In the merciless battleground of network television, many fledgling sitcoms never get past the pilot stage.
Those that do are the lucky ones, as there are some network pilots that don’t even get to air. Some are canned at the last minute with only an upload onto YouTube to remember them by.
Why scrap a sitcom before its even aired? Reasons include the pilot being too idiosyncratic, internal or external pressures, such as negative news stories about cast members, and then there’s just plain old lack of quality.
Those that do get picked up then face an uphill battle to get beyond the first season and become long-running fixtures in the television schedules.
Even then, an audience can only have so much of a good thing. Sitcoms that span several seasons, sometimes for decades, inevitably decline in quality with a resulting drop in viewers.
Often this can be laid down to nowhere to go for the principal characters, storylines being dragged out to the point of farce, or desperate plot twists and special guest stars.
Then there’s the old favourite - the on/off again relationship between two off the show’s protagonists. By the time they’ve broken up and made up for the umpteenth time, you can practically hear the TV viewing nation’s collective groans.
Yet when we’re stuck watching something long past its sell by date, it’s interesting to think what could have been if a network had rolled the dice and commissioned that pilot you liked but now dimly remember.
So let’s compare the could haves with the chosen ones with the 12 Canceled Sitcoms We Never Got To See (And 8 That Went On Too Long).
20 Never got to see : Heat Vision & Jack
Before they were household names, Owen Wilson and Jack Black teamed up to spoof The Six Million Dollar Man and practically every other '70s and '80s action show in the unaired pilot Heat Vision & Jack.
Black played an astronaut who, after flying too close to the sun, develops super intelligence that is only activated in daylight, while his motorcycle, voiced by Wilson, has the soul of his old roommate.
Ben Stiller even directed the unaired pilot, which surfaced as on the DVD “grey market” before finally being uploaded to YouTube.
It’s amazing to think that three of the biggest comedians of their generation produced an unaired sitcom when they were on the verge of becoming megastars. The TV executive responsible must have wished for a rerun on that decision.
19 Went on too long: The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory managed to blend Revenge of the Nerds with Friends in a way that was engaging, if not exactly original.
Early episodes managed to get you emotionally invested in Leonard’s unlikely courtship of Penny. They even made a boon of the supremely unlikeable arch-nerd Sheldon, although Howard still came across as creepy.
Later episodes successfully brought in characters like Bernadette and Amy, which balanced the overall maleness of the show.
However, after 12 seasons (and spin-off Young Sheldon), things have started to become less experimental and more run of the mill.
One of the major drags has been the on/off relationship between Leonard and Penny – a curse of many long-running sitcoms.
Although, incredibly the show still brings in on average 18.6 million viewers. So, you’ve got to hand it to CBS, the decision to end its cash cow couldn’t have been easy.
18 Never got to see: Mission Control
Mission Control was canceled just before its 2014 midseason debut was due to blast off.
The single camera space-race comedy set in the 1960s followed Kyrsten Ritter’s character as she locked horns with astronaut Tommy Dewey.
Ritter is a sitcom veteran, having played the eponymous role in the short-lived, and much-missed B*** in Apartment 23.
Mission Control came with pedigree with a script penned by It’s Always Sunny Philadelphia’s David Hornsbury, and both Adam McKay and Will Ferrell were on board as executive directors.
Reportedly behind-the-scenes casting issues were part of the reason why NBC decided to pull the show before it premiered.
However, MCU fans aren’t complaining, as Ritter’s next major television project was Jessica Jones - a role that has earned her critical praise and more than one season in the starring role.
17 Never got to see: Emily’s Reasons Why Not
Getting canceled after one episode has got to sting, especially if that show is fronted by a legitimate Hollywood star. Yet, that’s exactly what happened with Emily’s Reason Why Not.
The show, or more accurately episode, followed Heather Graham’s self-help guru Emily as she tried, and failed, to follow her own advice.
In the show, Emily lived by a simple code: if she could think of five reasons not to do something, then she wouldn’t do it.
