The history of television is filled with shows that were canceled after only one season or even one episode. The reason these quick cancellations happen can usually be attributed to some unexpected occurrence that forced a network to realize that a particular show just wasn’t going to work. Most of the time, these quick cancellations can be attributed to bad ratings or a specific controversy. Sometimes, internal productions issues force a series to call off production. Regardless, it’s rarely easy for a network to order the cancellation of a program that they invested time and money into after only a brief on-air run.
So imagine how hard it must be for a network to order the cancellation of a produced show before it ever even airs. There are very few shows in the history of television that were approved, shot (or partially shot), and canceled before a single episode could be broadcast. As you might imagine, most of the shows that suffer this fate are canned because they are the kind of awful programs that should have never been greenlit in the first place. In the case of some other shows, the story of their pre-debut cancellation is even more fascinating than the show itself could have ever been.
These are the 15 TV Shows That Were Canceled Before They Even Premiered.
15. Welcome to the Neighborhood
Back in 2005, someone at ABC greenlit a reality show/contest called Welcome to the Neighborhood. The premise of the show was that seven families would temporarily move into a very posh neighborhood and had the chance to win a house in said neighborhood. There were two catches. The winner would be determined by the residents of the neighborhood and the families who were competing for the house were all…non-traditional residents for this type of suburb. The Eckhardts, for instance, were a Native American Pagan family. The matriarch of the Morgans was a stripper. The Lees….well, the Lees were just a normal Korean family.
Oddly enough, organizations such as GLAAD actually gave the show their moral blessing. The groups most offended by the highly-offensive premise were conservatives who felt that the judges were portrayed as racists and the housing commission who deemed that the concept of the show violated certain housing laws. The full season was shot – the contest was won by a homosexual couple – but ABC never aired a single episode.
14. Manchester Prep
Back in the ‘90s, the WB network established a niche for themselves on the airwaves by broadcasting a series of shows starring teenage characters (usually played by 30-year old actors). In any case, the movement was popular enough that executives as Fox decided that they wanted to produce their own Dawson’s Creek. So, they greenlit a television prequel to the 1999 film Cruel Intentions called Manchester Prep. This show would have followed a group of students at a prestigious school and emphasized their various sexual relationships and other racy escapades.
At the time, it was reported that two episodes were filmed before Fox canceled the project due to “creative differences.” In subsequent years, it was revealed that the show was simply too raunchy, even for a network that made its name on the back of scandalous content. It’s not entirely clear just how explicit the show was, but murmurs of a steamy shower scene and a suggestive horse riding sequence have emerged since the cancellation.
13. The Jake Effect
On the surface, The Jake Effect is one of those canceled shows which is seemingly not worth remembering at all. This NBC show followed a lawyer named Jake Galvin who decides to give up his lucrative career following ethical concerns and become a high-school teacher instead. Seven episodes were filmed before NBC decided it wasn’t coming along the way they hoped. It was quietly removed from the lineup.
What makes The Jake Effect an important part of television history is the fact that Jason Bateman played the show’s main character. When The Jake Effect was canceled, Bateman immediately began to audition for other roles. Soon, he was cast as one of the leads in Arrested Development. Aside from paving the way for a brilliant (and still going strong) comedy, The Jake Effect is remembered by some due to Bravo airing six of the show’s episodes during their “Brilliant but Cancelled” programming block. It’s a decent show, but we’re all better off with Arrested Development.
12. 12 Miles of Bad Road
While no network is immune to canceling a filmed show prior to the program actually being aired, HBO has had a pretty sterling reputation over the years when it comes to only greenlighting shows they intend to air. One of the few examples of an HBO show that was filmed but never aired is a 2007 program known as 12 Miles of Bad Road. The show has been described as a dark comedy that focuses on the Shakespeare family; a clan of wealthy real estate magnates living in Texas.
Six episodes of the show were shot before HBO delayed it due to the Writers Guild strike. Eventually, HBO decided to cancel it outright. What’s really strange about this particular cancellation is that 12 Miles of Bad Road was apparently a pretty fascinating show. While many critics called the show an uneven blend of comedy and drama, they also wrote that the few finished episodes featured the kind of bold brilliance and subtle social commentary that HBO is known for.
