Evans Vestal Ward/NBC
2019 was a rough year for TV lovers. Schitt's Creek and Modern Family are heading into their final seasons, Jane The Virgin aired its final episode, and the CW's Charmed reboot is somehow coming back to annoy audiences for another year.
Still, we've had it worse. These one-season wonders should have never gotten the axe, so we're taking a moment to remember our favorite series that were gone too soon but never forgotten.
The ‘90s weren’t ready for Judd Apatow’s chef-d'oeuvre about a whip-smart high school student who falls in with a group of slackers. Its cast of then-unknowns included James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Busy Philipps, and Linda Cardellini, but even a cohort of future stars wasn’t enough to keep this series from the chopping block after a mere few episodes. Freak and Geeks is widely considered one of the greatest television series of all time, but changing NBC management and erratic time slots led to its untimely death.
The CW has a stellar track record of creating fantasy hits for teens, and this show based on The Vampire Diaries author L.J. Smith’s Secret Circle books had all the makings of another magical success story. Cassie Blake moves to a new town and learns that she descends from a long line of witches. As she descends deeper into her coven, she learns that a mysterious fire from generations past and her mother’s death might have a little too much in common. Ratings weren’t fantastic, but it ended up being the series’ pricey special effects and on-location shooting costs that led to its cancelation despite multiple fan campaigns to save it.
Alongside Freaks And Geeks in the “Canceled Too Soon” history books is Firefly, Joss Whedon’s star-making tale of futuristic space cowboys. Nathan Fillion led the ensemble cast of misfits aboard the Serenity ship in a dystopian future where government rebels smuggle goods and cargo after finding themselves on the losing side of a Civil War. The Western space opera was hugely popular with audiences despite being misunderstood by critics, leadings to its cult classic status. Joss had seven years of the series planned, but low ratings resulted in its cancelation before season one had even finished airing.
Claire Danes and Jared Leto got their big breaks in this ahead-of-its-time portrayal of public school teenagers. In an era of “very special episodes,” My So-Called Life proved itself a very special show, covering major social issues throughout multi-episode storylines rather than the episodic plots more popular at the time. It was one of the first shows to acknowledge that being a '90s teenager can be a regular parade of suck instead of a care-free time of corded phones and wholesome boy problems. Critics still rank My So-Called Life amongst the best series ever created, but a mix of low-ratings and a lack of desire to continue the show from the burnt-out young cast members ended the show.
If you’ve finished bingeing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it’s time to give Bunheads a second look. Unlike in Stars Hollow: The Musical, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s love for musical theatre actually benefitted this show starring Tony-winners Sutton Foster and Palladino regular Kelly Bishop, who originated the role of Sheila in the Broadway classic A Chorus Line. When Sutton’s ballerina-turned-showgirl gets married on a whim, she moves to a Stars Hollow-esque coastal town to start her new life. Since they don’t make shows about people whose lives go *right*, her new husband dies in a freak accident, leading her to teach at a small ballet school alongside her reluctant mother-in-law. A critical darling with funding from California’s Film and Television Tax Credit, the show’s cancelation remains a mystery to many.
Greg Berlanti is the mastermind producer of The CW’s Arrowverse, Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Brothers and Sisters, but not every series can be a hit. This remake of a British series from the ‘70s starred Robbie Amell, cousin of the Arrowverse’s leading man Stephen Amell, whose character Stephen (confusing, we know) discovers telepathic and telekinetic powers, making him part of a secret society. It’s a CW show, so naturally there’s family intrigue and love triangles afoot, but the network canceled the well-recieved series due to underperforming ratings.
Now better known as a Fenty Beauty highlighter shade, Trophy Wife was once associated with Malin Akerman’s short-lived sitcom about a young party girl who marries a middle-aged lawyer and is thrown into a world of parenthood, ex-wives, and complicated generation gaps. Like most ABC comedies, Trophy Wife suffered from a poor title choice (it worked better for the highlighter) that distracted from its nuanced humor and strong performances by its leading cast. Imagine how long it could have ran if it was just called Modern Family instead. One of the best shows of 2013, Trophy Wife’s poor ratings weren’t a fault of the show, but of the same network that butchered the roll-out of Don’t Trust The B- in Apartment 23 and Selfie.
Rob Lowe’s career found a second wave of excellence in comedy television through Parks and Recreation and The Grinder, a series that was underrated (at least as far as Nielson analytics are concerned). It was because of the latter that The Grinder got he axe, but the meta law procedural struck a chord with critics who compared its big laughs, small audience dichotomy to Arrested Development and Community. The show followed Rob as a television actor who thinks that playing a lawyer on his long-running show means he can work for his family’s law firm IRL. Ironically, the show's premise foreshadowed its eventual fate — a show called The Grinder about the cancellation of a show called The Grinder gets canceled? You can't make this sh*t up.
