People have come up with plenty of good reasons for wanting to travel back in time: killing Hitler, preventing the robot apocalypse, saving their parents’ marriage. In Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, which recently kicked off its second season, the plan is to undo a worldwide pandemic that killed billions.
But for some of us diehard TV fans, there’s another, slightly more realistic goal we’d add to this list—like un-canceling a few of our favorite shows that ended before their time. Not every time travel series gets to survive five decades—and counting—like Doctor Who. But the good news is, the sci-fi subgenre is experiencing a bit of a resurgence on the small screen these days, via shows like 12 Monkeys and Outlander, and Comedy Central’s upcoming Time Traveling Bong (yes, really).
In honor of the incredibly entertaining 12 Monkeys, and TV’s current time travel renaissance, here are a few shows we’d go back in time to save, if given the chance.
Network: ABC (October 9, 2008-April 1, 2009)
Life on Mars seemed to have so much going for it. The US adaptation of the BAFTA-winning BBC series blended sci-fi mystery with police procedural, working off an intriguing high-concept premise: a modern-day New York City detective wakes up in 1973 after a near-fatal accident, with no idea how or why he got there. It scored Harvey Keitel as a gruff Lieutenant, a role right in the actor’s wheelhouse, Gretchen Mol for a love interest, and gave Michael Imperioli a second life after The Sopranos. But despite being a hit with critics and earning an extra four-episode order from ABC, ratings steadily fell.
A two-month hiatus and time slot change proved to be the nail in the coffin, and when the show returned in January, audiences didn’t come back with it. Luckily, the show’s producers got the bad news with enough lead time to rewrite their final episode, reveal their big twist and ensuring that Life on Mars didn’t go out with any pesky loose ends. But with a solid cast, strong production values and an appealing premise, it would’ve been nice to see what the show could’ve done, had it been allowed to string out its overarching mystery beyond a mere 17 episodes.
Network: NBC (September 24, 2007-December 19, 2007)
Journeyman was something of a modern-day reincarnation of Quantum Leap, starring Kevin McKidd as a San Francisco reporter who finds himself unexpectedly traveling through time in order to change various character’s futures for the better, while struggling to explain his sudden disappearances to both himself and his family. Low ratings and the 2007 Writers Guild strike led to NBC canceling the fledgling sci-fi romance after only 13 episodes—much to the disappointment of Journeyman’s small but loyal following (count 12 Monkey’s co-creator Terry Matalas among them). The show’s fans attempted to pull a Jericho, sending Rice-a-Roni to the NBC offices in hopes of saving the series, but unfortunately, the last-minute hail mary didn’t work. Series creator Kevin Falls would later reveal a few hints about his future plans for the show in a 2008 interview with AICN, giving fans a modicum of closure in lieu of future episodes.
Network: Fox (January 13, 2008-April 10, 2009)
Much in the same as Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, the idea of turning a beloved time travel film into sci-fi TV fodder seemed like sacrilege at first, but thanks to time-traveling Schwarzeneggers, the Terminator franchise’s timeline has been able to withstand multiple sequels, reboots and this short-lived TV show with no ill effects. (Plus, creator Josh Friedman quickly got in fans’ good graces by completely erasing the events of Terminator 3.)
Starring a pre-Game of Thrones Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, Thomas Dekker as mankind’s last, best hope and Summer Glau as another reprogrammed cyborg, the show follows the trio as they jump forward to 2007, pushing Judgment Day back to April 21, 2011. And for a while, at least, it seemed like it would stick—reviews were strong, ratings were high and it was renewed for a second season. But the series’ own Judgment Day would come on May 18, 2009, when the show wasn’t renewed for a third, despite fan outcry. Instead, the powers that be decided they’d rather return the Terminator story to the big screen—although after the reviews for Terminator Salvation (and last summer’s Terminator Genisys), it looks like they would’ve been better off just keeping The Sarah Connor Chronicles going. Still, that does set up a potentially tricky butterfly effect: if this show had become a big hit, Lena Headey might have never gone on to Westeros instead…
Network: Fox (September 26, 2011-December 19, 2011)
Steven Spielberg, dinosaurs and time travel sounds like about as airtight a pitch as they come, and the future was looking bright for the Spielberg-produced Terra Nova in fall 2011. The premise was strong—a group of pilgrims leave an overpopulated and dying Earth in 2149, to travel back some 85 million years for a second try at civilization. And the show was given a massive budget to ensure the special effects and CGI dinos were up to snuff. Life of Mars star Jason O’Mara was also given another shot, headlining his own time travel show. Unfortunately, things didn’t go much better for O’Mara the second time around: history would repeat itself, and the time travel adventure series was shelved after only 13 episodes. But while an uneven first season and that high per-episode price tag put an end to Fox’s prehistoric experiment, with all the elements Terra Nova had going for it, it’s hard to imagine the show wouldn’t have gotten better if it’d been afforded another season to find its legs.
Network: NBC (October 3, 1982-July 10, 1983)
Considered a precursor to Quantum Leap, Voyagers! only ran for a single season, but the short-lived ‘80s time travel series remains a cult favorite to this day. Jon-Erik Hexum played Phineas Bogg, and was part of a team of time travelers dedicated to ensuring that history stayed on track, which meant lots of run-ins with famous historical figures for Bogg and his kid sidekick, as the pair traveled across the centuries. They were sort of like Bill and Ted, minus the impromptu bouts of air guitar. But as a family-friendly show that successfully mixed time travel hijinks with history lessons, it’s still difficult to believe Voyagers! didn’t get a longer run.
Network: Fox (August 27, 1993-May 20, 1994
Fresh off Army of Darkness, which sent Bruce Campbell back to medieval times, the Evil Dead star jumped aboard this anachronistic Western with a sci-fi twist from future Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse and former Lost Boys and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade writer Jeffrey Boam. The genre-blending series was goofy and weird, complete with a mysterious futuristic orb, a time traveling bad guy and irreverent sense of humor. But despite favorable reviews and strong initial ratings, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was doomed from the start by its Friday night time slot, destined to become yet another cult favorite lost to time, after being completely overshadowed by one of Fox’s other new shows: The X-Files. And while it’s hard to argue with the network picking the adventures of Mulder and Scully over a bounty-hunting Bruce Campbell, it still would have been interesting to see what the combo of Cuse, Boam and Campbell could have resulted in with another season and a better time slot. Or, maybe we would’ve just gotten the Smoke Monster and polar bears in the Old West. It’s hard to say.