We’ve all dealt with the trauma that follows having your favorite television show cancelled. Some endings are more peaceful, anticipated: for fans of ER, they were gifted a whopping 15 seasons (despite all of the original main cast moving on after the 11th season) and a one hour retrospective episode preceding a two hour series finale. Others are quick and cutting and demand a public outcry.
In our new world of social media and streaming services, sometimes the backlash works wonders – for example, when The Mindy Project was cancelled by Fox after its third season, fans took to their keyboards and the series was quickly picked up by Hulu. Family Guy is a more mainstream back-by-popular demand success story: the show ran for three seasons on Fox before getting cut. It was due to high ratings via syndication and popularity in DVD sales that prompted Fox to renew the show two years later.
In spite of public protest, not all cancellations have happy endings. After all, with a highly concentrated pool of new shows, and shows passing their prime, it can’t be expected that every program will have a full and thorough run. Commonly, television executives will blame cancellations on low ratings, but there are a few television shows whose cancellations transcend the normal reasons. From hunger strikes to jail-time, here are 15 TV Shows That Were Cancelled For Shocking Reasons.
15. Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars is one of the last success stories born from the little-station-that-could: UPN. It was struggling to keep afloat by the time Veronica Mars closed in on its second season. The solution was simple: UPN would merge with the WB, together forming the CW. The CW would absorb the shows that the WB and UPN broadcast, so it was inevitable that cuts would be made. And though it’s true that Veronica Mars suffered from low ratings, the ultimate reason it got the chop was not due to its performance, but its brand: the CW opted to put the show on hiatus while they aired something closer to the vibe the station wanted to project: Pussycat Dolls Present.
That’s right, Veronica Mars fell off-air in the middle of its third season so the CW could air the reality show about the Pussycat Dolls. After that concluded, Veronica Mars aired its remaining five episodes of the season, but the damage was done – the show was cancelled. Fan were justly rewarded with the release of the Veronica Mars movie in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
14. Martha Stewart Living
Now a permanent fixture in pop culture infamy, home-maker extraordinaire Martha Stewart served 5 months in prison for insider trading. It was 2004: controversy surrounding the incident had been circulating for years before the explosive six week trial which found Stewart guilty. It was also the height of her popularity. Stewart enjoyed success as a businesswoman (recently having consolidated her various businesses and branding into the overarching Martha Stewart Omnimedia) and as a beloved television personality at the helm of her show Martha Stewart Living. The end did not seem near until allegations of her criminal activity surfaced.
Though Stewart received the minimum sentence, the prison time worked to discredit her wholesome image and ultimately proved fatal to her reality show. Stewart was unable to host while serving time and the show was put on hiatus. After her release, a new program replaced Martha Stewart Living, so all was not lost. The new Martha talk-show achieved some success, but was cancelled in 2012 without quite reaching the same longevity or notoriety as her previous program.
13. Reading Rainbow
The PBS fixtur Reading Rainbow was cancelled in 2006 after 21 seasons. However, it continued in regular syndication until 2009, when it was taken off the air because it was thought to be more of a luxury than an educational staple. It was during the time that the initiative launched during the presidency of George W. Bush, “No Child Left Behind”, was in full throttle. It was determined that, though Reading Rainbow instilled a love of reading for young children, it wasn’t necessarily the cut-and-dry educational staple “No Child Left Behind” wanted to to endorse – and there wasn’t enough in the budget to include all the fixings.
Simply put: Reading Rainbow was cut because it wasn’t educational enough. Luckily, host LeVar Burton and his company (RRKidz) bought the rights to the Reading Rainbow name and launched an app – effectively bringing the show to a whole new generation.
12. Young Justice
Falling victim to an unfortunate trend in adolescence-oriented superhero cartoons, Young Justice didn’t live to see a third season, largely because of its decision to peddle more sophisticated humour and plot-lines, and its emphasis on developing female characters. Why would either of those be detrimental to a show’s success? They aren’t. What they do affect – or what television executives believe they affect – is toy sales.