Baz Luhrman took more than ten years to develop The Get Down, but audiences lost faith after only eleven episodes. The $120 million overshoot of Baz’s approved $7.5 million budget might’ve had something to do with its cancellation despite a second-half that took season one from good to great. The series followed a group of teenagers in 1970s New York City as they navigate the rise of hip-hop and disco while combating area gangs, poverty, and the trials and tribulations of coming up in the music industry.
The world still isn’t ready for this Canadian-American adult cartoon about a high school whose students are all clones of famous historical figures. A parody of teen dramas with Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Cleopatra, and John F. Kennedy as its main characters, the series was canceled in part due to a massive hunger strike in India protesting its depiction of Gandhi. The series still became a cult classic for its thematic humor, with the series creators admitting many of the jokes in their later endeavor 22 Jump Street were basically ripped right from the Clone High handbook.
It’s sad that so many stellar comedies weren’t given an opportunity to find their audience. FX’s Terriers followed an ex-cop and a former criminal as they start an unlicensed PI business in San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood. While that doesn’t sound like a formula for knee-slapping belly laughs, the dramedy was beloved by critics despite averaging an abysmal 500,000 viewers per episode. A revival has been discussed, but as the network’s lowest-rated series of all time, the prognosis doesn’t look good.
Unlike most of our favorite one-season wonders, Good Girls Revolt didn’t struggle to find an audience, and it wasn’t misunderstood by critics, either. Reports will claim that the show was axed for failing to bring in new subscribers to Amazon Prime, but considering that Amazon Studios’ video division head was ousted for sexual harassment not long after Good Girls Revolt’s cancellation, it seems more likely that the feminist drama (which was dropped alongside two other female-lead shows) didn’t align with the studio’s sexist creative vision. Ironically, Good Girls Revolt told the true story of women who filed a sexual discrimination suit against Newsweek in 1970.
This little-known WB satirical soap must have been pretty cathartic for Darren Star, who based the series around his experiences producing Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place. Grosse Pointe took place on the set of a fictional teen series of the same name and followed the behind-the-scenes drama, which lead to Beverly Hills, 90210 producer Aaron Spelling calling WB execs complaining that one of the lead characters was obviously a thinly-veiled parody of his daughter, Tori Spelling. Darren brought in real-life celebs like Sarah Michelle Gellar to play fictionalized versions of themselves and used several actors from the series he was parodying in recurring roles, but it couldn’t combat the series’s position in the Friday Night Death Slot.
Save the cheerleader, save Ashley Tisdale’s career. Just kidding! We’re sure Ashley is doing just fine, but imagine how different our cultural landscape would be if her leading role alongside Aly Michalka had reached Gossip Girl and Riverdale levels of teen idolatry. Ratings steadily fell after a stunning premiere turnout, and when it didn’t seem like the Nielson slide would be slowing down any time soon, The CW dropped the spirit stick the show. Hellcats followed Aly’s Marti Perkins after she loses her college scholarship due to administrative cuts and is forced to join the struggling cheer program to get a new one.
Amy Poehler’s first foray into scripted comedy almost got axed after one season as it struggled to find its footing, and thank God it didn’t. We don’t want to imagine a world without the Parks and Recreation we grew to love, but Amy’s newest half-hour comedy wasn’t given that same opportunity to thrive. I Feel Bad starring Sarayu Blue asks if women can really have it all and answers with a resounding “probably not,” but a terribly unfunny ad campaign doomed the series before it even began.
Chris Lowell just can’t catch a break. Veronica Mars was canceled right after Piz arrived on the scene, then the charming Enlisted got replaced with Kitchen Nightmares reruns after being royally cuckolded by its network. Enlisted was put in the Friday Night Death Slot right off the bat, then had its episodes aired out of sequence, two harbingers of doom for any struggling show. Enlisted followed three odd couple brothers who get assigned to the same Infantry Regiment of misfits and are forced to work through decades of familial strife.
Who started the conspiracy against Judd Apatow, and how can we get them to leave our favorite series alone? Campus comedy Undeclared starred Freaks and Geeks alumni Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen alongside newcomer Charlie Hunnam, but the reunion would have been much larger if Fox hadn’t blocked Judd from casting Jason Segel and friends as principal characters. Jason, Busy Phillips, Samm Levine, and Natasha Melnick still appeared in recurring and guest capacities, with Linda Cardellini slated to appear in the hypothetical second season, but the series was never given a fighting chance by the network, who again aired the episodes out-of-order in a misguided attempt to increase weekly returns.
