Weekend Roundtable: TV Shows Canceled Too Soon

With the start of any new TV season comes the sad inevitability that some shows, even good shows, won’t survive long-term. In this week’s Roundtable, we look back at a few past series that were cut short before we were ready to let them go.

Shannon Nutt

Even after 25 years, I’m still ticked off that fans never got a more satisfying ending to ‘Twin Peaks‘, whose last episode ended with a huge cliffhanger and whose theatrical prequel failed to provide any resolution to what came before. What really bothers me about this is that more ‘Twin Peaks probably could have (and would have) been made… maybe not immediately, but certainly a few years separated from cancelation, as the show developed a strong cult following and many new fans over the subsequent years.

The problem is David Lynch, who refuses to do any type of sequel, despite the fact that he continues to claim that ‘Twin Peaks’ is one of his favorite creations. A number of years back, when the “Definitive Gold Box” edition of ‘Twin Peaks’ hit DVD, there was an attempt to do a continuation of the show via a comic book that would be packaged in the box set. Lynch nixed the idea. Recently (thanks in large part to the new Blu-ray release) there was talk of reviving the show, but Lynch once again shot down any hopes. Sadly, I think we’re going to have to live with the material we have now, but part of me still holds out a small hope that we’ll someday return to the small Northwestern town where the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

In recent memory, the one show I really dug and looked forward to watching in a second season was ‘Journeyman‘. This NBC series from 2007 followed a newspaper journalist named Dan Vasser who, as an adult, suddenly starts jumping back in time. Although the time travel at first appears random, it becomes apparent that each jump is meant for Dan to alter the destiny of a particular individual by intervening in his or her life. One neat twist had Dan jumping back to see an ex-girlfriend whom he believed had died, shortly before her demise. It turns out she hadn’t died, but she was a fellow time traveler who had unwillingly (but luckily) jumped out of a plane shortly before it crashed, and back to her own native time in the 1940s.

As with any movie or show that relies on the time travel trope, this one had paradoxes aplenty. But I liked the way the series pulled Dan into time travel unwillingly, with virtually no warning, left to explain his strange disappearances to a sometimes disbelieving family. Things were getting interesting toward the end of the first short season (13 episodes), but alas, low ratings and the writers’ strike of that year sealed its fate. Perhaps in an alternate timeline, the series is actually still on the air.

Tom Landy

When I received this week’s Roundtable topic, my first thought was Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly‘. However, the short-lived and highly engaging space opera – which was certainly well ahead of its time – just seems like an obvious choice to me, so I decided to go with something a little less popular.

Remember ‘Brimstone‘? Probably not. It was a Fox series about a disgraced deceased cop named Ezekiel Stone (Peter Horton) who returns to Earth from Hell to round up a bunch of escaped demons the Devil, played expertly by John Glover, kinda wants back. I may not feel the same way today if I watched it now, but back in 1998 I really couldn’t understand why the show was canceled after only 13 episodes. Maybe it was the villain-of-the-week repetitiveness or just that the topic was too out-there for most viewers, but I wish this one had a longer lifespan.

M. Enois Duarte

The one cancellation I continue to fume over is the awesome ‘Deadwood‘. I loved that show and all the characters, no matter how minor, from the very first episode. I wanted to live in that town, so incredibly detailed and immersive it was. I could be in the presence of Al Swearengen the rest of my days and be the happiest cowpoke ever.

Granted, the third (which eventually became the final) season was losing a bit of steam, but to finish the series on a cliffhanger like it did is incredibly frustrating. Why didn’t HBO at least give loyal fans the intended two-part film to wrap up the loose ends? By this point, it might be too late, but I still keep hoping that maybe it will happen someday.

Luke Hickman

I hate to repeat the same series that I used as an answer a few weeks ago, but I feel that the ‘Scrubs‘ spin-off ninth season was canceled prematurely. Of course, it wasn’t as good as the original Zach Braff/Donald Faison/Sarah Chalke/Judy Reyes seasons, but it certainly wasn’t bad. In the beginning of the ninth season, as we were introduced to our three new leading characters – played by Dave Franco, Kerry Biche and Michael Mosley (Eliza Coupe’s character was brought in during season eight) – the original cast mates returned from time to time to keep us original fans content, which was much-needed due to the season’s rocky start. Unfortunately, although the new season found its footing around episode seven, the series was canceled after its 13 episodes aired. I would have followed the new cast, but ABC put an end to it. This season is when I was first introduced to and fell in love with the comedic acting of James Franco’s younger brother, Dave.

Josh Zyber

Producer Bryan Fuller has had a lot of trouble keeping good TV series on the air. His Showtime comedy ‘Dead Like Me’ was canned after two seasons. (In fact, Fuller himself was forced out by the network during the first season.) He then went to Fox and created the whimsical ‘Wonderfalls’, which was yanked after just half a season. I would have continued to watch both of those had they gone on longer.

