There is stiff competition between the networks to come up with fresh new content that will attract viewers to their shows. Dozens of new shows are started every year in America. Some shows make it big and have a great run of several years. Other shows hardly get out of the gate before they are cancelled.
Most of the shows that get cancelled early deserve it. However, once in a while a great show comes along that, for inexplicable reasons, can’t draw a large enough audience for its network to keep it around. When a new show is picked up by a network it is usually given a run of 13 episodes, to try it out. With many of the shows in this list they were cancelled sooner than that, but there were still 13 episodes created.
The shows listed below have all been highly rated by critics and also beloved by their fans. They all have at least an 8.0/10 rating on IMDB, yet they were cancelled before their time. These are the shows you probably missed but should give a second glance.
Set 500 years in the future, Firefly follows a renegade crew aboard a small “Firefly-class” space ship through various challenges and adventures. Billed as a “space western”, the show featured exploits such as train robberies set in a sci-fi environment. The show has been highly rated by those who’ve seen it, and it has a strong and loyal fan base. Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough viewers to keep the show running. It was cancelled after 11 episodes. The DVD release received strong sales and Firefly is generally regarded as one of the best shows ever cancelled too early.
Premiere: September 20, 2002
Better Off Ted
Ted Crisp is a single father and the well-respected head of a research and development department at Veridian Dynamics, a soulless conglomerate. Ted also serves as the on-camera narrator at times in this witty, satirical situation comedy. The show received acclaim, and was given a score of 84 out of 100 on Metacritic, but lacked enough viewers to last.
Premiere: March 18, 2009
Episodes: 26 (2 seasons)
The Black Donnellys
The story follows four young Roman Catholic Irish-American brothers who are caught up in New York’s mafia. A childhood friend of the brothers, Joey “Ice Cream”, serves as an unreliable narrator. Although cancelled after just a few episodes, Black Donnellys ranked second in shows streamed off of NBC’s website behind Heroes.
Premiere: February 26, 2007
Episodes: 13 (only 7 released on TV, the rest online)
Detective Brett Hopper is accused of shooting the assistant district attorney Alberto Garza. After realizing he has been framed and even his iron clad alibi can’t save him he runs. Sounds kind of like The Fugitive. Except it’s really more like The Fugitive meets Ground Hog’s Day, because every day Brett Hopper wakes up it is the same day, giving him the opportunity to try to solve the mystery of the murder and who has framed him. The show was cancelled after six episodes, though seven more were later aired.
Premiere: November 15, 2006
Freaks and Geeks
Taking place in the 1980s at McKinley High school, the story follows two groups of students – the freaks and the geeks. Freaks and Geeks chronicles various teen problems such as acceptance, drugs, drinking, and bullying. This is where James Franco had his breakthrough. Although it was cancelled after 18 episodes it has enjoyed a devoted cult following. It was ranked as one of the 100 best shows of all time by Time magazine, and 3rd best show in the 2000s.
Premiere: September 25, 1999
Jack of All Trades
Title character Jack Stiles (Bruce Campbell) is an American spy in the South Pacific in the early 19th century. Sent by President Thomas Jefferson, Jack works with British spy Emilia Rothschild to stop the advances of Napolean Bonaparte in that region. Jack of All Trades was a comedy/action show with 30 minute episodes and features a number of recurring gags, such as deliberate historical inaccuracies, and Bruce Campbell’s own special brand of wit.
Premiere: January 17, 2000
Episodes: 22 (2 seasons)
Nobody knows who John Doe is, including himself. He literally fell from the sky one day with no memory of his identity or past. However, he has a vast encyclopedic knowledge about every other subject. While on a quest to learn his own past he aids the police in solving a number of bizarre crimes.
Premiere: September 20, 2002
Journeyman is a time travelling adventure of sorts. Dan Vasser is a San Francisco reporter who is able to travel back in time to help people. In fact, his time travel jumps are involuntary, and in each instance he seems meant to help change the destiny of a different person. This causes difficulty in his regular life and puts a strain in his marriage and relationships with his son and his brother.
Premiere: September 24, 2007
Eddie Arlette is a NYPD detective who bungles a drug case he’s been working on for months. In order to redeem himself he is given the “opportunity” to go to London, where the trail leads next, and work with Scotland Yard to try to solve the case. Paired with British Inspector Monty Pippin, Keen Eddie is a “fish out of water” storyline.
Premiere: June 3, 2003
Kings is a modern, alternate-reality drama based on the Biblical story of King David. King Silas Benjamin is the popular but ruthless monarch who reigns over the fictional kingdom of Gilboa. A farm boy, David Shepherd, rises to prominence in the kingdom when he rescues the king’s son and destroys a Goliath-class tank. The show received critical acclaim, but never developed a strong enough following to make it.
Premiere: March 15, 2009
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
This is an “old west” story, set in 1893, about Brisco (Bruce Campbell), a Harvard Law graduate who is hired by local robber barons as a bounty hunter. It turns out the folks he’s searching for are the same ones who killed his own father, a famous marshal and western legend. He encounters bad guys along the way who are helped out with some futuristic gadgets. The show had a small but dedicated following and received high reviews from critics. Unfortunately, it never picked up many viewers and it was expensive to produce, so it was cancelled after its first season.
Premiere: August 27, 1993
If you’ve seen the Naked Gun movies you will know what to expect with this TV series. Leslie Nielsen stars as Detective Frank Drebin, just as in the movies based off of the short-lived series. Sight-gags, wordplay and non-sequiturs abound. David and Jerry Zucker, along with Jim Abrahams (Airplane and Naked Gun movies) were the creators. Despite critical acclaim only six episodes were made. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening said the show was ahead of its time, and if it had come 20 years later it would’ve been a smash hit. Its pace and quick-fire jokes were too much for 1982 viewers to handle.
Premiere: March 4, 1982
Jaye Tyler is a recent Brown University graduate with a philosophy degree. She works as a sales clerk at a gift shop at Niagra Falls. Jaye discovers that she is able to communicate with the various animal figurines in the gift shop, which direct here to help people in need. The show received high reviews but was cancelled after only 4 episodes. It had a loyal fan base and a campaign to get it picked up again, but to no avail.
Premiere: March 12, 2004
Episodes: 13 (including the unaired pilot)
Most of these shows are tough to find on TV anymore. Firefly is available on Netflix streaming, but for the others you're probably out of luck. You might check your local library to see if they have them available for checkout. If you're willing to spend a few bucks you can buy them on dvd at Amazon.com.
Is there a short-lived TV series that you loved but isn't on this list? Go ahead and add it to the comments!