Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dead TV: Canceled Before Their Time

So I saw this list online recently of TV series which were canceled before their time. There were a bunch of shows on that list I never watched, so I thought I'd put together my own list of shows I think got "the quick hook" too soon!

My criteria was simple: I had to have actually watched the series AND it had to have lasted one season (26 episodes) or less.

1. Andy Richter Controls the Universe (2002-2003, 19 episodes, 4 unaired)
Andy Richter is one of those comedians whose humor, I think, escapes some people (especially television executives). His jokes tend to be delivered in a dry, unassuming way and, once fully processed by your brain, explode with a funniness which wasn't immediately apparent.

2. Andy Barker, P.I. (2007, 6 episodes)
Andy Richter also gets the second entry on my list. What do you do when your control of the Universe slips? Become a Private Investigator. By accident. Because someone mistakes you for one. At least you can watch the episodes online at

3. Wonderfalls (2004, 13 episodes, 9 unaired)
This is one of the few shows that, when it was canceled, I actually signed a petition urging FOX Broadcasting to reconsider. Someone at FOX had it in for the show, though, because they kept moving it around in the schedule or pre-empting it until even those of us who were eager for the next episode weren't always sure when it would air. I've since caught "Joan of Arcadia" on Sci-Fi Channel, which originally hit the air around the same time with a similar "I think God is talking to me" premise, "Wonderfalls" did it SO MUCH BETTER! The 13 episodes are available on DVD thanks to a fan-driven effort to get it released.

4. Firefly (2002-2003, 14 episodes, 3 originally unaired)
What can I say? This is one of the best (some would vehemently argue THE best) science-fiction shows ever. Even though FOX Broadcasting didn't give it a fair shake (and forced them to air the episodes out of order), it has spawned comic books, a feature film, soundtrack album, action figures, devoted fans who dress in costume and replicate props for their own conventions and fan films. . .etc., etc. Everything a sci-fi phenomenon is expected to inspire, and absolute proof that FOX television executives have their heads up their asses. You can watch episoes online at

5. Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993-1994, 27 episodes)
If "Firefly" dramatically combined Science-Fiction and Cowboy Western genres, "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." successfully did so comically (though there was an underlying serious plot revolving around Brisco capturing members of the gang that killed his father - a staple plotline of MANY a series). Which is fitting because a firearms prop used in "Brisco County, Jr." was later reused in "Firefly." Really! Enjoyment of the series probably helps if you're already a fan of Bruce Campbell, but the cross-genre dramedy (drama+comedy) nature of the show means there's something in it for just about everyone. The series has been released on DVD:

6. Q.E.D. [titled "Mastermind" in UK] (1982, 6 episodes)
Most people probably don't even remember this short-lived series. But I found it fun and imaginative - combining Sherlock Holmes and something far ahead of its time which is now known as "Steampunk." To this day I remember the main character's name: Quentin E. Deverill, and the phrase "Quite Easily Done." (Q.E.D. is a Latin phrase, quod erat demonstrandum, meaning "which was to be demonstrated"). The show later aired in the United Kingdom (which was fitting since it was set in Edwardian England) but was retitled "Mastermind" because there was already a science program called "Q.E.D." More information is online at:

7. Dresden Files (2007, 12 episodes)
This was based on a series of novels, which I've never read, so I don't know how it compares to the source material. The basic premise is "magical private investigator." When it was airing I described it as "What Harry Potter does when he grows up and becomes a detective." Sci-Fi Channel axed the show after only 12 episodes, which was a shame because like so many series killed before their time, it died just as it was getting good. There are rumors, though, it may be revived - possibly as a series of TV movies. You can watch it online at

8. Jack of All Trades (2000, 22 episodes)
If you ever liked the "Wild, Wild West" TV series, you'll like "Jack of All Trades." Same goes if you're already a Bruce Campbell fan. The series takes place in the 19th century featuring Campbell as "Jack Stiles," an American secret agent dispatched by President Jefferson. Along with a British agent they try to neutralize the Napoleonic threat. But the history and geography is purposely inaccurate, creating a fantasy loosely BASED on the 19th century rather than a "period piece." You can watch it online at

9. John Doe (2002-2003 ,21 episodes)
This is yet another show that was really getting good - at least close to answering the major mysteries raised in the series - when it got canceled. I despise TV networks that don't, at least, let shows like this do a wrap-up episode. It's like buying a mystery novel and finding out the publisher never printed the last chapter so you NEVER find out "who done it." Though there's plenty of speculation online as to what the deal was, we'll never truly know. You can get sucked into the mysteries, and be left to imagine your own resolutions, at:

10. Journeyman (2007, 13 episodes)
Ok, I'm a long-time Doctor Who fan, so I'm a sucker for pretty much any show with time travel in it. Again, this show was pulled after introducing a lot of question marks, but never giving the apparently few of us who were watching it any answers. Time travel back to before it was canceled by watching it online at:

