One way that success is measured on television is longevity. The longer the run usually means the more successful a series was in the eyes of the producers, executives, and fans. But there are exceptions to that rule. In no particular order, here are five great shows that never reached their full potential and got the axe prior to their sophomore year.
Freaks and Geeks, 1999-2000
For a certain generation of TV watchers, Freaks and Geeks is the prime example of a show that was canceled way too soon. Created by Paul Feig and executive produced by Judd Apatow, the teen comedy-drama first aired on NBC in 1999 but was canceled after 12 episodes, even though 18 had already been produced (NBC aired a few more the following year). The largely-unknown cast went on to become one of the most impressive in history, with Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Martin Starr, and James Franco, among others.
15 years later, Seth Rogen and the NBC executive who canceled the show, Garth Ancier, met backstage at Saturday Night Live and talked about the show, but the men tell differing accounts of what happened. According to Rogen, Ancier tried to justify the cancellation by saying that Apatow would not listen to his notes about the Geeks needing to have occasional victories over the Freaks. ”The whole show was about how in highschool you always lose all the time and that's it!” Rogen said, arguing that Ancier just didn’t get it. In response to Rogen’s comments and a tweet that reignited the debate online, Ancier said that he always hated the decision to kill the show. He praised the cast and the writing by Feig and Apatow, but added that it was consistently low in ratings and doubled down on his opinion that Apatow should have listened to his critique. “To be honest, I thought we had a nice conversation that evening. I have a strong feeling that the tweet was on behalf of Freaks and Geeks fans. After all, [Rogen] and his co-stars (James Franco, etc.) have all become movie stars, and had the show continued..."
While us fans still want more from the series, creator Paul Feig is happy with how it ended. During an interview and thorough walkthrough of the entire series with A.V. Club, Feig said, “I have no regrets. To me, we said goodbye to all the characters. They would have been different the next year, and then the year after that they would have been different again. So just the fact that we sent them all off in different directions is very extreme.”
Undeclared was another failed Judd Apatow show that found its audience too late. The Fox sitcom was set in a fictional California college and featured several Apatow regulars (Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel, etc.), with appearances and cameos by some of today’s biggest comedians and actors, including Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Charlie Hunnam. Though different from Freaks and Geeks in both tone and time period, the fates of the two projects were unfortunately the same.
In an interview with Vulture, Apatow said that he told the network that he was happy to work on the show if they let him have the cast he wanted and gave him a year to find his audience. “At the very first casting session, I was trying to get Jason Segel approved as the lead and they said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They didn’t like him. And then I said, ‘Well, what about Seth Rogen?’ And they laughed at me. Luckily we found the great Jay Baruchel, but that was basically how it went in that experience. And they didn’t give us the entire year. They gave us about six months before they canceled us.”
Eerie, Indiana, 1991-1992
The early to mid-90s were a great time for adolescent fans of creepy tales. Shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark and the Goosebumps series delighted and scared audiences for years, but NBC’s Eerie, Indiana was canceled in 1992 after only 19 episodes were produced. The series was created by screenwriter José Rivera and Karl Schaefer, with Joe Dante serving as a creative consultant and director for a handful of episodes. Just like the decade, the show was weird, and cheesy, and fun. The last of the original episodes did not air until 1993, when reruns began airing on The Disney Channel. Then in 1997, the audience that found the episodes on Fox was more receptive to them, which resulted in a spinoff that was also canned after one season.
Almost Human, 2013-2014
Karl Urban’s stern glances, Michael Ealy’s eyes, and Minka Kelly’s smile weren’t enough to save Almost Human from cancellation at the hands of Fox after its 13 episode run. The sci-fi crime drama about a futuristic police force aided by lifelike androids received middling reviews and low ratings, but those who tuned in couldn’t be more into it. According to an Adweek reporter, the show was still a top-rated new drama at the time. Over 40,000 fans signed an online petition to save Almost Human, but it just wasn’t enough.
Some would say that Joss Whedon’s Firefly was destined to fail from the beginning. Whedon had some issues with Fox execs, the show aired during a time often referred to as the “Friday night death slot,” and the episodes were shown out of their intended order. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator has said that he designed the world of the show and the characters to last for seven years, but fans will never get to experience what the Space Western could and should have been. There was a subsequent movie and comic book series, but those who embraced the show from the start and other “Browncoats” that joined the movement later on continue to wish there was more.