11. Captain America: The Animated Series
Back in the ‘90s, Fox helped kickstart the superhero entertainment revolution by broadcasting a series of programs starring everyone’s favorite costumed crimefighters. Along with original programs like The Tick, Fox’s kid block featured animated adaptations of Batman, Spider-Man, and The X-Men that all went on to become huge hits. Somewhere along the way, Fox approved an animated series based on Captain America. A few episodes of the show were made, and everyone involved felt that Fox had another superhero hit on their hands.
As you’ve probably figured out, Captain America never made it on the air. The exact reason the show was canned hasn’t been explicitly stated, but the producer of the Spider-Man animated series has said that the cancellation had to do with fiscal and “political” issues Marvel was experiencing at the time. The fiscal issues are obvious enough, but it’s believed that Marvel didn’t want to deal with the blowback they received regarding the show’s use of Nazi characters.
10. Good Grief
So far as reality television goes, the premise of Lifetime’s Good Grief wasn’t too awful. The show would have followed the daily activities of Dondre and Rachel Johnson, who owned a small funeral parlor in Fort Worth, Texas. As anyone who has ever binge-watched Six Feet Under knows, the subject of death and grief as it relates to the funeral process can be fascinating. There’s no guarantee that this show would have been as good as that one (it almost certainly wouldn’t have been), but the premise was interesting.
Unfortunately, production hit a bit of a snag when it was revealed that the Johnsons were seemingly hiding bodies underneath their funeral home. Their landlord discovered eight bodies beneath the funeral home that had seemingly been ignored by the owners of the funeral parlor. Needless to say, the arrest of the Johnsons derailed Lifetime’s plans to actually run the show.
9. Garbage Pail Kids
For our younger readers who might not have fond memories of ‘80s pop culture fads, Garbage Pail Kids was a trading card series that featured some truly grotesque characters. Parents hated the twisted image of such characters as Tailored Tyler (a skinless child with a sewing machine) and Juicy Jess (a girl with a fondness for using her pimples as toothpaste). Naturally, these protests only increased sales. Garbage Pail Kids were so popular that CBS even commissioned an animated television show based on the characters.
Packs of cards were one thing, but parents outright refused to watch these characters prance about on television and corrupt their innocent children. Nearly every advocacy group you can think of protested the show, and CBS had no choice but to cancel it. Well…in America, that is. Garbage Pail Kids still aired in Europe, meaning that episodes of the show eventually found their way to the internet. To be honest, the controversy is the least of the show’s problems.
8. Still Life
Following her work with Joss Whedon on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Marti Noxon decided to pitch a slightly unconventional show. She sold Fox on Still Life, a drama about a recently deceased father who continues to watch over his family from the afterlife. The show shared similarities with the hit novel The Lovely Bones, and Fox couldn’t help but be charmed by the popularity of the premise, Noxon’s talents, and the natural appeal of co-stars Jensen Ackles and Morena Baccarin. Soon, Noxon shot a pilot and began to work on the rest of the series.
While the pilot was an immediate hit with just about everyone who saw it, Fox soon decided to cancel the series even though seven episodes had been filmed. Reports suggest that the network felt that the show was way too heavy to be considered entertaining. They just didn’t feel that audiences would make such a depressing show “appointment television.”
7. All My Babies’ Mamas
In 2013, the Oxygen network decided that what the world needed most was another intelligence-draining reality show that didn’t have anything to offer beyond a scandalous premise. So, they greenlit All My Babies’ Mamas. This show followed a rapper named Shawty Lo who had fathered 11 children with 10 different women. Presumably, the show would have focused on just what a wild life this modern polygamist lives.
We say “presumably” because Oxygen canceled the show before a single episode was aired. You can probably guess why this one never made it on-air. All My Babies’ Mamas offended several groups of people who couldn’t help but notice the way the show simultaneously glamorized careless sex and perpetuated negative racial stereotypes. At the end of the day, the show might have survived the controversy if it was even slightly entertaining. We’re guessing it wasn’t.
6. When Women Ruled the World
While we’re on the subject of reality shows doomed from the start, let’s talk about When Women Ruled the World. In 2007, Fox greenlit a reality show about 12 women and 12 men who are sent to an island. The twist here was that the men had to be completely subservient and do everything the women said. Whoever was deemed to be the best servant would win $250,000.