11. The Tick (2001-2002, 9 episodes - 1 unaired )
Granted, this comic-book-based series probably was better suited to an animated series than live action (and the animated series WAS more successful). But you just can't beat Patrick Warburton as the big blue superhero - he was born for that role. If you like spoof super hero stories (think "Mystery Men") you'll enjoy helping the Tick protect the local bus station at:

12. Total Recall 2070 (1999, 22 episodes)
I caught some of this series in late-night syndication. If people were even generally aware of it, they probably thought it was a crappy TV-adaptation of the movie "Total Recall" with some Arnold Swartzenegger knock-off in the title roll. Well, thankfully it isn't. "Total Recall" was loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story "We can remember it for you wholesale," and this TV series drew from some of his other writings as well. I'd actually describe it as more of a mix between "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall" as it had elements of both. Though, again, questions about the truth were raised and the series never got an opportunity to answer them. Which, in a round-about way is sort of like the big question mark at the end of the Arnold action-flick: was he still stuck in the "blue skies on Mars" scenario, or did it really happen? Maybe you can figure it out at:

13. Tremors (2003, 13 episodes)
Considering the movie was rather, shall we say, light in the plot department I didn't have great expectations for a series based on "Tremors." Well, it somehow actually worked. You get to better know some of the quirky people in the valley who stubbornly refuse to be run off their land by a giant worm-thing that eats people. . .and trucks. . .and, well, anything that makes vibrations really. Add in a bumbling beaurocracy Hell-bent on protecting the "endangered species" and you've got a set up for friction. 11 episodes are available online at

14. Otherworld (1985, 8 episodes)
I'm also a sucker for "parallel universe" stories. This very short-lived series from long-ago is about a family who visit the pyramids in Egypt and are accidently transported through a portal to a parallel earth (though it might also be another earth-like planet connected to the pyramids somewhere in the same universe, it's hard to tell). The technology in this other world is different, as are the social norms and political powers. The family follows a series of obalisks in a quest to find their way back home. But 8 episodes is obviously insufficent time in which to accomplish that task. By today's standards the special effects, sets, costumes, and props are laughable, but that can also be part of the fun. More about it at

15. Logan's Run (1977, 14 episodes)
Not that long ago I watched the "Logan's Run" movie after many years of not having seen it. It was only then that I realized some of what I thought I remembered actually is from the TV series. Frankly, I think the TV series is a better interpretation of the story. I just wish we could have seen a lot more of the ruined cities on the surface. Pilot episode in parts at

16. Wizards & Warriors (1983, 8 episodes)
This was about as close as you'll get to a live-action "Dungeons & Dragons" series. It's a shame it only lasted eight episodes, because the fantasy genre as a series seems like a pretty tough sell to TV networks. Think about it, how many knights, wizards, fair maidens, and dragons have you seen in the primetime lineup over your lifetime? Not many. Video clips at

17. Lone Gunmen (2001, 13 episodes - 1 unaired)
I always like the trio of conspiracy nuts from "X-Files" and really enjoyed the short-lived series based on their paranoid investigations. Especially because the "X-Files" season at the time was kind of a disappointment. Series star Dean Haglund has actually published a comic book chronicling the circumstances surrounding the cancelation of the show. They never got a chance to actually wrap up the series within the series itself, which is why it's probably the only series I can think of that had it's finale within an entirely different series (the "Jump the Shark" episode of the "X-Files."), which I found unsatisfying because it all but ensured the Lone Gunmen series would never be revived.

18. Drive (2007, 6 episodes - 2 unaired)
You wouldn't think a series built around the premise of an illegal, underground road race would have much more to offer than Cannonball Run or Deathrace, but they managed to cram some interesting back stories for the characters into the short-lived show (but we never get the full picture because they canceled it). Considering how heavily FOX Broadcasting hyped this show before it premeired it was a bit of a shock they so readily gave it the axe. Or maybe they just hate any show with Nathan Fillion in it? Oh, and it actually won an Emmy Award - so "critically acclaimed" and "award winning" mean NOTHING to the longevity of a show.

19.Mission Hill (1999-2002, 13 episodes)
Ever since "The Simpsons" became a hit there has been an effort to create the next successful animated series. Well, it looks like "Family Guy" may have ultimately won that fight, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the part of other shows. "Mission Hill" is one of the few good ones which shouldn't have been canceled, but it is also very much a product of the late-1990s which makes it either feel "dated" or "nostalgic," depending on your perspective. There were a bunch of episodes in progress when it got canceled, for which "animatics" and scripts exist. You can find out more about that at and about the DVD release.

20. Surface (2005-2006, 15 episodes)
Originally intended as a mini-series, ok ratings caused NBC to expand it. Which sucks because, had it been left as a mini-series we'd probably have a self-contained story instead of the cliff-hanger ending we got that will NEVER be resolved. As noted, the ratings were ok and NBC heavily promoted this show, even re-aired episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel so people could catch up on episodes they'd missed. But they ultimately killed it anyway. It would be nice if they'd at least tie it up with a TV movie or a Sci-Fi "original picture," but for now all we've got is the DVD release.

No comments: