Gone too soon
Declan Cashin laments the loss of once-promising TV shows that were culled before their time was up
Published 12/03/2011 | 05:00
Like love affairs or diets, TV shows are often abandoned before they've really had a chance to prove their worth and properly take root. For whatever reason, some dramas and comedies, regardless of their high quality, struggle to find an audience, and so anxious TV-network suits decide to cut their losses and axe the show, rather than invest any more time or money in re-tooling or saving them.
In such a pitiless creative environment, mistakes are going to be made, and fantastically promising material can end up on the scrap heap. JJ Abram's cult favourite -- always a dangerous label for a TV show -- 'Fringe' is the latest one rumoured to be heading for the chop, as are 'Lie to Me' and sci-fi scrappers 'The Event', 'V', and 'No Ordinary Family'.
However, what TV executives should keep in mind are the many examples of shows that were cancelled before their time that have since gone on to be held up and embraced as modern television classics.
Here, we take a look back at some of the more short-sighted axing decisions in TV history.
Freaks and Geeks
Dumped by the NBC network after just one 18-episode series in 2000, 'Freaks and Geeks' is fondly -- even wondrously -- remembered now as the TV labour-of-love of an unknown Judd Apatow, future director of such massive frat-pack movie hits as 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin' and 'Knocked Up'.
The cast of this show -- a brilliant, 1980s-set look at the awkward and cliquey teenage years -- have also gone on to bigger and better things, namely James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel ('I Love You Man', 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall') and Busy Phillips ('Cougar Town').
My So-Called Life
Debuting in 1994, 'So-Called' was the launching pad for a then 15-year-old Claire Danes, who won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of lovelorn, self-aware teenager Angela Chase. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the show was the painful, warts-and-all opposite of its glossy, sun-kissed, teen-angst contemporary 'Beverley Hills 90210', 'So-Called' struggled in the ratings war and was unceremoniously axed in 1995 after just one critically acclaimed 19-episode season.
This one was always going to be a tough sell: a densely plotted, whip-smart, teen-noir, murder-mystery, father-daughter buddy comedy-thriller. But upon its debut in 2004, 'Veronica Mars' quickly became one of TV's most acclaimed new drama series, inspiring a passionate fanbase that campaigned successfully for the show to be spared the axe for three years, until the CW network eventually dumped this low-rating modern classic for -- piling insult on to injury -- a Pussycat Dolls reality show.
However, fans of Mars know that, in Kristen Bell's shrewd, sensitive, super-cool sleuth, TV found arguably its strongest, most inspiring and sharply-drawn female protagonist this side of Buffy Summers.
Possibly the best, most absurd, inventive and savagely unsentimental American comedy series of the Noughties, 'Arrested Development' -- focusing on the morally, emotionally and corporately bankrupt Bluth clan -- was a ratings flop from day one but survived into an equally strong second season, thanks to bagging the Emmy award for Best Comedy Series in 2004. Alas, the Fox network bottled it and cancelled the comedy 13 episodes into its third series.
The treatment of 'Arrested Development' has since become shorthand for TV networks' craven, ratings-obsessed, bottom-line stupidity.
The show is also notable for a cast that would later enjoy much wider success, mainly Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Will Arnett.
Rumours abound that a movie spinoff is forthcoming.
The brainchild of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' boffin Joss Whedon, quirky sci-fi western 'Firefly' was in trouble from the start when the Fox network -- again! -- interferred with the two-hour pilot of the show, and then consigned it to Friday evenings, the graveyard of all US TV scheduling (and, coincidentally, where 'Fringe' is now).
Production costs also caused alarm -- it was an extremely sophisticated fantasy with lots of special effects -- and so Fox cancelled it after just 11 episodes of a scheduled 14 had aired. Whedon had the last laugh, however. He developed the characters and plot into a hit 2005 movie, 'Serenity', and the show continues to enjoy a lucrative afterlife thanks to DVD boxset sales.
Aaron Sorkin might now be rightly recognised as a screen-writing genius, laden down with Oscars, Emmys and assorted other knick-knacks for his work on the likes of 'The West Wing' and the movie 'The Social Network', but back in the late 1990s, he had his work cut out for him trying to keep his show 'Sports Night' on-air.
A show-within-a-show comedy set in a sports network, 'Sports Night' had all the trademark Sorkin wit, rapid-fire dialogue, and pedeconferencing (walking and talking) energy, but never found an audience. It was axed after two series.
That said, the winding-up of this series afforded Sorkin the time to work on the hugely successful 'The West Wing', but in 2007 Sorkin, yet again, saw another show -- his '30 Rock'-esque comedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- flounder after one series.
A rare exception to the typical cancelled-before-its-time rule, it's easy to forget that this staggeringly successful animated comedy was itself the victim of the axe back in 2001, by, no surprise here, the Fox network.
'Family Guy' debuted in 1999 to initially strong ratings, but Fox wouldn't commit the show to any one timeslot, perpetually moving it around the schedules and making it impossible to build an audience. The poor ratings led to the show being cancelled after three series in 2002.
However, 'Family Guy' found a new life when it was released on DVD, and such was its multi-million-selling success that Fox reneged on its decision and ordered a new season for TV in 2004.
The show is still on-air, and became the first animated show to be nominated for an Emmy for Best Comedy Series in 2009. Its creator, Seth MacFarlane, has also signed development deals with Fox thought to be worth around $100 million.