However, the untimely death of ‘Pushing Daisies‘ still hurts the most. The sublimely quirky tale of a pie maker with the power to bring the dead back to life, on the condition that he can never touch the person again, was actually a pretty big hit in its first season. Unfortunately, audiences drifted away and ABC canceled the show after its second season. Although Fuller tacked on a short and hastily-produced epilogue scene to the end of the final episode in an attempt to provide some form of closure, it was unsatisfying. As far as I’m concerned, this show still needs a proper ending.

To be honest, I’m amazed that NBC has kept Fuller’s ‘Hannibal’ on the air for two full seasons now with a third officially in the works. With every episode, I fear that the network will pull the plug with the show’s tightly-scripted narrative left uncompleted.

What canceled TV series do you still pine for? Tell us in the Comments.

62 comments

  1. Just for the record, I submitted my pick long before today’s mysterious tweet from Lynch/Frost. But, as Dale Cooper would say, “when two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention.” 🙂

  2. T.J. Kats

    One I would pick is Rubicon. It started slowly but really picked up steam and I thought had a lot going for it as the season ended up. I really wish AMC had tried a second season to see if it could catch on.

  3. HuskerGuy

    Happy Endings
    Ed
    Deadwood
    Firefly
    Party Down
    Sports Night
    Arrested Development (thank you Netflix!)

    Top of my head choices. I know I’m missing several other good ones.

  4. Lord Bowler

    I loved the show Brimstone. John Glover and Peter Horton were great in the show. And, the tattoos representing each escapee from Hell were cool.

    It was a dark show, but had great moments of humor provided by Glover.

    One show I wish had continued was Threshold. It was a show about an alien invasion from another dimension. Since they couldn’t enter our world, they instead sent a signal to terra-form the population by changing our DNA slightly. It starred Carla Gugino, Peter Dinklage, Charles Dutton, Brian Van Holt, and Brent Spiner.

    I’ll also second Journeyman, a very interesting, smartly written time-travel story. An updated version of Quantum Leap with better science.

  5. Ryan

    Firefly….although we got the movie that I feel put a nice bow on things.
    Pushing Daisies….I loved everything about that silly whimsical show.
    And Tru Calling…. Just when the show was turning into something great, they canceled it.

  6. merlich

    “Boss”. Kelsey Grammer as a corrupt mayor of Chicago. Ended abruptly after two seasons with no resolution. Shame on you, Starz.

    “Life on Mars”, the US version. This series had the potential for a long run, and the series finale with the “it was all a dream” resolution was a real disappointment.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      The problem with the American version of Life on Mars is that the godawful ending was exactly what the writers planned all along. They planted seeds for it all through the show from the very first episode. So when the profoundly stupid ending hit, it was an “Oh my freaking god, THAT’S what all that crap meant?!” revelation. Extending the series would have just prolonged the inevitable. They were always going to end it that way. They never had any other game plan.

  7. Matt

    All these FOX sci-fi shows that only lasted 1 or 2 seasons:
    Firefly
    Dollhouse
    Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
    Tru Calling

    A couple of recent comedies:
    Happy Endings
    Legit

    Last but not least, while we FINALLY got the movie, I still would have preferred another season instead:
    Veronica Mars

  8. agentalbert

    I must be of a similar mind to the reviewers here, as I very much agree and still get angry thinking about what could have been for Firefly, Journeyman, Pushing Daisies and Deadwood. Sure, Twin Peaks too, as that’s my favorite, but I wasn’t watching when it aired, so that’s not the same.

    One more I’ll ad to the mix is “Smith” from 2006. Had an amazing cast and I thought was fantastic, but it got a very early axe.

  9. Sometimes Bonus View contributor Jane has raved a few times about a 1996 show called ‘Profit’. I’ve never seen it, but the way she talked about it … it sure sounded like a good show.

  10. Kashtarreaper

    I wish that “United States of Tara” would have continued, but at least they attempted to wrap it up beforehand

  11. agentalbert

    “Surface” was another very good show that ended too soon. I think at the time it came out, another network had “Invasion” and another network had “Threshold” and they were all in a similar vein. “Surface” was the best of the three, imo.

    • Lord Bowler

      Yes, I watched all three alien invasion shows.

      Threshold was my favorite, seconded by Surface, with Invasion last. Ironically, the three shows were cancelled in that succession. Boy, can I pick them.

  12. Guy

    The obvious choice, for me and many, is Firefly…but it got a movie and works pretty well as a whole now. We know there would have been more to it all, but it’s a lucky thing that we got Serenity.

    I’m going to throw two of three Stargate shows out here. It’s a stretch to say Stargate Atlantis got cancelled too soon after five seasons, but it got ditched so they could make the darker, grittier Stargate Universe. Not to fear, they may have pulled the plug on the series, but with the plan to wrap the show up with a DTV movie just like they’d done with Stargate SG-1. Enter MGM’s bankruptcy. No movie ever got made. A purposeful cliffhanger left unresolved. What of the Stargate Universe show that replaced it? It struggled to find its voice as many series do, alienated some of the fanbase with its shift in tone and was cancelled itself after a finale cliffhanger closed its much-improved second season. Three series in a highly popular sci-fi franchise and two without endings.