Of course, for a superhero franchise, toy sales are a big part of the equation, but the assumption that older audiences or – in particular – female audiences don’t buy toys and therefore are not a worthwhile audience is troubling. There is little indication that it is only boys who buy figurines, and it’s not outside of the realm of possibility to market a more traditionally “female” oriented item to boost sales for the girls who watch. However, executives were firm in their resolve, and the show ended after two seasons.
The short-lived Starz drama – starring Kelsey Grammer as a tyrannical and mentally declining Chicago mayor – premiered in 2011 and was cancelled after the second season. Grammer, who was also a producer on the show, earned a Golden Globe for his performance, but failed to snag an Emmy nomination.
Grammer disclosed on Jay Leno that he believed there was a good possibility the cancellation was due to his political leanings. Grammer is an outspoken supporter and member of the Republican Party, backing candidates such as John McCain in 2008 and Michele Bachmann in 2012.
Though the network claimed low ratings, it was a strange turn of events, seeing that the network had renewed a second season before the first had even premiered. Perhaps there is plausibility in Grammer’s implication that his Republican leanings might have turned some off the show.
10. Border Security
Border Security: Canada’s Front Line – the Canadian version of this popular reality show – faced fierce controversy in 2013 after filming an immigration raid in a construction site. Mata Duran, a Mexican citizen, tried to hide from officers but was found and questioned – without being properly informed as to filming and the purpose of the shoot. He was later encouraged to give consent, which he did quickly, without taking time to read over the document – clearly motivated by fear and without full understanding of the circumstances.
Duran lodged a complaint, which prompted the federal privacy commissioner to investigate the workings and protocol used on the show. The show was found lacking, and the recommendation given to the Border Services Agency was cancellation: they agreed, and the show did not return for a fourth season.
Like many of its kind, the 1996 Fox drama claimed low ratings as the reason for its cancellation. It was cancelled mid-way through the run of its first season, with only five of nine hours broadcast. It centered around an immoral, cutthroat businessman called Jim Profit, who manipulated those around him to ensure his own success. It paved the way for shows of the same ilk, such as The Sopranos, Dexter, and House – many of which achieved full, long-spanning success.
However, in 1996 it seemed the world wasn’t entirely ready for the antics of Profit: the network was flooded with phone calls and complaints about the derogatory actions of the protagonist. Businessman felt their livelihood was demonized, and it’s rumoured that Fox network-founder, Rupert Murdoch, disliked the interpretation. The final nail in the coffin may have been from the show that directly preceded Profit in their time slot – Melrose Place. Where Profit had low ratings and critical appeal, Melrose Place had high ratings and critical scorn – this apparently did not sit well with creator Aaron Spelling, one of the most powerful people in television at the time.
8. The Good Life
Cee Lo Green’s unscripted reality series – which focused on him balancing roles as producer and performer – folded after just six episodes. This one is a bit more perspicuous: the network, TBS, cancelled the show after Cee Lo Green took to Twitter and caused controversy over his definition of “rape.”
In tweets that have long since been deleted, Green claims that women who are unconscious cannot be raped, saying people that have been raped “remember.” This statement drew immediate backlash, as it seemed to be poised to excuse his own actions. Two years earlier, Green faced charges for sexual assault: he pleaded no contest that year and was sentenced to three years formal probation. The network’s decision to cancel was handed out after the anti-sexism and pro-equality site UltraViolet launched a petition to drop the show.
Now known for her hugely popular talk show of the same name – as well as her turn as the quick-to-forget Dory in Finding Nemo/Finding Dory – Ellen DeGeneres’ career suffered greatly in the ’90s following the cancellation of her sitcom.
A year before the show was axed, DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on a special one-hour episode. There was significant backlash: her name was splashed across magazine covers and she ground out interview after interview where her decision to be publicly “out” was questioned and scrutinized. The episode itself carried a viewer discretion warning. Ratings plummeted over the next season, and the show was cancelled. Now lauded as a ground-breaker for gay and lesbian content in television, Ellen suffered severe ramifications after her coming out, and dropped out of the spotlight until her talk show Ellen premiered in 2001.