The first episode made its debut in 2006. However, it wasn’t exactly filled jokes and the pacing was been described as “glacial.”
Despite being green-lit for six episodes, ABC decided to pull the show from air after its pilot, and instead chose to broadcast repeats of Supernanny and The Bachelor.
16 Went on too long: Friends
It’s difficult to overstate just how much of a cultural behemoth Friends was when it was first broadcast in 1994.
The show was must-see television, as millions religiously tuned in week after week to see the antics of six young New Yorkers.
Sure, the show was unrealistic – how chef Monica and waitress Rachel could afford that palatial Manhattan apartment is a mystery – but it was also tightly scripted and genuinely funny.
However, as movie careers began to fade and plot lines frustratingly dragged out, the show’s sense of vitality disappeared.
By the tenth season, the show had been on for a decade and, really, some friendships were never meant to last that long.
Saying that, however, Friends has recently been named as the UK’s most popular streaming show. It looks like they really are going to be there for you forever.
15 Never got to see: IT Crowd (US Version)
Remaking beloved British sitcoms can be a tricky business. Most times networks fail and have to reboot their plans, which was definitely the case with the IT Crowd.
Following the adventures of IT workers Roy and Moz, as well as their beleaguered manager, Jen, the original IT Crowd ran for five seasons on British broadcaster Channel 4.
Back in 2007, NBC shot a shot-for-shot remake of the original show’s pilot. They even brought in Richard Ayoade to reprise his role as Moz.
Unfortunately, the network declined to pick up the show after seeing the pilot, despite it initially being picked up for a full season.
This was definitely a case of the remake being unable to differentiate itself from the original, something that the US version of The Office managed to successfully avoid.
Another reason was that McHale was ill-suited for the role of Roy. In the UK version, Roy is a gentle slacker, rather than McHale’s sneakier version.
14 Went on too long: The Simpsons
Long gone are the days when The Simpsons was an endlessly quotable, subversive, laugh out loud animated comedy.
Early episodes like 1993’s "Last Exit to Springfield" are brilliant, era-defining moments of TV gold - and that is just one example from a glorious run of classic episodes from the early to mid-90s.
Now that the show is 30 years old, we live in a world where there are more bad episodes than there are good ones.
Yet it has become such a big part of the TV landscape that it’s difficult to imagine popular culture without it. However, as a viewing nation, we must accept that a world without The Simpsons might be for the best.
With news emerging of a possible second feature movie, a collective “Doh!” could be heard from the show’s former fans.
13 Never got to see: Lookwell
The late, great Adam West had some fine comedic chops and wasn’t afraid to send himself up – just look at his work on Family Guy.
Back in 1991, the former Batman stared as Ty Lookwell, the star of a failed '70s detective show, who believes that this qualifies him to help the police solve crimes. However, it's clear that it doesn’t.
Lookwell is also capable of quoting Shakespeare on demand. It’s just a shame that it’s always the same quote.
The show was penned by SNL greats Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel and it’s full of dry wit. West’s deadpan delivery is also spot on.
However, NBC executives decided it wasn’t for their network, leaving the one solitary pilot episode to obtain cult-like status on VHS and then YouTube.
12 Never got to see: Co-ed fever
Co-ed Fever was meant to be CBS’s answer to Animal House. Coming off the back of the late '70s boom in tawdry college-based comedies, the show followed the hijinks in a dormitory when an all-girl college decides to go co-ed.
However, the raucous comedy was booted out of the party after its preview episode, “Pepperoni Passion”, failed to connect mere weeks before it was due to make its full debut.
In total, six episodes were filmed, with only the pizza-themed debut seeing the light of day.
Executives may have been nervous over the muted response to the similarly themed Delta House on ABC and NBC’s Brothers and Sisters.
By the end of 1979, all three shows had been canceled.
11 Went on too long: Two and a Half Men
By the time the twelfth and final season of Two and a Half Men rolled around, the show had withstood Charlie Sheen’s very public meltdown, Aston Kutcher, and one of the principal actors denouncing the show on religious grounds.
