Developing a brand new television show is an extremely costly, time-intensive endeavor. Even the ones that seem to have little chance at success after low-rated debuts tend to stick around for at least a couple of weeks/episodes in the hope that they either find an audience, or can recoup some of a network’s investment by way of advertising dollars.
For a show to do so poorly during its first airing that the network decided to pull the plug before the second episode even aired is a rare level of failure. In some cases, the network recognizes that it’s not worth wasting even more resources to turn a show’s lackluster peformance around. Other times, a show’s premise or content is simply too controversial and the network can’t find advertisers for further airings. There are also examples where something just went wrong behind the scenes that led to a show’s swift cancellation but had nothing to do with the actual quality of the show itself. While it’s rare that anything can go so wrong that a show doesn’t even get a second episode, it does occasionally happen.
Here are the 15 TV Shows So Bad They Got Cancelled After One Episode.
15. The Melting Pot (1975)
There is no denying writer/actor/comedian Spike Milligan’s influence on comedy, especially British comedy. His surreal, convention-breaking sketch comedy show Q5 is considered one of the biggest influences on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Milligan was known for tackling subjects that would be taboo even today but were especially so in the ’60s and ’70s, most notably ethnic stereotyping. In 1969, he wore blackface for a short-lived sketch series called Curry & Chips, which only lasted six episodes following numerous complaints about its racist content.
Still, this didn’t stop Milligan from continuing to criticize via comedy what he felt was a culture of racism in Britain at the time, and he created yet another show that went after that subject with 1975’s The Melting Pot. In it, Milligan played a Pakistani immigrant– once again wearing makeup to darken his complexion– trying to make his way in Britain while dealing with the culturally-insensitive locals. Not surprisingly, major backlash ensued, and only one of the six completed episodes ever aired. Given the BBC’s tendency at the time to eventually “wipe” its shows from its archive– even the successful ones like Monty Python and Doctor Who— it is likely that the un-aired episodes are permanently lost.
14. Co-Ed Fever (1979)
After the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House, the three networks thought they could catch some of that windfall with similarly-themed TV shows. The problem was that much of what made Animal House popular was its raunchy, drug- and sex-fueled humor– which didn’t really have a home on network TV in 1979. Each network had their own “family-friendly” frat house sitcom, none of which lasted an entire season. But while NBC’s Delta House and ABC’s Brothers and Sisters managed to hang on for about a dozen episodes, CBS’s Co-Ed Fever didn’t even get a second episode.
The premise of Co-Ed Fever was that a previously female-only college had recently gone co-ed, and we were to follow the naughty hijinks that ensued from the boys invading the girls’ school. The lazy innuendo in the title of the first episode, “Pepperoni Passion”, was about the extent of the cleverness of the show. CBS didn’t air the other remaining five episodes that had already been filmed, but it wasn’t a total waste: Co-Ed Fever‘s dormitory set was re-purposed for the girls’ dorm in the first season of The Facts of Life.
13. Heil Honey I’m Home! (1990)
In what is likely the most controversial premise of all time for a TV show that actually made it to air, Heil Honey I’m Home! imagines Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun dealing with their Jewish neighbors as the premise for a wacky sitcom. While Hitler and the Third Reich had been previously parodied in more “acceptable” ways– most notably Hogan’s Heroes and the Mel Brooks comedy The Producers— Heil Honey felt like less of a clever send-up and more like a cheap attempt at shock value.
Despite the fact that this show should’ve been shot down at the concept phase and never gotten to air in the first place, clearer heads eventually prevailed and cancelled the show after its debut episode. Which is a good thing, because Heil Honey was only going to get worse– one of the planned plotlines for the first batch of episodes was to center around Adolf and Eva trying to murder their Jewish neighbors. You know, that hilarious old trope.
12. South of Sunset (1993)
While the late Glenn Frey is best known for being one of the founding members, frontmen, and primary songwriters of American rock band the Eagles– as well as solo hits like The Heat Is On— he did occasionally dabble in acting. While most of his acting resume was cameos and one- or two-episode stints on TV shows, his one attempt at a major star vehicle was the CBS detective drama South of Sunset.
Unfortunately, despite what seemed like Frey and the rest of the cast and crew’s best efforts, luck just wasn’t on South of Sunset‘s side. CBS certainly gave Sunset a strong push, promoting it throughout the 1993 World Series. But several key stations on the West Coast– including the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles– didn’t even run the pilot due to news coverage of wildfires in Malibu. Ratings were also low in the cities where the show did air, however, and CBS didn’t feel it was worth it to give Sunset a chance to find viewers. That was the first and last time they ran the show.
11. Public Morals (1996)
Not to be confused with the (also short-lived) 2015 series of the same name, this Public Morals was an attempt by legendary TV producer Steven Bocho to capitalize on the success of his show NYPD Blue. Following Blue‘s formula of being a police procedural with foul-mouthed– for network TV– characters in risque situations, Morals even borrowed one of Blue‘s characters, creating something of a canonical link between the shows. Had Morals stuck around, further crossovers between the shows would’ve been likely.