A cop show that never made it past its first season — shocker. Almost Human starred Karl Urban and Michael Ealy as cops who fought crime in the future, except one of them was a robot. The show aired on Fox in 2013 on Monday nights and never quite hit the ratings it intended to. The last few episodes in the season had about 5.6 million average viewers and held just a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49. Still, the show had a notable following that only came forward when Fox announced it was cancelling the series.
People had such high hopes for Limitless when it started on CBS in 2015, but they were dashed when it was canceled after just one season. The show was based on the 2011 movie of the same name starring Bradley Cooper and followed the plot of a man who gained cognitive abilities after he took a mysterious drug. Although the show's ratings fell slightly behind its competitors, it was still loved by many and did pretty well for a new series. Still, it was canceled without much explanation, leaving fans always wondering what happened.
NBC pumped a lot of money into Kings, but it just goes to show that money can't buy viewers. The show began with a midweek slot in 2009 but, after three months of continuously bad ratings, was moved to the Saturday night slot — which is known in as the graveyard shift in the TV world. The network lost a lot of money from producing the show, so they axed it after the first season. The president of the network put the show's failure down to the fact that it was a "complex idea" that didn't connect with viewers. How come so many people were angry that it ended, then?
Wonderfalls was praised by critics after it debuted on Fox in 2004, but unfortunately, it never found a steady, devoted audience, resulting in its cancellation. Fox made a number of mistakes with the show, the first being that it aired its episodes out of sequence. The plot followed a 24-year-old woman who could hear voices coming from animal figurines and other objects that directed her to intervene in the lives of other people. After getting *only* 3.3 million viewers during its second week of airing, Fox canceled the series.
What do you MEAN the world didn't want a western series in the '90s? Fox's The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. aired in 1993 and followed the story of bounty hunter Brisco County Jr. who traveled across the old west seeking revenge on outlaw John Bly for killing his father. The series had impressive ratings when it first debuted, but the ratings steadily declined as the season progressed. The declining ratings were blamed on the show's Friday night slot and it was eventually canceled, despite having a solid fanbase.
Quarry, which starred Logan Marshall-Green, centered on a marine who, after he returns home from Vietnam in 1972, finds himself shunned by those he loved and the public, leading him to take on a new life of killing and corruption. The show was canceled after one season by Cinemax for a number of reasons, despite exceeding expectations in ratings and critic reviews. According to its co-creator Michael D. Fuller, "There were several factors that contributed to the show’s ultimate fate, but a regime change at HBO and a re-(re?)-branding at Cinemax were of particular significance."
Vampires seem to work for TV shows, and that was still the case for Moonlight, which aired on CBS in 2007. Like most vampire-based productions, Moonlight gained a passionate and devoted fanbase almost instantly, but still, CBS justified its cancellation with "low ratings." Fans were enraged by the network's decision to cut the show, but the head of CBS stood by her decision to end the show, saying that people were more invested in the performance of star Alex O'Loughlin than the actual storyline.
One Big Happy was one of the only TV shows in 2015 that had a gay, female lead. It followed the story of two best friends who decided to have a baby together, despite one of them being a lesbian, and just as they fell pregnant, the other met the love of his life. The show was produced by Ellen DeGeneres and had a great cast, but still, it was canceled after just six episodes. Apparently, the show got "mediocre ratings in mid-March  and then the numbers got much worse." NBC announced that the show would end with season one leaving its cast and few fans devo.
Forever was just a little late to the game when it came to immortal characters in 2015. Ioan Gruffudd (otherwise known as the guy from Fantastic Four), starred in the ABC show as an immortal medical examiner named Henry Morgan. The show was canceled due to *surprise* low ratings, and fans were super upset. Nobody was more upset than Ioan, who tweeted about the cancellation saying: "I knew the numbers hadn't been great, but I also knew the studio and the network both loved the show, and of course that it had an incredible fan base…so I thought we were in with a pretty good chance." Heartbreaking.
Single-camera comedy LA to Vegas was canceled by Fox in May 2018 after just one season, to the shock of its cast and fans. The show, which was produced by Will Ferrell, was set aboard a fictional airline for its flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and starred Dylan McDermott. The comedy got off to a great start, ranking as Fox’s highest-rated Tuesday comedy telecast in nearly a year, but ratings began to decrease as the show continued. About its cancellation, one of the show's stars, Amir Talai tweeted: “God I’m just really really sad.” Same, Amir!