    I grew up on Stargate, so those felt personal. I’ve also felt great lost potential in the abbreviated runs of Jericho and Carnivale. Jericho was spotty and a little sappy at times, but it was great fun when it was clicking. It was interesting to see a post-apocalyptic show where the setting was far removed from the devastation. Their world had collapsed, but you couldn’t tell just from a snapshot. Carnivale was just brilliant. It was Steinbeck meets Stephen King in picture form. Given the popularity of similar genre shows these days, I’d imagine it would have done far better in the current television climate. It’s a shame too. It had the makings of a truly amazing run. It really seemed like there was a plan in motion and serialized storytelling that can weave things together in a long-running tapestry is the best kind of payoff for an audience.

  13. Chris B

    There was a British Horror/Thriller series a few years back called “The Fades” that I really enjoyed. The central premise being the dead walk the earth a little bit like zombies stuck in limbo. The first season was only 6 episodes long but grabbed me like few shows before or since. I was crushed when the English network chose to renew “Being Human” for a sixth season instead of The Fades for a second…major bummer.

  14. michael m

    what about carnivale? i was late watching it, but when i found out there were only 2 seasons, and then the way it ended it was disappointing.
    good, but disappointing.

  15. Kyle

    Theres a few shows i really enjoyed that got cancelled too early with some being recent.

    Better off Ted
    Dead like me
    Blue mountain state
    Kitchen confidential
    Firefly

    Theres probably more but im drawing a blank at the moment

  16. Daniel

    Show cancelled too soon:

    Angel
    Dollhouse
    Tne Sarah Connor Chronicles
    Dead Like Me
    Firefly
    Crusade
    Warehouse 13
    La Femme Nikita (_not_ Nikita!)
    Wonderfalls
    Rome
    Torchwood
    Veronica Mars
    Stargate Universe
    Primeval
    Primeval New World

  17. DarAsh

    I wish The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. would have gone further. At least they did resolve the John Blye story line. Bruce just can’t keep a TV series for more than one season. Here’s hoping the new Evil Dead TV series is great and last for a while.

    I also really liked Better Off Ted. I still laugh when thinking about it.

  18. nagara

    I for one agree about scrubs. I thought I was the only one who started to get into the 9th/1st season.

    also surprised how many people liked Better off Ted. One of my fav comedies in years.

    terminator was ready to kick off a hell of a season three before it got cancelled.

    Of recent shows, the ones that hurt most were Happy Endings, Trophy Wife, and Don’t Trust the B in 23. All three were funny week in week out

  19. Almost Human is my most recent hate on FOX, quite a few hates on FOX over the years, they’ve cancelled some great shows. Firefly, Dollhouse, Terminator, and now Almost Human, damn network couldnt even play the show in the proper order again, didnt they learn their lesson with Firefly?

    I also really enjoyed Miracles that was very short lived, kind of like a religious debunking of strange things. Also Jericho was one of my wife and I’s favorite shows, I was glad when us fans fought for some type of conclusion, but even that couldnt do enough, the scope was too big to finish off properly but I guess we could have been left hanging all together.

  20. Mike Kick

    Perfect couples

    Has anyone seen this show ? My girlfriend turned me onto it through Hulu, shows freaking hilarious! Wish there were more seasons!

  21. Devon

    For me the one show I wished would have kept going was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip…I know some people loathed that show, but I loved it! I could watch Perry, Whitford, Peet, Paulson & Busfield all day long! The writing was top notch, though some of the story-lines weren’t the greatest. At least I still have The Newsroom (for one more season) to get my Sorkin fix!

  22. To this day Journeyman is still my favorite show. Maybe because it was cancelled early or that it was just that good of a show. Luckily I still have all the episodes on DVD back from when I was able to find them along with Threshold. Two great shows that should have continued.

  23. William Henley

    I got to agree with everyone else on Firefly.

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – Enterprise. The show was not canceled because of low ratings (ratings were actually higher than Voyager had), the show was canceled because the network was folding. Actually, the reason Firefly got canceled was because it was on opposite of Enterprise, and most of the target audience was watching that, so Firefly got really low viewer ratings.

    The live-action Bill & Ted television show. I loved that as a kid.

    Another show I loved as a kid was Oops. I think it got six episodes.

    This is going to sound weird because there are 10 seasons of it, but… Red Dwarf. The reason I am including it is because they will make a season, then it will disappear for a couple of years, then they will come back and make another six episodes, go away, 3 episodes, go away, another six. So pretty much six episodes churned out every 3-5 years. Now, I could say that all those episodes were golden, but I can’t – it was either season six or seven that was absolutely horrible, and season 9 was Meh.

    Family Guy – canceled, but it was brought back

    Futurama – fox canceled it, Comedy Central brought it back

    • Firefly got canned because FOX never did anything with it, it had nothing to do with Enterprise. Firefly was never on the same night, episodes were played out of order and the list goes on. Enterprise didnt cause FOX to do all of that, because they did it again with Almost Human this past year, different nights, out of order episodes. They pumped a ton of money into the show, grabbed a fairly big action name like Karl Urban and then decided to shit all over it when its actually released. FOX is one of the worst out there and I can never rely on them to keep ANY show going

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