Where to begin… Well, the fact that the premise of the show hinged upon a modified idea of slavery probably should have caused someone at Fox to reconsider its merits. That tidbit aside, it was unlikely the show would appeal to men, given the whole servitude aspect. It’s also unlikely the show would appeal to women, given the subtle message that women in power could only ever happen on some kind of twisted fantasy island. Interestingly, a version of this show did later air on international television.
Nobody really expected The X-Files to become such a mainstream hit, but the moment that Fox’s bizarre show about paranormal events became a ratings monster, networks everywhere decided that they wanted their slice of the pie. Even Fox wasn’t satisfied with having just one sci-fi horror hit on their network. They gave the go-ahead to producer Shaun Cassidy to create a show called Hollyweird about fiction supernatural occurrences in the Los Angeles area. Fox scheduled the show to debut in the fall of 1998, and many at the network touted it as a future sensation.
Of course, Hollyweird wouldn’t be on this list if it had actually aired. Shortly before the series’ scheduled debut, producer Shaun Cassidy quit. In an official statement, he revealed that this decision was based on the fact that Fox continuously pressured him to fix a show that he “never viewed as broken in the first place.” Without a showrunner on-board, Fox decided to drop the series entirely.
4. The Ortegas
The Ortegas was an American remake of the British show, The Kumars At No. 42. The difference was that Kumars focused on an Indian family living in London who become part of a hybrid television program, while The Ortegas starred a Latino family living in America dealing with similar circumstances. With Cheech Martin as one of the show’s leads and some good early buzz, most figured that it was a guarantee that the series would eventually be aired.
So what happened? The O.C. happened. When The O.C. drew stronger ratings than Fox expected, they decided to move it to the prime time slot they had set aside for The Ortegas. However, the slot they moved it to was soon occupied by another unexpected hit, The Bernie Mac Show. Fox insisted that they would eventually find a slot for The Ortegas. At some point, the network got tired of juggling the schedule and decided to drop it entirely.
3. Day One
In 2009, NBC seemingly invested a great deal of time, money, and hope in a series called Day One — a show about a group of apartment residents that must band together following a global event that brings about the end of the modern world. It was promoted as a Lost/Heroes type sci-fi show that would drop tantalizing hints about greater mysteries in an effort to keep viewers hooked.
To be honest, it’s still not exactly clear what happened to Day One. It seems that NBC execs gradually lost faith in the show. It was originally intended to be a multi-season series, but NBC decided to turn it into a miniseries sometime during production. Finally, NBC announced that the show would air as a mini-movie that they may follow-up on if it draws good ratings. Eventually, they decided to not air any version of it at all. Some believe that NBC’s hesitation about airing Day One can be attributed to Heroes’ declining ratings and the network’s belief that this style of sci-fi show was just a fad.
The most intriguing canceled shows are always the ones that were canned for mysterious reasons. Such is the case with another high-profile NBC project called Snip. In 1976, NBC approved production of a spiritual successor to the hit movie Shampoo. Just as in that film, Snip would focus on the daily adventures of a hairdresser. According to those who worked on the show, the hairdresser in Snip was going to be an openly homosexual character. While that’s hardly shocking these days, it was quite the big deal for a major television show in the ‘70s to star a gay character.
NBC was so confident that Snip was going to be a hit that they had TV Guide run a full-length feature about the series. By the time that issue of TV Guide had hit store shelves, however, NBC had already made the decision to cancel Snip. At the time, nobody had a clue what happened. Over the years, though, many have stated that NBC simply worried that a show with a homosexual protagonist would generate too much controversy.
1. The Dictator
In terms of premise and potential, this may be the most fascinating pre-release cancellation in television history. In what can only be described as a moment of pure genius, a CBS executive approved a pitch for a show called The Dictator. This half-hour comedy would have starred Christopher Lloyd as a former dictator who is kicked out of office and forced to leave his country. For reasons that still aren’t entirely clear, he decided to move to New York City and open a laundromat. We assume that madcap hilarity ensues from there.
It’s absolutely amazing that such an utterly bizarre concept ever got approved in the first place. Remarkably, the show’s cancellation has nothing to do with bad reports from the set or an executive coming to their senses. Instead, The Dictator was a victim of the Writer’s Guild strike. Only two episodes of The Dictator had been filmed when the strike hit, and CBS felt that it wasn’t in their best interest to debut the show as is or extend its production until the writers returned, and the project ultimately faded into obscurity.
Do you know of any other TV series that were canceled before airing a single episode? Let us know in the comments.