2015 was really a rocky year for TV shows. Backstrom starred Rainn Wilson as an overweight, offensive detective who struggled with his self-destructive qualities. It started off okay, getting eight million viewers for its first episode, but like most shows on this list, the viewership declined with each episode. The show was canceled after one season, which Rainn felt was an injustice. "Backstrom was such a great show. We were on a terrible time slot. Got hammered in the reviews. And people just didn't give us a chance. Too bad! Oh well," he told Cinema Blend.
HBO gave fans of the Tim Robbins and Jack Black series The Brink hope in July of 2015 when it renewed the show for a second season, but the network backtracked on its promise a couple of months later and announced the show would not be getting a second season. "After evaluating our schedule and our programming needs, we unfortunately decided we cannot give The Brink the attention it deserves for a second season. We are proud of the first season and wish everyone involved in this show the very best." Harsh AF.
Another crime series that never made it past season one was NBC's Chase. The show followed US Marshall Annie Frost as she headed the Houston Enforcement & Apprehension Task Force and hunted down America's most dangerous fugitives. Things didn't look good for the show from the beginning, with its first episode getting mediocre rating at best. Originally airing on a Monday night, the ratings only got worse when the show was moved to a Wednesday night slot. The show then became the lowest-rated show on NBC in 2011. Ouch.
Standoff premiered on Fox in September 2006 and focused on an FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit whose job was to negotiate hostage situations. The show was doomed from the getgo, losing over half of its viewers after the pilot. Still, Fox ordered another six episodes of the series in November. Things started looking bad when the show was put on hiatus in December 2006 and its return date pushed back three times. When it finally came back, the show was moved to the graveyard Friday night time slot, before being canceled in May 2007.
Life On A Stick had a pretty simple plot. The 2005 show centered around a group of teenage girls who worked and hung out in their local mall's food court and focused on the relationships they had with their parents and each other as young adults. Thirteen episodes of the show were filmed, but the show had such poor ratings that Fox decided to pull it from the network after just five episodes. Despite its poor ratings, the show saw some devoted young fans who were freaked when the story was ripped from them not even halfway through the season.
Sci-Fi ABC series FlashForward debuted in 2009 and was based on the 1999 novel of the same by Canadian science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer. The show was canceled after one season, despite ending on a cliffhanger, leaving fans frustrated at the fact they would never know what could have been. There were no real reasons given as to why the show wasn't renewed until Robert himself addressed the cancellation in an online forum. He said "the series was not suitable viewing for 8:00 p.m. (the traditional TV “family hour”), but that’s when ABC slotted it (and kept it for its entire run). So, by the end of the first season, the ratings were low."
Despite a petition being made for its renewal, BBC's The Fades was canceled after just one season in 2012. After the network announced budget cuts earlier that year, fans of the show anticipated its cancellation due to its coinciding schedule with the BBC's Being Human, which fell into a similar genre. The show was so good that it won a BAFTA award for its first season and even introduced us for the first time to Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer. Why can't we just have nice things, BBC?
The 2012 NBC show Awake was a science fiction phenomenon that people just weren't ready for. Despite the fact that viewers had an extremely enthusiastic response to the show, it was canceled after one season due to "low ratings," which is the most painful excuse to people who religiously tune in for a show they love. The plot was extremely interesting and followed an LAPD detective who got into a horrific car crash with his wife Hannah and his son Rex. When he recovered, the detective faced a world in which Hannah lived but Rex died in the crash. When he went to sleep, he awoke in another reality where Rex was alive and Hannah died. Chilling.
Just two months after it came out in 2018, Netflix announced it would be canceling Everything Sucks. The show, which was set in the '90s, told the story of a high school student who was struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. The coming-of-age story really resonated with viewers, so the reasons Netflix gave for canceling it were infuriating. According to Business Insider, Netflix decided to cancel the show because while people started watching it, many of them didn't finish the first episode, and although the streaming service recognized the loyal audience the show had, it didn't feel like it would grow along with a second season.
The 2016 CBS show BrainDead followed the story of Laurel Healy, a woman who returned to Washington DC to work for her brother, Senator Luke Healy on Capitol Hill. The show was canceled due to, you guessed it — low ratings, and we're putting that down to the fact that, in 2016, people probably would have rathered do anything else other than watch a political TV show. At the time of cancellation, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the show lost half of its viewership by the time the last episode aired. Perhaps it would go down better today?