheartedness to the airwaves. A live-action version of the comic book and successful animated television show that lampooned the superhero genre, “The Tick” went for a more campy and over-the-top feel then any other superhero show at the time (or since). Sadly, it barely got itself off the ground before being struck down.
Airing against other popular shows such as “Survivor” and NBC’s “Must See TV” block (which featured the likes of “Friends” and “Will & Grace” at the time), “The Tick” was pretty much doomed from the start. Not only did FOX see the show as being too expensive to continue, it performed poorly as well; something star Patrick Warburton has chalked up to FOX not promoting it enough. Fortunately for fans of the character, Amazon has given the blue bug a chance, as it was just recently chosen by fans to become the flagship show of the Amazon Original Series team and was greenlit for a new series. Let’s hope this version of “The Tick” is more nigh-invulnerable than the last.
9. Party Down (2009 – 2010)
Very rarely does a TV show manage to combine an all-star cast and a great premise with the right network, thereby making it a hit. Unfortunately, “Party Down” had two of these criteria when it launched in 2009, but sadly lacked the critical third. Created by Rob Thomas, Paul Rudd and “Veronica Mars” veterans John Enbom and Dan Etheridge, the series starred the likes of Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Jane Lynch and Lizzy Caplan (just to name a few). The comedy centered around a catering team in L.A. filled with people who aspired to be much more. The show then led viewers through their lives, and through the ordeals they would inevitably suffer with the guests at the parties they catered.
You might be asking yourself how a show starring such truly talented actors manages to not even make it past two seasons. Sadly, the stars might actually be the answer. Starz (the network that aired the show) never seemed well-equipped to promote or handle a comedy like “Party Down.” The show suffered from very poor ratings, despite being critically loved. The departure of Jane Lynch (“Glee”) and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) didn’t exactly help their case for renewal. Talks of a possible film have been tossed around since its cancellation, so hopefully one day we’ll be able to see the crew work one last party.
8. Veronica Mars (2004 – 2007)
Another Rob Thomas creation, “Veronica Mars” premiered in 2004 on UPN and continued after the networked combined with The WB to form The CW. Much like UPN, “Veronica Mars” didn’t last long. Starring Kristen Bell as the titular character (long before her “Frozen” days), the show focused on Veronica, a high school student who just so happened to moonlight as a private investigator. For a show that focused on teenage drama, it was much different than anything else on TV at the time. Following the darker side of high school (and life in general), the show garnered heaps of praise from fans and critics alike.
As is the case with any of the shows on this list, however, the praise wasn’t enough to keep it going. The show ran for just three seasons before being canceled due to poor ratings. Fans tried to save it from the chop, going as far as mailing 10,000 Mars Bars to The CW in a show of affection, but it did not work. Thankfully, “Veronica Mars” got the ending it deserved, as a Kickstarter was successfully funded in 2013 for a feature film on the character. It released in 2014 to generally favorable reviews.
7. The Boondocks (2005 – 2014)
While “The Boondocks” may have aired for longer than any of the shows on the list (its official release is 2005-2014), it only managed to pump out 55 episodes across four seasons. The show, which is based on a comic strip of the same name, was created by Aaron McGruder (who also created the comic) and starred the Freeman family, an African American family that was settled into a mostly white neighborhood. It debuted to near universal acclaim, becoming a quick hit on Adult Swim thanks to its incredibly sharp writing and great animation (done mostly by MOI Animation), not to mention an amazing cast of characters.
As stated earlier, the show may have been around for nearly 10 years, but it didn’t seem like it. After debuting its third season in 2010, it didn’t release a new episode for almost four years. When it finally did, McGruder left the show due to scheduling conflicts with Adult Swim. It’s a shame that “The Boondocks” isn’t still around, especially due to today’s current racial climate in America. You can only imagine what McGruder could have done with the Freemans today.
6. Jericho (2006 – 2008)
A number of shows get canceled every year, and without a doubt, there are fans that wish they would come back, despite knowing that it will never happen. However, there are a few instances of fans actually managing to convince a network to give a show a second chance. “Jericho,” a post-apocalyptic drama produced by CBS, is one of those shows. Taking place in the town of Jericho, Kansas, it focused on the aftermath of a nuclear attack on 23 major cities across the US. “Jericho” presented a harsh look at the realities of survival: trusting your fellow survivors, fostering relationships, dealing with government conspiracies; these were were just a few of the things the show touched on. That made it all the more sad when it was canceled after just one season.
Somehow, the fans of the show managed to convince CBS to give “Jericho” one last shot. After mailing over 40,000 pounds of peanuts (a reference to a line uttered at the end of Season 1) to the CBS offices, the network decided to film one more season of the show. Unfortunately, it performed even worse in ratings, and was quickly dropped again. It did enjoy a Season 3 and 4 — but only as a short-lived comic book series from IDW.
