Until the coming of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, fantasy movies had a hard time finding an audience. That wasn’t really the case on the small screen however, as the medium had popular fantasy TV shows from almost the very beginning. Mr. Ed, Bewitched, Beauty and the Beast and Charmed all found enthusiastic audiences who had no trouble accepting their magical and, at times, eerie conceits. Fantasy, of course, continues to have a large television audience, with shows like Supernatural, and Once Upon a Time continuing to have rabid followings.
Still, as is the case with every television genre, a number of also-rans and never-weres populate TV’s basement of forgotten shows. Some faced stiff competition from other, more established series. A few ran into technical problems that prevented them from continuing. And of course, a few were just plain godawful ideas from the get-go. The shows referenced here encompass an example of each. Often well produced and with lavish budgets to boot, they never quite found their footing, or, for that matter, their audience. Submitted here for your joy, ridicule and general amazement, have a look at these 15 Fantasy Shows You Totally Forgot.
15. Kindred: The Embraced
Following hot on the heels of the ’90s vampire craze that kicked off with Interview with the Vampire in 1994, Kindred: The Embraced borrowed from the popular Vampire: The Masquarade role playing game. More of a mob soap than a traditional vampire fantasy show, the series focused on C. Thomas Howell’s Detective Frank Kohenek as he investigated five vampire clans in San Francisco. His investigations led him to a leggy human reporter (played by Kelly Rutherford of Gossip Girl) for whom he harbored romantic feelings, and to a sort of vampire mafia don called the Prince.
Kindred: The Embraced ran a paltry eight episodes on Fox in 1996. Throughout its run, staples of TV sci-fi and fantasy would pop up in recurring roles, including Kate Vernon of Battlestar Galactica and Titus Welliver of Lost. The show began to develop a decent following, though the sudden death of star Mark Frankel, who played the vampire Prince, caused the network and the producers to abandon the series.
Camelot debuted on the cable network Starz, the channel behind such other period series as Spartacus and Da Vinci’s Demons. Camelot continued the tradition of period fantasy, retelling the Arthurian legend with more sexual and political overtones. The cast featured a high pedigree: Joseph Fiennes as Merlin, Eva Green as Morgan and Jamie Campbell Bower as King Arthur. Throughout the show’s 10-episode run, Arthur would investigate the death of his father King Uther, court the young Lady Guinevere, and rebuff nefarious plans by Morgan to usurp the throne.
Camelot debuted in 2011 to a strong reception. Critics praised the show’s dramatic, if soapy, storyline, the cast and production design. Several commentators also noted that the show would pose a significant rivalry to HBO, which was about to debut Game of Thrones at the time. Despite finding an audience, Starz cancelled the show, citing production costs and scheduling issues. Fiennes, Green and Bower all received numerous film offers, which made filming another season almost impossible.
Now here’s a show for the books, though definitely not one for viewing!
Remember those GEICO insurance commercials from the mid-00s featuring a group of cavemen? At the time they ran, they’d proven immensely popular with audiences…so much so that ABC decided to base a sitcom on the same characters! Cavemen followed brothers Andy & Joel and their roommate Nick—all three the cavemen of the title. Each week, they suffer through the foibles of life, like finding new jobs, dating and the occasional illness.
If the premise doesn’t sound all that funny, hold on, it gets worse. The creators of Cavemen transparently wanted to portray the title characters as an ethnic minority: one character writes a dissertation on how pop culture has stolen everything from caveman culture, another accuses a man of being a “shaver” (a closeted caveman posing as a homo-sapien) and caveman character trying a stand-up comedy routine gets accused of promoting negative stereotypes! A first pilot episode set in Atlanta never even made it to air after focus groups thought the cavemen parodied African-Americans. A second pilot met with a negative reception. Six episodes aired in the US before audience loathing and a high production budget (thanks to the intense make-up demands) doomed the show to extinction.
12. Adventures in Wonderland
Disney tried to capture the Sesame Street audience with one of many attempts at programming for small children, Adventures in Wonderland. As the title implies, the show took inspiration from Lewis Caroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The series combined live-action performers and puppetry into musical episodes. Most stories would revolve around Alice helping her friends in Wonderland solve problems, which would then give her insight into her own life in the real world.
Beginning in 1992, Adventures in Wonderland ran a full 100 episodes on The Disney Channel. Disney originally produced and filmed the show at their Florida theme park, the Disney-MGM Studios (as it was then called), in an attempt to legitimize the park as a studio rather than a tourist attraction (a theme that will recur in this article). Later episodes shot in Los Angeles. The show picked up six Emmy Awards during its run before signing off in 1995.