However, it should have been put out of its misery long before it had got to this point.
Starting out as a Charlie Sheen vehicle that followed his character taking inhis divorced brother and their son, the show went on to became a syndicated mega-hit.
One reason for this was that it provided slightly risqué jokes at a time when network television was still decidedly PG.
However, as the episodes dragged on, this selling point teetered into bad taste territory, culminating in the excruciating funeral scene for Sheen’s Charlie Harper.
10 Never got to see: Kayne West’s Sitcom
Before he was stealing Taylor Swift’s limelight, Kayne West, the future husband of Kim Kardashian, wanted to be a sitcom star and even went so far as to shoot his own HBO pilot with Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry Charles.
The pilot follows West, who plays a more comedic version of himself, as he constantly gets into excruciating situations.
Shot over five days and made on a shoe-string budget of $400,000, the pilot was long-forgotten about until it remerged on social media and comedy clubs.
Larry Charles recounted to TV Guide his initial call with the hip hop star: ‘The first thing he said to me was 'I'm the black Larry David.' He started telling me these stories about how often he puts his foot in his mouth, how often he's apologizing like the way Larry does on the show."
Judging by some of Kayne’s recent statements, he still has the knack for putting foot in his mouth.
9 Went on too long: How I met your mother
How I Met Your Mother followed a group of close twenty-somethings. In it, main character Ted Mosby relayed how he met his children’s mother to them.
It turns out that the mother in question had passed away and the show may as well have been called How I Met Your Step Mom.
All the intricate plotting and red herrings turned out to be for nothing when Ted gets with someone (i.e., the mother) who he only meets at the start of the final season.
The mother is then unceremoniously, and quickly, removed from the picture in the show’s finale by some mysterious "illness."
Ted spent a decade waiting for this woman, and fans had slogged through 9 seasons of Ted’s narration for this unimpressive payoff. Why not have them all live happily ever after? What’s wrong with that?
Perhaps it would have been better if Ted, and the network, had become bored themselves halfway through season 4.
8 Never got to see: Peep Show (US version)
Point of view sitcom Peep Show is one of the most excruciating comedies to have ever graced UK television. The sheer awkwardness of roommates Jeremy and Mark’s adventures is made all the more painful in that we see everything from their point of view.
It also helped that the show had a wickedly dark sense of humor – providing you could actually look at the screen.
However, adapting the show for a US audience has repeatedly failed, with the latest attempt at Starz failing to materialise last year.
Sam Bain, who worked on trying to adapt the show for the US markets, shed light on the difficulties importing foreign sitcoms: “I think adaptations to America are really hard."
"The exceptions – the ones that work, like The Office – are much more rare, because you're trying to change a show and keep it the same at the same time, which is quite weird," Bain said.
7 Went on too long: Family Guy
When Family Guy debuted in 1998, it brought shock humor to the masses and provided an adult animated comedy show at a time when The Simpsons was already beginning to fade in terms of quality.
Initially, the show was canceled after its third season, but it was resurrected because of high DVD sales.
However, the show’s mix of crass jokes and awful protagonist everyman Peter Griffin has definitely now become very played out.
Seth MacFarlane has even admitted he thinks it should have been canceled, telling Hollywood Reporter in 2011: "Part of me thinks that Family Guy should have already ended. I think seven seasons is about the right lifespan for a TV series."
That was seven years ago at the end of its tenth season. Who knows what he thinks about the show making its season 17 debut on 30 September.
6 Never got to see: Bad Management
Bad Management starred David Spade as the scion of a luxury goods department who returns to shake things up.
Unfortunately, this rubs self-centred manager Eve (Sharon Hogan) the wrong way, as she finds her views challenged by Spade’s new direction for the store.
Hilarity no doubt ensued, but we'll never know how things would have played out over a full season. The show's unaired pilot was unceremoniously posted on network NBC's site before being scrapped altogether.