But Morals didn’t stick around. In fact, despite a reported 13 episodes already in the can, ratings and critical reception to the debut episode were so poor that none of the additional 12 were aired. Keep in mind that Steven Bochco once had so much clout that he not only got a musical police series (Cop Rock) onto the air, but got it to stick around for a whopping 11 aired episodes. Either his goodwill was running out by the mid-’90s, or Morals was just that bad. But at least Bill Brochtrup, the actor who jumped ship for Morals, got to return to his more stable job at NYPD Blue.
10. Lawless (1997)
While Brian “the Boz” Bosworth’s NFL career was short-lived and fraught with injuries and controversy– he was named to both ESPN’s 2004 list of “Biggest Flops of the Last 25 Years” and NFL Network’s “Top 10 Draft Busts”– he nonetheless kept himself in the public eye through his transition to commentator and actor. Even though his would-be star-making vehicle, the 1991 action film Stone Cold, was a critical and commercial flop, Bosworth still kept plugging away at acting throughout the 90s in low-budget, direct-to-video films and guest spots on TV shows.
After Stone Cold, Bosworth got his second (and final) chance at being a top-billed, big-budget star with the Fox series Lawless. Bosworth starred as John Lawless– yes, really– a motorcycle-riding private eye who used to be a special forces operative. It should come as no surprise that a premise that sounds more like an SNL skit than a real show was a flop. But the ever-resilient Bosworth still didn’t throw in the towel, further beefing up his acting resume and consistently finding roles in the ensuing 20 years.
9. Comedians Unleashed (2002)
Animal Planet has a respectable amount of original programming for a basic cable station that usually requires someone to go two or three plans deep in order to get it in their package. The key is that much of it is reality-based, not requiring the use of writers, sets, and things of that nature. However, the channel has occasionally dabbled in scripted programming, such as the sitcom Beware of Dog, which had actors providing the inner-dialogue of a family’s bearded collie. They even managed to get two aired episodes out of that bizarre premise, which can’t make the people behind this entry feel too good about their single episode.
Again, not to be confused with another show with the same title, AP’s Comedians Unleashed was a show where stand-up comedians did jokes entirely focused on animals. They even got famous comedian Richard Jeni to host the strange show, with a before-his-breakout appearance by Chris D’Elia. It’s unclear just how much mileage Animal Planet thought they could squeeze out of a comedy show that was all about a single, ongoing topic, but one episode’s worth is all that we ever got– which seems like plenty.
8. The Will (2005)
Reality television premises are often pandering and controversial. From a woman pranking her entire family for months with a fake engagement to a horrible person, to a network putting a bunch of attractive, half-naked people on an island and daring them not to have sex with each other, it’s a genre that frequently goes for the lowest common denominator. And audiences often can’t get enough, with even the seediest of premises keeping a show on the air for years.
There are times, however, when reality show producers actually manage to take things too far. Such was the case with CBS’s The Will, a show where a real-life multi-millionaire had his actual friends and relatives competing in a competition to see who would get to inherit his valuable ranch. Met with abysmal ratings and complaints about the gross nature of a rich person having his friends and loved ones compete against each other on television to be named his beneficiary, CBS only aired a single episode of The Will.
7. Emily’s Reasons Why Not (2006)
Based on a 2004 novel, Emily’s Reasons Why Not featured Heather Graham making the jump to television after a successful stint in Hollywood. Graham starred as Emily, a relationship self-help author who ironically is unlucky in love herself. The premise of the show is that Emily has decided that with each new potential boyfriend she meets, she’ll only continue in her relationship with him if she can’t come up with five reasons to break up with him.
In a post-Sex and the City world, any similar type of show had to bring its A-game in order to hack it, and Emily definitely did not. The debut episode was fraught with weak writing and an unfortunate reliance on gay stereotypes, with Emily assuming that her new boyfriend was gay because he was into jiu-jitsu (huh?) and also because he wouldn’t have sex with her. Turns out he was just a devout Mormon who believed in sex only after marriage. Hilarious.
ABC was all-in on Emily before the debut, pouring millions of dollars behind marketing the show. The problem was, they did all of that without even so much as seeing a finished script, relying only on the premise and the star power of Graham. After the dreadful reception of the debut, they quickly cut their losses and cancelled the show immediately.
6. Quarterlife (2008)
While Facebook had begun to gain serious ground in 2008, MySpace was still the top social media platform in the world at that time. The company decided to launch a scripted web series about bloggers in their twenties called Quarterlife with some pretty impressive talent behind it– its creators were also responsible for generation-defining shows Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life.
The series garnered enough buzz that NBC acquired the rights to show it on television, and compiled and re-edited the eight-minute web shorts into hour-long TV episodes. Unfortunately, mainstream audiences weren’t ready to fully embrace web-style programming in 2008– YouTube still hadn’t quite reached critical mass– and reception to the TV version of Quarterlife was exceedingly negative. Only one of the completed TV episodes was aired on NBC, though the remaining ones were eventually made available on their website.
It should also be noted that Quarterlife was only the third most-watched scripted web series in MySpace history, so to expect the third-highest-rated MySpace show to be a top-rated NBC show was quite the leap of faith.
