Despite a heap of critical acclaim, Southland got the axe earlier this week. NBC gave fans the kind of surprise that happens all too often when smart TV shows are still trying to find an audience. We wanted to look back on other TV series that were canceled too soon. A half-dozen networks are represented here, but it seems like Fox and ABC are the quickest to give up on great television. A couple animated shows—Futurama and Family Guy—managed to survive the first cancellation, and it’s still possible that Southland will find a home on cable. But those are the exceptions. These 15 classic shows all died too young.
15. Andy Barker P.I.
(32 episodes; Sept. 26, 2007 – April 8, 2009; NBC)
Before Jason Schwartzman was privately investigating without a license in Bored to Death, Andy Richter and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale did things the suburban-strip-mall way in this half-hour comedy. Andy Richter Controls the Universe was another short-lived gem on Fox in 2002-03.
(29 episodes; Sept. 20, 2006 – March 25, 2008; CBS)
Fans rallied to bring Jericho back after its first cancellation, but they were more successful at rallying the loyal base than converting casual viewers, and it CBS killed the post-apocalyptic drama a second time in 2008. Now all we’re left with are the hopes that NBC’s Day One doesn’t suck.
(13 episodes; March 12, 2004 – Dec. 15, 2004; Fox)
Prior to Pushing Daisies, Star Trek writer Bryan Fuller co-created the equally quirky Wonderfalls in which an overeducated sales clerk received strange advice from inanimate figurines. After only four episodes and a confusing time-slot change, Fox gave up on the show, and the single season finally aired on Logo in the summer of 2005.
(8 episodes; Jan. 17, 2006 – May 16, 2006; CBS, VH1)
After Ed, Tom Cavenaugh briefly starred in a quirky dramedy as a record-label exec who left a major label to work at an indie upstart. It was fun, particularly since it delved into familiar territory for those of us at Paste. After three-episodes which featured cameos from Ben Folds, Aimee Mann and James Blunt, CBS pulled the plug, and VH1 aired the remaining five episodes.
(29 episodes; June 27, 2003 – Oct. 31, 2004; Showtime)
The grim reaper is an 18-year-old directionless college drop-out named Georgia Lass whose post-life boss is a bank robber who died in the 1920s played by Mandy Patinkin. But, sadly, her on-air life was even shorter.
(17 episodes; Sept. 25, 2001 – March 12, 2002; Fox)
Judd Apatow’s follow-up to Freaks and Geeks focused on a group of college freshmen in the early 2000s. Freaks’ Seth Rogen was among the main cast, and guests and regulars included Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Ben Stiller, Jenna Fisher and Felicia Day.
(22 episodes; Sept. 18, 2006 – June 28, 2007; NBC)
From the first cold open and Judd Hirsch’s on-air Network moment to Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) taking control, Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue and scrappy idealism seemed to find the perfect outlet in a drama about a sketch comedy show. But the ratings never materialized, and NBC stuck with the comedy show about a comedy show—30 Rock—instead.
(64 episodes; Sept. 22, 2004 – May 22, 2007; UPN, The CW)
Paste’s James South wrote at the end of the show’s first season, “Kristen Bell uncannily portrays Veronica as simultaneously smart, vulnerable, tough and injured. The remaining cast is uniformly good, but Jason Dohring as Logan Echolls (Duncan’s best friend and Lilly’s former boyfriend) deserves special mention for the combination of cockiness and hurt he brings to his character. It’s a thematically compelling, stylistically coherent and fully realized TV show.”
(22 episodes; Oct. 3, 2007 – June 13, 2009; ABC)
When this quirky drama was canceled, Paste’s Jeremy Medina wrote: “The fact that I hadn’t ever really seen anything like Pushing Daisies should have been my first clue it was headed toward the graveyard. In this day and age—where crime shows, hospital dramas and reality TV dominate the Nielsen’s top tier—there isn’t much room on network television for anything outside of the status quo. Pushing Daisies was just too inventive, too ingenious, and just too damn cute to survive in these turbulent TV times. So it goes.”
(19 episodes; Aug. 25, 1994 – Jan. 26, 1995; ABC)
The nervous hair-flip, semi-requited love and existential confusion of Claire Danes’ Angela Chase made the world less-lonely for the sort of artsy grunge-era high school kids who would go on to rule the world—or at least work at indie magazines.
(14 episodes; Sept. 20, 2002 – Dec. 20, 2002; Fox)
Leave it to Joss Whedon to dream up a space show without aliens. The smart writing he brought to Buffy turned the universe into one big frontier, where those who didn’t conform to authoritarian rule were forced to eke out their livings among outlying planets where the long arm of the law can’t follow. Watch the way-too-short lived series in full before finishing with Serenity.
(45 episodes; Sept. 22, 1998 – May 16, 2000; ABC)
More than the rapid-fire dialogue or deft blend of comedy and drama, it’s the utter competence of the sportscasters and producers that quickly separates Sports Night from the other 30-minute laugh-tracked TV shows of the ’90s. The bosses are smart and helpful, except when they’re meddlesome network executives. You’re held accountable for mistakes, but your co-workers always have your back. Instead of the classic reliance on miscommunication for situational comedy, the tension arises from a pressure to excel in the national spotlight, and the humor comes from genuinely funny characters.With film-worthy writing and one of the best casts ever assembled for a sitcom (Robert Guillaume shone both pre- and post-stroke and William H. Macy was a regular guest), Sports Night changed the trajectory of television. It was a half-hour comedy with better, more emotional storylines than most hour-long dramas. It was one of the first hybrids of a multi-camera and single-camera show, benefiting from the strengths of both approaches. And its echoes could be felt in some of the best shows that followed: the volleys of witty repartee between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, The Sopranos’ psychiatrist scenes, and the meta-story lines about the show’s impending cancellation in Arrested Development.
(30 episodes; April 8, 1990 – June 10, 1991; ABC)
The surprising thing about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s weirdly wonderful series was not that it got canceled, but that it ever found a home on a broadcast network in 1990. Fortunately David Lynch went on to direct Mulholland Drive and blog about the weather, and Frost went on to, er, co-write The Fantastic Four.
(Sept. 25, 1999 – July 8, 2000, NBC)
Judd Apatow’s short-lived comedy made stars out of Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco and Linda Cardellini. But just about everyone from the show has stayed busy in film and TV. Says Paste TV reviewer Sean Gandert: “It featured the same jocks and pimples and every other cliché the genre can offer, not only because its audience expected it, but also because that’s what high school is all about. By embracing these tropes (rather than pretending they’re mere clichés), Freaks managed to transcend the genre, focusing on human interaction and, above all, character. Ultimately, it’s this focus on character that turned another typical high-school sitcom into an incredibly funny and moving show.”
(53 episodes, Oct. 19, 2004 – December 6, 2006; Fox)
Fox had one of the best shows of the last decade on its hands, but decided to dump the show’s final four episodes unceremoniously in one block opposite the Opening Ceremonies for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. We’re still not over it.