If a month goes by without a network or studio canceling a TV show, it’s a rare occurrence. Shows can be in danger of being canceled at any time, based on ratings, reviews (both fan and critics), budget, and more. Sadly, some shows are canceled for personal reasons, like when Freaks and Geeks ended because the studio head simply didn’t like the show.
Most cancellations come with explanations. The studio, streaming service, or network issues a statement informing fans their favorite TV show won’t be returning.
However, there are occasions that no explanation is given. Fans and the media speculate why, but when nothing definitive is released, it causes confusion and makes fans more upset.
Vague statements don’t help, especially if they come from the creator or the cast. Typically, there’s a disconnect between the studio and creator when the latter says something to appease devotees to a show. The creator or cast doesn’t want to make a fuss because the industry is very competitive and burning bridges is a sure-fire way to derail a career.
This list contains canceled TV shows with no or ambiguous reasons given from a network, studio, or even studio head. It doesn’t rely on fan or media guesses or vague statements taken as fact. While those may be mentioned, it’s only included to show you that the most basic reasons don’t alleviate the confusion when your favorite show is inscrutably taken off the air.
Here’s 15 Shows Canceled For Mysterious Reasons.
15 Dark Matter
Dark Matter was a science fiction show about a group of men and women who awaken on a spaceship. They have no knowledge of who they are. It was based on a graphic novel of the same name.
Cast and crew have given vague reasons why the show was canceled - from budget to ratings - but SyFy themselves have remained mostly silent.
Creator Joseph Mallozzi had planned out the story for five seasons, but SyFy only gave Dark Matter three. Fans and Mallozzi had hope there’d be a fourth season, but at the very last minute, the network canceled the show.
All the way until decision time, a huge fan base attempted to get Dark Matter renewed. However, the campaign didn’t help, even with Mallozzi’s assistance. He sanctioned a petition, and everyone thought it would be enough for SyFy to say yes.
14 Pushing Daisies
Pushing Daisies was canceled even though it won many awards and received critical acclaim. The show was about a piemaker who could bring people back to life with his touch and decide to solve crimes with this ability.
Fans and media loved the art direction of Pushing Daisies. One reviewer stated, “ABC has found its next Lost!” It was the unique premise and original storyline that drew fans. The viewer base remained steady through the first season, but apparently wasn't enough for ABC to bring it back for a third season.
Pushing Daises was nominated for an amazing 57 awards and won 18. This includes 7 Emmy Awards. The show had a chance to live on in comics, a mini-series, and even a musical, but none of those came to fruition.
Firefly is an enigma in modern television history. The show was canceled before all the episodes aired, but it managed to win numerous from 2003 to 2006 - years the finale episode made it to the screen. With acting and visual effects awards (and various nominations for the same), it’s still a surprise to many fans and casual viewers that Firefly never had additional seasons.
No definite reason has been given, but Fox would prefer you believe the mediocre ratings (though not terrible ratings) was the reason. DVD sales were high and a phenomenal fan campaign tried to get the show back on the air. Neither convinced Fox.
However, Joss Whedon found the response encouraging and has since filmed the movie Serenity, wrote comics with the Firefly characters, and assisted in creating a role-playing game.
12 My Name is Earl
My Name is Earl ran for an impressive 96 episodes over 4 seasons on NBC. In May of 2009, the show ended suddenly.
The season 4 finale even left viewers hanging with the caption, “To Be Continued."
It never was continued.
20th Century Fox, which produced My Name is Earl, stated the show was “brilliant” and was a sitcom that “kept Americans laughing.” The studio was unable to find a way to keep the television show going. 20th Century Fox claimed “economic woes,” but no one believed those claims after the studio shopped the series to the Fox, TBS, and TNT networks. TBS had been interested, but couldn’t come to an agreement with the studio. Nothing else was ever said about the cancellation.
My Name is Earl nearly had a comic book tie-in with Oni Press which even had ads in the DVD release, but none were created.
Science fiction shows have a hard time making it more than a few seasons - exceptions include various Star Trek series and Babylon 5. This type of show can get expensive from visual effects alone, which often forces networks to cancel them for cheaper-to-produce shows.
Farscape fell into the “expensive to make” trap, but Sci-Fi Channel allowed the show to run for four seasons. Farscape had decent and consistent viewership and had won a number of Saturn Awards for acting and general series categories. Apparently, it all wasn’t enough.
Sci-Fi announced and approved a fifth season, but pulled the budget for the show even before the fourth season began. Fans immediately began a campaign to save the show, but they only managed to save the sets, which were put in storage in preparation for a potential revival. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Torchwood was a spin-off series of Doctor Who aimed at teenagers and adults in their 20s. The title of the show was named from the Torchwood Institute, which dealt with extraterrestrial events and incidents.
Surprisingly, the BBC took the show off the air, but hasn’t officially canceled it. This confounds fans and the media (even to this day) as Torchwood had a continually-growing audience base. The BBC also had to change its broadcast channel to support the increase in viewers from series over series. It went from BBC Three to BBC Two to BBC One.
But Torchwood has never really died. Unlike many shows that continue in comic book form, Torchwood was developed into radio plays, with John Barrowman to reprise his role. The BBC not only wanted to keep the show alive, but radio plays as well.
9 Dead Like Me
Dead Like Me’s premise involved humans revived as Grim Reapers. It focused on George, who died, came back as a Grim Reaper, and was tasked with escorting the souls of people who passed away. The unique nature of Dead Like Me drew in plenty of viewers and fans, but for some reason, the show was canceled after two seasons.
Even the departure of creator/showrunner Bryan Fuller didn’t mar the popularity of the show. Fuller left in the early part of season 1 due to “lack of professionalism” from the studio. But Showtime renewed Dead Like Me for a second season, keeping the atmosphere of the show similar to the first season.
