Television can be cruel sometimes. For those who love the medium, there’s always something new around the corner. In fact, last year, the amount of scripted television series topped out at over 350 shows. That’s a lot of television to take in, and with that many choices between being spread out among broadcast, cable, and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, some unfortunate casualties along the way are inevitable.
For every series afforded the rare opportunity to rack up enough episodes to be put into syndication, there’s a Firefly. For every long-running series like Supernatural, Bones, and The Simpsons that is reliably there for you like a security blanket, there’s Terra Nova and Freaks and Geeks – shows that, when mentioned in casual conversations, cause one to wince with the pain of powerful nostalgia or a wistful contemplation of what might have been.
And so, because we have the distinct advantage of considering entertainment being taken from us as a great tragedy, Screen Rant presents: 20 Great Television Shows That Were Canceled After One Season:
Terra Nova (FOX)
Terra Nova began life as the show that seemingly could not fail. It had it all: dinosaurs, time travel, futuristic weapons, and Stephen Lange’s beard. And yet, the one thing it didn’t bring in was the kind of viewership that would have justified its hefty per-episode price tag. At the time of its cancellation, there were the usual rumblings that another network (i.e., Netflix) would be interested in picking up the show that FOX reportedly considered an experiment, in the hopes that the continuing adventures of the Shannon clan would find a more significant audience elsewhere. Of course those rumblings were back in 2012, which pretty much means, like the dinosaurs, this title’s been remanded to history.
Profit is an older title that many people may not be familiar with (a fact that likely explains its cancellation). But the series had its fans – mostly in critics who, in 1996, hadn’t yet had their fill of white, wealthy, amoral anti-heroes with checkered pasts. In fact, since the series will be celebrating 20 years in 2016, perhaps it will be time to polish up our ‘Profit 20 Years Later: What the Show Told Us About Corporate America’s Insatiable Greed’ think pieces.
And while the show about an unscrupulous, psychopathic businessman named Jim Profit, played by pre-Heroes Adrian Pasdar, was a critical darling, it seems that audiences just weren’t ready to watch such a ruthless character as a series’ protagonist (they needed three more years to get used to the idea, apparently). Technically, the show was pulled from FOX’s line-up after just three episodes, but the entire 8-episode season was made available in other markets and on DVD.
Almost Human (FOX)
Okay, so at this point it appears as though FOX has scored an early hat trick for its lack of faith in television programs finding an audience past an iffy season 1. That’s no easy feat, but rest assured, there are plenty of other networks that have sadly shuttered promising programs without giving them their fair shake.
Coming from Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman, Almost Human had what every cop show needs to have: Chemistry between its two leads, which in this case, happened to be Karl Urban and Michael Ealy. And yet, this futuristic tale of a human cop and his frighteningly human android partner struggled to find a solid audience. Whether that was due to the show’s placement on Monday nights, or the fact that the series seemed unsure whether it wanted to be a police procedural or a serialized science fiction story with its own expansive mythology, remains unclear. At any rate, it seems this is another bit of genre television that just didn’t quite hit the mark.
My So-Called Life (ABC)
My So-Called Life gave us so much. In addition to one full season of a terrific teenaged drama, the series introduced audiences to Claire Danes and Jared Leto (so, in a way, we can thank it for Carrie Mathison and The Joker). The Pittsburgh-set drama detailed the coming-of-age story of Angela Chase (Danes) and her circle of friends, as they navigated the tumultuous waters of high school, parents, teenaged boys, and just growing up in general. Future Jack Reacher sequel director Edward Zwick produced the series, and although it only lasted 19 episodes, it became a cult-favorite that is still referenced to this day – though lately it’s mostly been to create 30 Seconds to Mars memes.
Although creator Bryan Fuller and star Caroline Dhavernas would later go on to make cannibalism and serial killing look disturbing yet beautiful in Hannibal, the two made their delightful mark in the 2004 FOX (natch) comedy-drama series Wonderfalls. The series centered on Dhavernas’ Jaye Tyler, a recent college grad whittling away her youth in a semi-comfortable existence, working retail in the titular Niagara Falls gift shop Wonderfalls. It is there that Fuller’s handiwork becomes apparent, as Jaye is instructed by various souvenirs – a lion, a brass monkey, a mounted fish, etc. – to assist people in need.
The series also featured the familiar face of William Sadler and the soon-to-be-familiar face of Lee Pace. Sweet and quirky, as is Fuller’s style, Wonderfalls didn’t quite catch on with audiences, partly because it initially aired for four consecutive Fridays (a tough night for any show), before being temporarily shelved and shopped around unsuccessfully to another network.