5. Freaks and Geeks (1999 – 2000)
Much like “Party Down,” “Freaks and Geeks” was a show that featured an absolutely incredible amount of talent in its cast for a show that was unfortunately short-lived. Looking back, it’s crazy to think that this show was even canceled in the first place, especially given how famous most of its cast ended up being. Not only are Judd Apatow and Paul Feig some of the biggest names in Hollywood today, but actors Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and James Franco have gone on to star in many big-time movies. “Freaks and Geeks” was a realistic yet hilarious take on the classic high school TV romp, telling the story of two different cliques that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Perhaps not ironically, the show too never found its footing with any one audience. Despite the praise from its hardcore fans, the show didn’t even make it through one season, being canceled after just six episodes aired. It has since found success after the fact on DVD and streaming, but like many of the shows on this list, it was simply too beautiful for this world.
4. Hannibal (2013 – 2015)
“Hannibal” was a tough sell from the beginning. After all, a show about a person who eats people is never a guaranteed hit, but this one focused on the relationship between a younger Hannibal Lecter and FBI investigator Will Graham. Hannibal was portrayed wonderfully by Mads Mikkelsen, and the show received extremely strong reviews from critics.
Despite the hardships associated with a show like “Hannibal,” it developed an insanely dedicated following from fans known as Fannibals. Sadly, as is the case with every show on this list, ratings were to blame for its sudden cancellation. The show managed to last three seasons thanks to its status as a co-production between Gaumont International and Sony, making it relatively inexpensive for NBC despite modest ratings. After its cancellation following Season 3 both Netflix and Amazon discussed acquiring it in order to produce new episodes and complete the show’s planned seven-season arc. Amazon owns the streaming rights currently, and wanted to debut a new season immediately, something creator Bryan Fuller did not want. Netflix also expressed interest, although with Amazon owning the streaming rights, it became impossible. Both deals fell through, leaving “Hannibal” with no room. Fans have not given up hope, however, that someone will pick up the show for further production.
3. Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)
While “Twin Peaks” seemed like a fairly straightforward murder mystery TV show, it was anything but. Centered around the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer, the show quickly proved that it was more about the odd goings on within the fictional town of Twin Peaks. David Lynch and Mark Frost wasted no time in giving fans a show that explored what might lie beneath the people we come to know in our towns. Nearly every character was shown to lead a life that was not what they seemed, and the show was unafraid to often dive into the world of the paranormal.
Featuring a deeply unsettling tone that wasn’t featured in other dramas at the time, “Twin Peaks” developed an instant cult following, and was even one of the highest rated shows of 1990. However, after the first season, ratings began to dip after a major plot line was resolved (a bit too early, if you ask Lynch), and it was canceled after its second season. Thankfully, it was announced in 2014 that it would return in 2017 as a limited series on Showtime, so make sure you catch up while you can.
Remember what we said earlier about Joss Whedon being the king of canceled TV shows? He’s ba-ack! In what many consider to be the show when it comes to what was canceled too soon, “Firefly” is a prime example of what happens when a network sadly has no idea what to do with a show. The space-western told the story of humans arriving in a new star system, and how the nine crew mates aboard the ship Serenity deal with life in space.
Despite only being on the air for one season, “Firefly” featured a ton of potential in its intriguing setting, incredibly smart dialogue and its well-written characters (a Whedon staple). For some reason, FOX decided to give the show the axe after just 11 of its 14 episodes had aired (not all of them in the intended order). Thankfully, “Firefly” is one of those shows that developed an immediate cult following, and the fans’ support was strong enough to give it some closure. “Serenity,” a film named after the ship featured in the show, was released in 2005, followed by a series of comic books from Dark Horse.
The last show on our list is a true head-scratcher. “Deadwood” was a western drama set in the 1870s and centered around the town of Deadwood, South Dakota and its growth from a mere camp into a full-fledged town. Starring Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant, the show quickly garnered praise from nearly every critic. It also won legions of fans and managed to gather up a whopping eight Emmy awards in its time on air. So what exactly went wrong?
At the time, HBO was not keen to throw out a ton of money for shows, which meant a high-budget western like “Deadwood” was already in a tough place. In addition, the show was heavily criticized by some for its extensive use of profanity (it’s been reported that it dropped the “f” bomb an average of 1.56 times per minute of footage), which some found to be too much. Whatever the reason, HBO made the illogical decision to cancel the show after its third season. To add insult to injury, “Deadwood” was never properly given an ending, and fans were left to wonder just what would happen to their favorite characters. As luck would have it, HBO recently green-lit a script to be written for two TV films in order to send off David Milch’s show off with a proper goodbye.
Which TV shows do you think ended well before their time? Let us know in the comments!
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