5. Secret Talents of the Stars (2008)
Did you know that celebrities aren’t just robots who are only good at the main thing that they are famous for? If that question didn’t blow your mind, then you agree with the vast majority of Americans who didn’t find that to be an interesting premise for a TV show. It might have been more interesting if Secret Talents of the Stars showed celebrities doing things that are completely different than their most famous talent. For the most part, however, the “secret talent” seemed pretty well in line with what we knew each celebrity for. It’s not surprising that a figure skater (Sasha Cohen) would also be a decent circus acrobat, a pop music performer (Mya) would also know how to tap dance, or that an actor known for his powerful voice (George Takei) was also a capable singer.
To be fair, there were slated to be some more interesting celebrity talents in later episodes, from Ben Stein doing the jitterbug to Danny Bonaduce showing off his unicycle skills, but due to terrible ratings the show didn’t survive beyond its first episode, so we never got to see any of that.
4. Osbournes Reloaded (2009)
In the 2000s, rocker Ozzy Osbourne had experienced a career renaissance as a funny TV personality when he let cameras follow his family around for MTV’s reality show The Osbournes. That series also made his wife, Sharon, and their kids, Jack and Kelly, household names (a third child, Aimee, refused to appear on the show). Following the trend of many famous families in the ’60s and ’70s, Ozzy and company decided to try their hand at an old-fashioned variety show featuring skits and musical acts.
Fox’s ambitions for Osbournes Reloaded were wildly imbalanced. They gave the show a cushy time slot after American Idol, which implied high hopes– but they also cut the planned hour-long debut episode down to just 35 minutes (giving those extra 25 minutes to the preceding Idol episode), meaning that they were also skeptical about the new series. Fox’s affiliates, however, made no bones about their thoughts on Reloaded, with some not airing the show until the middle of the night and others not airing it at all.
Between that and the dismal critical reception, Fox couldn’t get any of its affiliates to air more episodes, and only the truncated premiere was ever seen before the network cancelled the show outright.
3. Ford Nation (2013)
Even if you’ve never stepped foot in Toronto, you’ve probably heard of the city’s former mayor, Rob Ford. The politician gained widespread notoriety for his erratic public behavior, and videos that surfaced of him smoking crack during his tenure as mayor.
Ford– who passed away in 2016 after battling cancer– was never one to shy away from publicity or cameras, no matter what controversies he was embroiled in. Nowhere was that tenacity more evident than when he decided to launch his own talk show in 2013. Ford co-hosted the show with his brother, city councilman Doug Ford, Jr, openly tackling the mayor’s controversial career head-on and inviting journalists to ask him questions about the mistakes he has made.
Despite the bold premise, Ford Nation was fraught with production problems. The hour-long premiere episode took five hours to film and another eight to edit, making it far too costly and resource-intensive to sustain as a series. The show also struggled to find advertisers due to its political nature and companies not wanting to be seen as associated with Ford. Interestingly, ratings were actually fairly strong for the show’s debut airing, but that alone wasn’t enough to keep it alive past the first episode.
2. Breaking Boston (2014)
In additional to earning mega bucks at the box office, Mark Wahlberg has also found success on the small screen as a producer–first with HBO’s Entourage, and most recently, with the reality series Wahlburgers. In addition to the latter show – all about the restaurant chain he owns with his brothers – Wahlberg tried to launch another reality series the same year that Wahlburgers made its debut. While Wahlburgers has run for seven seasons and is still currently on the air, Breaking Boston was cancelled after its premiere episode.
Boston was to be a documentary series that followed around a group of young working-class women struggling to make a better life for themselves in the titular city. Wahlberg claimed that he chose women whose experiences mirrored his own during his younger years in Boston, and he hoped that the series would see them eventually overcoming adversity and finding success and personal fulfillment. A&E wasn’t nearly as interested in seeing where life took these women, as they pulled the show after only one episode – without giving it a chance to turn around initially weak ratings. For a time, the six finished episodes were downloadable via A&E’s website, but they have since been made unavailable.
1. Mesmerised (2015)
Quick: name a famous hypnotist– chances are, you couldn’t come up with one. While illusionists, psychic mediums, and other people in the “magic” for entertainment purposes field can, in fact, become household names, even the most well-known hypnotists don’t have the name recognition of Penn & Teller or Long Island Medium‘s Theresa Caputo. So even though Mesmerised was billed as starring “world renown hypnotist” Peter Powers, most people don’t know who Peter Powers is. All that leaves is a show about… someone who hypnotizes people. Sure, that can be entertaining in small doses– or better yet, in person– but that type of thing doesn’t translate very well to a TV series.
Among the stunts Powers pulled in the debut episode were hypnotizing a man into marrying an alpaca, and messing with people during a real-life speed dating session. It was funny in spots, but again, it would’ve been better-served as a segment within another show rather than being its own series entirely. Unfortunately, Powers could only hypnotize people into continuing to watch if they tuned in to begin with, and most people didn’t; the show didn’t charm its way past its first episode.
Did you see any of these episodes when they aired? Let us know in the comments!