11. The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
Fox Studios had a hit film in 1947 with The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, a romantic comedy starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney. More than 20 years later, NBC tried to recapture the success of the film with a sitcom of the same name. It starred Hope Lange, and tried to tap the same audience as Bewitched and I Dream of Genie, two other popular fantasy shows of the time. The series followed the daily life of writer and mother Carolyn Muir as she lived in a cottage haunted by the spirit of a dead 19th-century sea captain.
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir faced some hard competition from the beginning. Scheduled against popular shows My Three Sons and The Lawrence Welk Show, it struggled to find a significant audience. An Emmy win for Lange helped keep the show alive, even after NBC cancelled it. ABC picked up The Ghost & Mrs. Muir for a second season, though it again faced tough competition from the CBS drama Family Affair. The show went the way of the ghost following its second season in 1970, though it still continues to have a cult following.
10. Just Our Luck
ABC had a great run with youth-targeted comedies throughout the 1970s and ’80s with shows like Three’s Company, Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days. By 1983 though, a cultural shift towards more action-oriented fare like Knight Rider took place. Hoping to refresh its comedy block, ABC greenlit Just Our Luck, a bizarre remake of I Dream of Jeanie.
The series followed the misadventures of Los Angeles TV reporter Keith Burrows, who stumbles upon a genie in a bottle while at Venice Beach. Shabu, the genie, offers to serve Burrows for the rest of his life, though most of Shabu’s works consisted of playing practical jokes on his master.
Pitted against the NBC powerhouse series The A-Team, Just Our Luck struggled to find an audience from the start. Negative reviews didn’t help, nor did accusations of racism. A number of critics, as well as the NAACP, accused the show of stereotyping African-Americans by personifying the genie as a jive-talking black man. The show lasted 13 episodes before the controversies—as well as heavy competition from The A-Team—doomed it to cancellation.
9. Day Break
Acclaimed actor Taye Diggs headlined Day Break, a fantasy-drama which aired on ABC in 2006. Diggs played LA cop Brett Hopper, a man framed for murder of the city’s assistant D.A. Due to forces unknown, Hopper keeps reliving the same day as he tries to uncover the real murderers of the D.A., and who framed him.
If the premise sounds a bit, well, repetitive or confusing—it is. Viewers didn’t know quite what to make of it, and the repeating of the same day with subtle variations in every episode made the show hard to follow. Despite the presence of other genre veterans—notably Adam Baldwin and Mitch Phileggi of The X-Files—the show never gained a foothold with audiences. As ABC had scheduled it as a mid-season replacement while the hit show Lost went on hiatus, the network pulled the plug after only six episodes had aired. ABC later burned off the final episodes to the show’s few die-hard fans via their website before relegating Day Break to the hall of TV also-rans.
PBS managed to raise the bar on kids’ programming again with Ghostwriter, a 1992 TV series aimed at adolescents. The show followed a group of diverse kids who solved mysteries with the help of an unseen entity—unseen to the other kids, at least. To viewers, he appeared as a giant animated dot. Ghostwriter would aid the kids in solving everything from school pranks to crimes, and could only communicate by re-arranging existing letters (only a select few could see his messages). Stories would usually run four to five parts in a serialized format.
Ghostwriter won wide acclaim when it debuted on PBS for its portrayal of realistic teenagers and for its strong writing. The show ran three seasons and developed a loyal fanbase, enough that tie-in books and games began to line store shelves. Then, in 1995, the show went on abrupt hiatus when funding for the series ran out. No more funds materialized, which ultimately led the show to cancellation.
7. Faerie Tale Theatre
Shelly Duvall transcended her shining (and Shining) big-screen roots in 1982 when she waded into the realm of producing for television. Faerie Tale Theatre became one of the first children’s shows produced for Showtime in 1982. Duvall appeared in a variety of roles throughout the series and attracted a plethora of Hollywood talent to the show. Oscar winners Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Liza Minnelli, Tatum O’Neal, Susan Sarandon and Anjelica Huston all guest starred under the direction of acclaimed directors like Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola.
Faerie Tale Theatre had a great six season run until 1987. The various guest stars helped keep the series afloat, and popularized it when it began running on PBS in reruns. Arguably, the show became even more popular on home video than in its first-runs on Showtime, since a good portion of the US lacked cable TV capability until the late 1980s. When the series finally ended, it disappeared into obscurity, remembered only by a die-hard fanbase.
6. Do Over
2002 saw the sitcom Do Over land on the WB. The show concerned a paper salesman named Joel disenchanted with his life. He’s single, lonely, and his family is a mess, but luckily enough, a chance electric shock sends him back in time into his 14-year-old body. Excited to relive his life, Joel finds he must suffer through adolescence and school again, though his knowledge of the future can help him improve life for himself and his family. Throughout the show’s brief run, he attempted to sell himself as a punk rocker (using music from the future written by Green Day), and change the course of his dating history.