Not only was the show produced by My Name is Earl alums Kat Likkel and John Hoberg, but it would have also introduced US audiences to Anglo-Irish- comedienne Sharon Hogan, who had already created and starred in BBC’s bruising sitcom Pulling, and went on to Amazon’s critically acclaimed Catastrophe.
5 Never got to see: Clerks
Kevin Smith’s debut feature Clerks was a micro budget, black and white masterpiece that the director has found difficult to top.
Filled to the brim with slacker soliloquies, incredibly salty language and riffs on Star Wars, Clerks followed Dante and Randell as they worked their dead-end jobs.
It didn’t really go anywhere, but it didn’t have to when the dialogues was so good.
What no one would have expected was for it to be remade the following year as a PG-rated Saved by the Bell-type sitcom.
Gone was the bad language, low life substance abusers, and everything else that made the movie unique. In their place was an ice cream server and a kooky tanning salon employee.
Unsurprisingly, Smith had no involvement with the project and it was quickly dumped by its network.
4 Went on too long: The American Office
Transplanting one of the most acclaimed and boundary pushing UK sitcoms of all-time must have been a daunting feat.
Yet, NBC managed to do it, moving the BBC’s The Office to Scranton, Pennsylvania.
For the first six seasons, the show was very, very funny. It had an impressive run that was helped by first-class comedic talent, including star-making turns from Steve Carrell and John Krasinski.
However, things took a turn after the sixth reason - maybe it was Steve Carrell resigning from the company and making a successful go of it on the big screen or perhaps it was Jim and Pam hooking up, which was a romantic plot development that no show has managed to overcome, ever.
Whatever it was, the network should have terminated the show's employment earlier than it did.
3 Never got to see: Sick in the Head
Before directing hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Trainwreck, Judd Apatow created five TV shows for Dreamworks in 1999. Two - Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared - made it to a full season, but the rest didn’t.
Sick in the Head, produced for Fox, was one of the ones that didn’t get past the pilot stage.
The show followed inexperienced therapist Andy (David Krumholtz) as he tried to get his psychiatric practise off the ground.
Other members of the cast included Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald and a pre-Saturday Night Fever Amy Poehler.
Having a comedy set in the world of therapy requires sensitivity and good writing, something that Apatow has demonstrated throughout his work.
Unfortunately, though, we’ll never know how the show would have played out over an entire season.
2 Went on too long: Roseanne
Roseanne was on for a long time, which made its fall from grace harder on its fans.
Following the Connorss, a blue-collar family, the show dominated ratings for eight straight seasons on ABC.
However, when the show dropped from first to sixteenth place in the ratings, rather than bowing out gracefully, it took an amazing, and ill-advised, Z-turn when the family won the lottery in the ninth season.
Further incredulity came in the show’s finale that revealed that the previous season had all been a dream, the product of Rosanne trying to deal with the grief of losing her husband by writing a book where the family had won the lottery.
Last year, it looked like Roseanne was back with the successful reboot. However, the reboot was canceled after star Rosanne Barr’s Twiiter outburst.
Hopefully upcoming spin-off The Conners will be able to carve its own niche when it premiers later this year.
1 Never got to see: The Cops
The Cops was to be an animated series following Los Angeles police officers Al (Al Brooks) and Lou (Louis C.K.).
Things looked set for another critical triumph for six-time Emmy winner C.K. Already TBS had ordered 10 episodes of the series, abd scripts had been written and animators were hired.
However, following an expose in the New York Times exposing allegations of C.K.’s inappropriate behaviour, FX scrapped the show.
This caused heartache for the dozens who were laid off, with some taking to social media to voice their feelings towards the comedian.
This also led to FX, which co-produced The Cops with TBS, to part ways with Louis C.K, who was working on four different shows at the time.
Controversially, Louis C.K. has since begun appearing on stage again with a recent unannounced performance at New York City’s Comedy Cellar.
Are there any other sitcoms that were canceled or went on too long? Let us know in the comments!