Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and seven other awesome TV shows that didn’t survive their first season.
Every so often a really good show comes along and is somehow missed by the audience. What follows are 10 such ill-fated shows, and why it’s worth your time to seek them out if you missed them during their short single-season runs.
10. Clone High (2002-’03)
This inventive Canadian cartoon offers 13 episodes, though MTV only aired the first eight in the U.S. before giving it the ax. The concept was that the government had created clones of historical figures in hopes of exploiting their strengths and abilities. The writing was witty and the voice talent included Will Forte, Nicole Sullivan and several Scrubs alumni. It was far better than anything currently on MTV.
Fail Factor: Combination of high production costs, low ratings, and a Ghandi-related controversy were enough for MTV to pull the plug.
9. Andy Barker, P.I. (2007)
Six episodes is all we got from Andy Richter’s second play in the sitcom game. This time out, he played an accountant who reluctantly becomes a gumshoe. This was another case of NBC airing a show that was legitimately clever and funny and then killing it after only a few weeks.
Fail Factor: Despite a stellar cast talent-wise, there was no one overly recognizable to draw in a network-sized audience.
8. Undeclared (2001-’02)
Before The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Judd Apatow honed his chops while writing network TV. One of the shows he created was Undeclared, a comedy about a group of college freshmen starring Charlie Hunnam, Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen, plus a steady stream of guest stars including Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Ben Stiller.
Fail Factor: Big names weren’t enough to drive ratings and Fox cancelled the show after airing 16 of the 17 episodes. The lesson: It’s hard to be honest about college on network TV.
7. The Middleman (2008)
Based off the comic from Viper by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, this is the story of an agency that protects the Earth from the unexplained and supernatural, and a superhero of sorts known only as The Middleman. The show is extremely campy, yet enjoyable. A big part of that had to do with the cast, in particular, Natalie Morales. But it was so full of obscure pop-culture references that it’d be impressive if anyone under 25 could really follow it.
Fail Factor: ABC Family’s target audience wants teen drama, not campy aliens.
6. The Black Donnellys (2007)
Four brothers from Hell’s Kitchen deal with local organized crime in a show that featured an excellent cast, including a then-unknown Olivia Wilde, but NBC pulled it after a mere six episodes. The other seven episodes were streamed on NBC’s Web site, where it became the site’s most streamed show after Heroes. With clever narration and strong writing, the show could’ve been a big hit for the last-place network if they’d given it some time.
Fail Factor: Network impatience, much like the NBC-killed, then TNT-resurrected Southland.
5. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993-’94)
Before Burn Notice but well after The Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell starred in this comedy/Western/sci-fi series in which he played an Indiana Jones-like lawyer turned bounty hunter. (Still following?) It trailed Brisco as he hunted down the gang who killed his father, a crusty U.S. Marshall played by R. Lee Ermey.
Fail Factor: This steampunk Western came along just a few years too early and couldn’t build a heavy enough lead-in for The X-Files.
4. Raines (2007)
Premiering on NBC the same night as Andy Barker P.I., this procedural starred Jeff Goldblum as an LAPD homicide detective with a quirk: As he investigates a case, he tends to hallucinate the victim talking to him. What got me hooked right away was the opening scene, which was shot in the same Hollywood Hills apartment that was occupied by Philip Marlowe in 1973’s The Long Goodbye — classic P.I. stuff!
Fail Factor: A Friday-night death sentence.
3. Freaks and Geeks (1999-’00)
Set in a fictional suburb of Detroit in 1980, the show revolved around brother and sister Sam and Lindsay Weir as they attended high school. NBC aired only 12 of 18 episodes before pulling the plug on what is arguably Judd Apatow’s best work.
Fail Factor: Airing on Saturday nights, with frequent breaks for the World Series, in a pre-DVR society and taking 18 weeks to air 12 episodes. Yeah, stick a fork in it.
2. Firefly (2002-’03)
As excited as Fox was to have a Joss Whedon series, the network seemed apathetic about how to program and market it. Whedon filled his unique universe with likable characters, including Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), who has become one of the most beloved heroes of the Comic-Con set. Not bad for a show (and subsequent theatrical movie) so few people discovered until after it imploded.
Fail Factor: Fox aired episodes out of order and repeatedly changed the show’s air day and time… the Serenity’s captain and crew were doomed.
1. Terriers (2010)
This is the story of a couple of P.I.s who work low-rent jobs outside of San Diego, Calif., until a series of seemingly unrelated events prove to be connected into something bigger. The combination of cast and writing was perfect, but the promos were ambiguous, leaving people with no idea of what the show was about, which resulted in FX’s lowest-rated show ever. The series was touching and incredibly human, and the creators ended things in a way that was still satisfying as either a season or series finale. (Yes, there are rumors floating about a possible movie, spread mainly by me.)
Fail Factor: The marketing team at FX totally dropped the ball.