Do Over arrived at a time when the WB struggled to find comedy hits. The comedies Off Centre and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment both tanked, and while Do Over had a strong fan base, it struggled in the ratings department. Pitted against the juggernauts of Survivor on CBS and Scrubs on NBC, Do Over lasted a paltry 11 episodes, leaving five other finished entries unaired. Unlike the lead character it portrayed, Do Over never got a second chance at success…
5. Lost Girl
Canadian network Showcase had an unlikely hit in 2010. Lost Girl followed the adventures of Bo, a bisexual female succubus in search of her origins. Her nature dictates that she must feed off of humans or other “Fae” (fairy creatures like herself), either by kissing or having sex with them. Throughout the show, Bo explores the Fae world, befriending both humans and other Fae as she learns to control her hunger. She also must choose sides: the Fae have broken into two factions—light and dark—and they demand that Bo take a stand in their ongoing war.
Lost Girl became an immediate hit in Canada and Australia, and won praise throughout its run for its depictions of sexuality and unusual characters. The show ran a full five seasons before shutting down in 2015. It became a cult hit when it debuted on SyFy in the US in 2012, albeit with some censorship. Fans of the show in other countries would later blame the cuts for the show failing to become a major hit the US, where it never rose above cult status.
4. Night Gallery
Much as Tales from the Crypt would become a success in the 1990s, Night Gallery found status as a creepy, fantasy hit in the 1970s. Created by Rod Serling, the genius behind the sci-fi anthology The Twilight Zone, the stories of Night Gallery focused on the supernatural with a macabre twist. It also adopted an anthology format, and featured a rotating cast of guest stars, writers and directors. Among them was Joan Crawford, who had a starring role in the pilot episode alongside Happy Days star Tom Bosley. The pilot also debuted a young, up and coming director by the name of Steven Spielberg.
Night Gallery attracted a strong cult following and ran for three seasons on NBC. After getting the ax, the show would have normally moved into syndication. However, because the show had begun as a 60-minute series before dropping to 30 minutes in the final season, episodes had to undergo severe editing to make the Night Gallery package viable for syndicated markets. The butchered episodes attracted wide criticism, and may have harmed the show’s popularity in the long term. Fortunately, a DVD release restored all episodes to their original length, giving Night Gallery a chance at resurrection.
Every time another incarnation of Tarzan hits the screen, casual observers (like us here at Screen Rant) always have the same reactions: do we really need this?
Never before was the question more asked than in 2003 when the WB launched their bizarre take on the character. Tarzan reimagined the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs characters in a modern context, resetting the show in New York City and reimagining the title character into the heir to a major company. Instead of swinging from vine to vine, however, this “modern” Tarzan could leap from building to building, and would patrol New York as something of a non-costume clad, very quiet superhero
Travis Fimmel (Vikings) and Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) starred in the series developed by Eric Kripke, who would later create the hit series Supernatural. Kripke, for his part, denounced the show, calling it “crap.” True to WB form, each episode featured an array of pop hits (or would-be hits), usually performed by artists who were not-so-coincidentally signed to the Warner Bros. record label. The WB sliced Tarzan’s vine after eight episodes, leaving this mess where it belongs: forgotten.
Speaking of feral kids raised in the jungle, Disney produced the cult series Sheena beginning in 2000. Based on the obscure comic character of the same name, Sheena revolved around a warrior girl raised by a mysterious jungle tribe after the death of her parents. Her upbringing allows her to learn magical secrets of the jungle, including the ability to talk to animals and morph into any creature of her choosing. Sheena lived exclusively within the jungle until meeting a safari tycoon, who coerced her out from her hiding. Together, the two protect the jungle from poachers, armies, dictators and UFOs.
Sheena starred former Baywatch beauty Gina Lee Nolin in the title role. Filmed at the Disney-MGM Studios (see above), the show ran two seasons in syndication. The series never found a sizable audience, and with the rise of digital cable, Sheena faced tough competition. Disney cancelled the show after an abbreviated second season when it shuttered production at the aforementioned theme park.
1. The 10th Kingdom
NBC took a gamble with The 10th Kingdom, a mini-series in the most literal sense of the term. Broadcast in two hour blocks, the show ran a full five nights, making it either a ten hour movie or five episode series. The network lavished money on the production, signing up name stars like Ann-Margret, Diane Weist, Rutger Hauer and John Laroquette, as well as then-popular actresses Kimberly Williams and Camryn Manheim.
Much as later series like Grimm and Once Upon a Time would explore extended universes populated by fairy tale characters, The 10th Kingdom proceeded from the premise of what happened after happily ever after. The show had no shortage of ambition; featuring state of the art effects and make-up, NBC had hoped to create a major hit, one possibly leading to an ongoing series. Alas, critics panned the series as overlong, silly and tedious. The 10th Kingdom never found an audience, though it occasionally attracts curious viewers on streaming services like Netflix.
Did we forget your favorite forgotten fantasy? Tell us in the comments!