The Flash (CBS)
Sure, the current version of The Flash that’s airing on The CW is magnificent in every way, but that doesn’t make the loss of CBS’s 1990 attempt starring John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays any easier to take. Back then, comic book-driven properties that were actually worth watching were rare – you pretty much had Tim Burton’s Batman – making this a rare weekly dip into the realm of the superhero, something that wouldn’t become commonplace for nearly 25 years. In a sense, the show really was ahead of its time, and audiences weren’t as inclined to tune into the adventures of the Scarlet Speedster in the way they are now. Facing off against the likes of The Simpsons and The Cosby Show, The Flash couldn’t round-up the viewership it needed to race on into a second season.
The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. (FOX)
Co-created by future Lost, Bates Motel, and The Strain producer Carlton Cuse, The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. starred Bruce Campbell, as the titular Briscoe, a lawyer-turned-bounty hunter, who used futuristic gadgets to hunt down a gang of outlaws. Written to mimic matinee movie serials, Briscoe was a high-concept show that also mixed-in plenty of science fiction elements with its outwardly Western appearance. The mix of genres, along with campy humor and plenty of sight gags, was clearly a tough sell for FOX, which canceled the struggling series after just one season. The series (like almost everything Campbell has appeared in) has achieved something of a cult status, and a DVD set of the first season has been made available.
The Black Donnellys (NBC)
Co-created by Paul Haggis, The Black Donnellys surfaced on NBC right around the same time Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was racking up Academy Award statues. The series starred Jonathan Tucker, Kate Mulgrew, and Olivia Wilde as part of an American Irish Catholic family living in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. The series focused on the four brothers of the titular Donnelly clan, as they became embroiled in everything from petty thievery to organized crime. The show debuted in late February, 2007 and despite its thematic resemblances to the aforementioned DiCaprio movie, it never managed to secure a solid audience, leading NBC to pull it from its slot in April, before making the remaining episodes available via the network’s website.
Clone High (MTV)
Before Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were resurrecting 21 Jump Street and making Legos come to life, they, along with Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town), created the short-lived and sometimes-controversial animated series, Clone High. Depicting the goings-on of a high school populated by the teenaged clones of various historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Joan of Arc, and Cleopatra, the series poked fun at afterschool specials and “very special” episodes of television programs. The series was met with complaints for the way it depicted Gandhi, and that negative attention didn’t help the already low ratings, leading MTV to yank it from their schedule. Like most series on this list, Clone High has gone on to garner a cult following.
The Good Guys (FOX)
Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford make for an appealing odd couple even before you mention the plot of The Good Guys, which was a single-camera comedy about two Dallas detectives that aired on FOX in 2010. The mix of Whitford’s lost-in-the-’80s Detective Dan Stark and Hanks’ by-the-book Jack Bailey made for plenty of laughs, especially with Stark’s tendency to bark lines like “Let’s go bust some punks” or to open condiment jars with his service weapon. The brainchild of Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, the series’ attempt to blend action and comedy didn’t quite catch on with viewers quickly enough, and despite some positive reviews from critics, The Good Guys were handed their pink slips after just one season.
Bunheads (ABC Family)
From Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Glimore Girls, came Bunheads, a comedic drama about a former Las Vegas showgirl who, after a quickie wedding, winds up teaching ballet with her mother-in-law. Fans of Sherman-Palladino’s previous efforts were quickly reminded of the writer’s gift for witty, charming dialogue and knack for creating deeply felt interpersonal relationships. The show was a massive hit amongst critics, who championed the series throughout its first season and well after, when its fate was still undecided. Sadly, the show’s ratings were consistently low, even for ABC Family, and several nerve-racking months after the first season came to an end, the network decided Bunheads would be a one-and-done program.
The spiritual descendent of Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared came from a pre-40-Year-Old Virgin Judd Apatow (does that sound a little weird?), and featured some familiar faces from the director’s films, like Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, and Carla Gallo. The college-set comedy also prominently featured Charlie Hunnam, before he strapped on his cut and started riding for SAMCRO. Although the series was sort of told from the perspective of Baruchel’s nerdy but well-liked Steven Karp, it soon became a true ensemble, devoting as much attention to the other characters as it did Steven. Through the 17 episodes of its first and only season – the final episode of which was directed by Jon Favreau – the series developed a loyal fan base, making it another cult hit that likely helped Apatow and his crew when they made the transition to feature films.
The Lone Gunmen (FOX)
Of all the possible spin-offs from The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen seemed like a slam dunk, because, let’s be honest, it was either that or Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: Tales From The Cigarette Smoking Man (which actually sounds pretty awesome). At any rate, X-Files writers and producers Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan (who went on to create a small show called Breaking Bad), and Frank Spotnitz brought their distinct touch to the series that followed conspiracy experts John F. Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Richard ‘Ringo’ Langly (Dean Haglund), as they explored the world of government conspiracies through a slightly lighter lens than its predecessor. Despite good reviews, the series steadily lost viewers after the premiere episode, which became somewhat notorious for its plotline that eerily resembled the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 – a tragic event which would occur several months later.