Although Dead Like Me didn’t win awards, it was nominated for a total of 8, including 2 Emmys and an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films award for two different years.
Although Deadwood lasted 3 seasons from 2004 to 2006, the show remains one of the best drama series of all time - even now.
HBO chose not to renew the actors’ contracts in 2006, but never officially canceled Deadwood. It sort of drifted off into Hollywood limbo.
After announcing there would be no more episodes of the show, HBO also announced two Deadwood movies were in development. Clearly, the network wanted to continue to support the series. It confused fans and the media that HBO wanted to do so only in feature films. Nothing panned out for the movies, and in 2015, HBO called for the creator to write a script. In 2017, Ian McShane, one of the co-stars, stated the script was complete.
Deadwood has won 8 Emmy awards and 1 Golden Globe, but those weren’t enough to add more seasons.
Animaniacs is a cartoon that people who lived in the '90s bring up with nostalgia. Catchy songs and catchphrases, characters who engage in shenanigans, and two adversaries (Pinky and the Brain) who you root for to take over the world.
The interesting thing about this show is that it was never really canceled.
Animaniacs ran for 5 seasons, churning out 99 episodes and 1 movie, Wakko’s Wish. The show won and was nominated for many awards over the years and makes a lot of media’s top lists even now. But Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., and the second network it aired on (Kid’s WB), let Animaniacs drift to a mysterious end. Episode skits became segments in other cartoons, so the show never really died.
In January, 2018, Hulu announced a partnership with Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros to reboot Animaniacs.
6 Terra Nova
Terra Nova was a science fiction show about humanity finding a new home. Poor air quality threatened to destroy all living beings, including humans. Scientists discover a rift that allows one-way travel to the Cretaceous Period, which is where a new Earth colony is established. The show lasted only 1 season.
Fox never issued a reason why Terra Nova was canceled. In fact, Fox apparently still believed in the show because it was shopped around to other networks. The finale was well-regarded, although still a cliffhanger, and the whole series was nominated for several awards. It had even won “Best Visual Effects” from the Visual Effects Society.
Chances seemed high it would return for season two: Fox had canceled the popular House and another sci-fi show, Alcatraz, leaving a gap in its programming. Terra Nova was one of the highest-rated shows canceled in 2012.
From 2006 to 2008, CBS aired Jericho, a science-fiction apocalyptic show about a small town after a nearby nuclear attack. The stars of the show - Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, and Ashley Scott - were not enough to keep it going.
Jericho was canceled twice.
The first time, the show had many obstacles to overcome. The writer’s strike hindered getting more episodes on the air, which would have helped in the long run. Also, Jericho was one of the first shows to work with half seasons, which harmed momentum since networks hadn’t figured out strategic planning for the mid-season breaks.
A vigorous fan campaign managed to bring back the show for seven more episodes, but then CBS removed it from its lineup.
You can get more Jericho action from limited-series comics from 2012, called Season 3 and Season 4.
4 The Mysteries of Laura
The show The Mysteries of Laura premiered in 2014 and ended its run after two seasons. Staring Debra Messing, The Mysteries of Laura catered to the older crowd, especially fans of her previous hit, Will & Grace. The show consistently rated high with the 18-49 crowd on Wednesday nights, becoming a reliable show for NBC.
Messing played Detective Laura Diamond, who solved cases while trying to run a household with twin boys and dealing with her ex-husband. The series had a cliffhanger ending.
In essence, The Mysteries of Laura was a surprise success story for NBC, but during the show’s time on the air, it was clear the network became too focused on dramas. Since another company made the show, it was easier for NBC to not give this show the boot for unknown reasons.
Streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix don’t typically provide viewing numbers, which make it difficult to believe their shows are canceled because of “low ratings.” As viewers, we are forced to believe them.
Some numbers have been revealed for Hulu and Netflix’s more popular shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Stranger Things, but otherwise, we’re kept in the dark.
Chance, starring Hugh Laurie, was not approved for a third season, which disappointed fans of the show. Hulu ordered 2 seasons of the show, but decided to stop there, not citing any particular reasons. Of course, this is in the wake of Hulu’s recent wins at the Golden Globes.
Since Chance is produced by a third party (Fox 21 Television Studios), it’s possible they could shop the show around to other networks or streaming services.
2 Quantum Leap
One of the more decorated TV shows from its short run was Quantum Leap. Over its 5 seasons (nearly cracking 100 episodes), Quantum Leap brought home 17 awards and 43 nominations. This included Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes despite starting with poor ratings.
The show soon managed to grab the key 18-49 demographic, which is a Holy Grail for TV programs. This success in that age range kept Quantum Leap going for as long as it did. NBC even said there’d be a sixth season after reading the season 5 finale script. But mysteriously, the show was quickly canceled, with no definitive reason. The finale was left as is, with no indication of further story.
However, you can still immerse yourself in the Quantum Leap universe with novels and comics, released from 1990 to 2000.
1 1. Dollhouse
Starring Eliza Dushku, Dollhouse involved a corporation that created temporary personalities in people who could be hired to perform various tasks. Some tasks included assassinations, bank heists, and even romance.
Initially, the show received weak ratings and mixed critical reviews. Over time, the show improved - critics found the mid-first season onward compelling - and managed to gain a large audience. This prompted Fox to order a second season. Fox officially canceled the show in November, 2009. When the series finale aired, Dollhouse pumped out 26 episodes, but Fox didn’t renew for a third season.
The show ranked the same from season 1 to season 2, but lost some viewers; it’s speculated that's the reason why. Dollhouse was another show you can find in comic book form to expand the Wheedonverse.
What shows did you want back on the air after they were canceled? Let us know in the comments!
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