6. Grace Under Fire
It was the breakout comedy of 1993/1994 season, and remained a Top 20 hit for its first three seasons, before getting cancelled following the fifth season. Despite its success, trouble plagued the cast and crew off-camera – Brett Butler, starring as the titular Grace, struggled with a pain-killer addiction, and reportedly harassed and demeaned her co-workers. Jon Paul Steuer, who played Grace’s son for the first three seasons, quit before the fourth, with rumours speculating that Butler had flashed her breasts at the 12-year-old boy. Julie White left the show shortly after, similarly claiming that it was due to Butler’s inappropriate actions on set.
5. Police Squad
This show inspired the hugely popular Naked Gun movie franchise and boasts some of the creative forces behind cult classic Airplane! It lasted only one season and had a grand total of six episodes: it even garnered two Emmy nominations, for lead Leslie Neilson, and the team of writers, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. The reason for its cancellation has been summed up in one quote by the ABC president at the time, Tony Thomopoulos, who said: “[t]he viewer had to watch it to appreciate it.” Wait, what?
He meant that the show was so fast-paced and visually-oriented that the inattentive viewer would miss the joke if they weren’t watching carefully, but that’s just absurd. Today, it’s expected that our comedies keep us on our toes – we demand it. It seems that Police Squad was largely a victim of a different time.
4. Harry’s Law/Longmire
Although Longmire continues to find success after switching to Netflix (the final season is airing this year) and Harry’s Law is gathering dust back in 2012, they both have something in common: they were initially cancelled, not due to low ratings, but because their viewership was primarily older.
Harry’s Law star Kathy Bates has been particularly outspoken about the cancellation, saying the studio execs “disrespected” the show and the millions of viewers that tuned in. Prior to cancellation, it was the most watched series on NBC, averaging 8 million viewers. Longmire has a similar story, with a happier ending – originally airing on A&E, it averaged 5.6 viewers but was cancelled in 2014. The assumption that it too was nixed because of its older demographic caused writer Annabelle Gurwitch to pen a column imploring execs to value and play to older audiences.
Though it enjoyed a lofty 12 season run, Bones is not without controversy. Not once, but multiple times FOX attempted to strong-arm the producers and cast into accepting a reduced percentage of profits in episodic license fees. A lawsuit was filed by executive producer Barry Josephson, stars David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, and co-creator Kathy Reichs, who claimed FOX underreported and misclassified millions of dollars of revenue.
FOX reportedly threatened to cancel the show if the producers and stars did not agree to a reduced pay-out – going so far as to claim other producers had already agreed to the decrease, which turned out to be untrue. Though cancellation did not happen at the time, the tension between producers and network was palpable. A year prior to the cancellation of Bones, FOX attempted to have the case arbitrated out-of-court.
As an HBO series starring Dustin Hoffman, Luck seemed to have many of the fixings for success. Luck centered around horse racing, and executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann wanted to be as close to realism as they could possibly be, which meant real horses, really racing – sometimes running as far as a third of a mile at one time, as many as three times a day. Despite the incredible physical toll horse-racing has on the animal, producers were firm that they needed the realism – that is until not one, not two, but three horses died and production came to a grinding halt.
Insider reports claim that many of the horses used were elderly, malnourished, and very possibly drugged – there were also recommendations from the American Humane Association representative on set that were ignored by the producers of Luck, such as replacing one of the trainers due to claims he underfed the horses and did not adequately prepare them for work.
1. Clone High
This cult classic cartoon ran for 13 episodes on MTV. It centered around high-school clone-versions of famous people in history, such as JFK, Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln.
Another character depiction was Gandhi, which ended up getting a lot of heat after protests were arranged in India following a Maxim magazine article that featured a drawing of Gandhi getting beat up. Though this was an entirely unrelated incident, when protesters in India Googled the magazine article, they stumbled upon information about Clone High and were outraged by the depiction. The protest shifted from Maxim to Clone High, and a mob of protesters gathered around Gandhi’s grave before moving to the MTV India building, coincidentally trapping the head of MTV networks inside, who had been there on a visit.
Understandably displeased with the incident, he set Clone High on the chopping board shortly thereafter.
Were you shocked by the reasons for these shows’ cancellations? Do you have any other shows to add? Let us know in the comments!