Considering the brouhaha brewing over FOX’s upcoming (and, if this list is anything to go by, quickly canceled) series Lucifer, one has to wonder whether or not a petition was passed around to get Brimstone yanked off the air. The story follows a dead cop, with the totally nondescript name of Ezekiel Stone (Peter Horton) who was judged by the Devil (John Glover) and sentenced to Hell, only to be recruited by Beelzebub and his amazing hair to recover 113 escaped souls, in exchange for a second chance in life. With its dark genre elements, Brimstone feels like the television ancestor to Supernatural, and Constantine (which, if it doesn’t get picked up by another network will definitely make this list). The series was actually yanked partially through its first season, but aired the later episodes on Syfy.
In the wake of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, two early hits that seemingly defined AMC as a destination for compelling television, the network gambled on Rubicon, a slow-burn conspiracy thriller starring James Badge Dale, Miranda Richardson, Dallas Roberts, Michael Cristofer, and the late Christopher Evan Welch as intelligence analysts working in a New York think tank. The show’s incredibly dense plot and slow-moving structure meant entire episodes would go by with only bits of information being passed along that eventually built to an impressive crescendo by the season’s end. Unfortunately, audiences failed to get on board with the meticulous pacing, and AMC reluctantly canceled the series after one season.
It’s not typical for a comedy about the military to also have such a strong, heartfelt familial component, but Kevin Biegel’s touching and very funny sitcom Enlisted managed to do just that. Featuring a terrific cast that included Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, and (the frequently shirtless) Parker Young as brothers Pete, Derrick, and Randy Hill – as well as Keith David as Command Sergeant Major Donald Cody, and Angelique Cabral as Staff Sergeant Jill Perez – the series essentially told the story of three very different brothers brought together by their time in the military. While the show was a hit critically, FOX initially aired it on Friday nights at 9:30pm before moving it up a half hour. The network also decided to air the episodes out of order, making certain plot points confusing, before shelving it in favor of Kitchen Nightmares and burning the remaining episodes off on Sundays a few months later.
Trophy Wife (ABC)
Maybe it was the title that kept them away, but not enough people tuned in to this remarkably funny and warm comedy about the larger family that sometimes forms despite the unpleasantness of divorce. The show starred Malin Akerman as Kate, a young, attractive woman who marries a much older and successful – though twice divorced – lawyer Pete (Bradley Whitford), and soon finds herself a part of his family that includes his ex-wives Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and Jackie (Michaela Watkins), as well as his three kids, Hillary (Bailee Madison), Warren (Ryan Lee), and adopted son Bert (Albert Tsai). The series was a sweet but intelligent take on the blended family, which makes the question of why it never paired with ratings and award juggernaut Modern Family one for the ages.
Freaks and Geeks (NBC)
From Bridesmaids, Spy, and future Ghostbusters reboot director Paul Feig came this ’80s-set coming-of-age comedy that launched the careers of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, and John Francis Daley. This critically acclaimed series primarily followed Cardellini’s Lindsay Weir, as she transitioned from being a star student to hanging out with the “burnouts,” but many episodes were devoted to the high school trials and tribulations of her younger brother Sam (Daley) and his cohort of geeks. The series was, of course, critically acclaimed, but NBC pulled it from rotation after just 12 of the 18 episodes had aired. The series can be seen in its entirety on DVD and Netflix.
The Grand Poobah of canceled television programs, Firefly still generates plenty of rumors regarding its resurrection, even though it was canceled by FOX almost 13 years ago. The series was filled with creator Joss Whedon’s signature style: clever dialogue, well-drawn characters, and strong interpersonal relationships that helped spawn many die-hard fans. But it wasn’t enough to keep the series going. And yet, despite its television demise, Firefly has had an amazing post-cancelation life that included a transition to feature film, comic books, and more (the series was even rerun for a short while on Science Channel). The continued devotion hasn’t just kept the show on life support; it’s given Firefly the kind of longevity even a long-running series would envy.
Yes, Firefly is the series that most frequently comes up in “I can’t believe they canceled that” conversation, but not even the adventures of Malcolm Reynolds being cut short hurts quite like FX’s non-renewal of the utterly brilliant and tremendously well-acted Terriers (at least Firefly fans got Serenity and some pretty great comic books). This fantastic comedy-drama series from creator Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven, Matchstick Men) and executive producer Shawn Ryan (The Shield) starred Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as an unlikely duo running an unlicensed private investigation business.
The cast also featured fantastic performances by Laura Allen and Rockmond Dunbar, among others. As is always the case, despite the critical acclaim, Terriers could not secure a large enough audience to keep the series going. In recent years, Ryan has expressed interest in seeing the series live on as a TV movie, but those plans, sadly, never came to fruition.
Great shows come and go all the time, but it still stings when shows that burn the brightest are extinguished well before their time. If you can think of other great shows that were canceled after just one season let us know in the comments below.