Some of the best shows ever didn’t stay on TV for as long as they should have.
That’s just how it is in the cutthroat TV industry, in which impatient network executives are focused only on last night’s ratings. And things have only gotten more brutal with a saturation of TV content, including from streaming services.
Great series like HBO’s “Deadwood” and Judd Apatow’s teen dramedy “Freaks and Geeks” are among the many that have been cut off too soon.
As new series continue to make their way to the small screen this fall, we’re looking over the best shows that were canceled before their time, ranked in order of increasing greatness.
Brett Arnold contributed to an earlier version of this article.
19. CBS: 'Jericho' fans pulled an incredible stunt that got the show back on the air for one final season.
Seasons: 2 (2006-2008)
What it's about:CBS' sci-fi actioner centres around the small town of Jericho, Kansas, in the aftermath of nuclear attacks on the country.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled:The show was so beloved after only one season that when news of its cancellation went public, fans sent more than 40,000 pounds of peanuts to the CBS offices in an effort to change executives' minds. The nuts were an ode to the final scene of season one in which Jake Green exclaims 'nuts' when a neighbouring community takes over the town and demands he surrender. The stunt worked, and the show was given one more season before taking the ax yet again after ratings didn't improve. 'Jericho' ranks No. 11 on TV Guide's list of 'Top Cult Shows Ever.'
Seasons: 2 (2007-2009)
What it's about:Bryan Fuller's quirky fantasy/comedy series stars Lee Pace ('Guardians of the Galaxy') as Ned, a piemaker with the ability to bring dead things back to life with a simple touch.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Pushing Daises' was unlike any other show on television, and that ultimately led to its downfall. The show was simply too out there for general audiences, and while critics and fans adored the series, it never gained a large enough audience to sustain life. 'Daisies' also suffered from poor timing, as the infamous writers strike took place during production. The series won seven Emmys and a DGA award and received three Golden Globe nominations in just two years.
Seasons: 3 (2009-2011)
What it's about:The controversial comedy series stars Thomas Jane ('The Mist') as a family man who resorts to male prostitution to make ends meet.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Hung' is way smarter and more thoughtful than its title and subject matter would suggest. The series functions more as a satirical look at the great lengths Americans have had to go through since the recession than a sex-filled romp, yet it has its fair share of sex and comedy as well. The show was quite well-received and received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations before ending its short run.
Episodes: 145 (2009-2010)
What it's about:Conan O'Brien took over NBC's prestigious late-night talk show from Jay Leno after the success of his 'Late Night' show.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: Conan's seven-month turn at 'The Tonight Show' was the briefest tenure for a host in the show's hallowed history. Despite featuring promising new sketches and classic leftovers from 'Late Night,' NBC undercut Conan by giving Jay Leno his own hour-long show as a lead-in to 'The Tonight Show.' When the network wanted to swap 'The Jay Leno Show' with Conan's slot in 2010, O'Brien left the show on a $45 million buyout. 'Conan,' his new late-night show, began on TBS later that year, and it is currently set to run at least through 2018.
Seasons: 1 (2006-2007)
What it's about: Aaron Sorkin's short-lived 'show-within-a-show' comedy series takes place behind the scenes of a live sketch comedy show meant to resemble 'Saturday Night Live' and centres on the antics of the fictional show's creators.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Studio 60' had unfortunate timing, as '30 Rock' essentially beat Sorkin to the punch. Both shows are meta, satirical looks at the antics that go on behind the scenes while making a television series, but '30 Rock' is admittedly sillier in execution. Critics loved 'Studio 60,' and it received multiple Emmy, Golden Globe, WGA, and DGA award nominations, but declining ratings led NBC to pull the plug early.
Seasons: 2 (2011-2013)
What it's about: Laura Dern stars as the self-destructive Amy Jellicoe, a woman who experiences a philosophical awakening following the implosion of her professional career. The series follows Amy as she attempts to get her life back together.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Enlightened' is a darkly hilarious series made all the more enjoyable by its impressive and funny cast. Despite the fact that Dern won a Golden Globe for her performance and that the series was nominated for multiple Emmy awards, it still was let go due to low ratings. Many, including The AV Club, hailed the series as the best of 2013.
Seasons: 2 (2003-2004)
What it's about: Georgia 'George' Lass dies early in the first episode and becomes a 'grim reaper.' She quickly learns that a reaper's job is to remove the souls of people (preferably before they die) and escort them into their afterlives.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Dead Like Me' expertly blends death and comedy, which is not an easy feat. Although series creator Bryan Fuller ('Pushing Daisies,' 'Wonderfalls,' 'Hannibal') left the show only five episodes into its first season because of 'creative differences,' the series still remained compelling to fans until its unfortunate demise following its second season. A direct-to-DVD movie was released five years later to tie up loose ends, clearly indicating that there was a demand for the series.
Seasons: 2 (2006-2008)
What it's about: 'Carnivale' is an ambitious series set during the Great Depression/Dust Bowl era that weaves two different storylines with unique characters that ultimately connect with one another. The overarching story depicts the battle of good versus evil as we follow Ben Hawkins' and Brother Justin's separate journeys as they both try to make sense of their shared, mysterious healing powers.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Carnivale' premiered to record numbers in 2006, but it had a hard time maintaining those ratings in the long run. The show was insanely expensive, costing upward of $2 million an episode, and despite winning five Emmys, it was still doomed. When the show was abruptly canceled in 2008, many plotlines were left unresolved, and fans were left with a rather unsatisfying conclusion.
Seasons: 3 (2004-2007)
What it's about: Set in the fictional town of Neptune, California, 'Veronica Mars' follows Kristen Bell's titular character through high school and college as she works nights as a private investigator trying to solve her best friend's murder, unravelling other mysteries along the way.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: The series earned a spot on countless 'best of the year' lists during its initial run, and the demand for more 'Veronica Mars' post-cancellation was so high that the series' creators launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to fund a feature film. They reached their goal in under 10 hours, and the film went on to receive stellar reviews in 2014.
Seasons: 4 (1995-1998)
What it's about: 'Mr. Show' is a sketch comedy series that aired on HBO and starred Bob Odenkirk ('Breaking Bad,' 'Better Call Saul') and David Cross ('Arrested Development') before they really hit it big. Many popular comedians and writers, like Paul F. Tompkins and 'Comedy Bang Bang's' Scott Aukerman, got their start on the show.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Mr. Show' stood out from the pack by being darker and more subversive and well-rounded than its competition. The series felt like an American answer to 'Monty Python' in a lot of ways, especially when seemingly unrelated sketches would connect to one another via goofy segues. 'Mr. Show' was nominated for Emmys in both 1998 and 1999, and the duo started a new Netflix sketch series, 'W/ Bob & David,' in 2015 to great critical acclaim.
Seasons: 7 (1999-2003, 2009-2013)
What it's about: 'Futurama' follows the exploits of Fry, a human from 1999, and his new futuristic pals after he is accidentally frozen and thawed out in the year 2999.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Futurama' was canceled in 2003, but reruns of the show aired frequently on Cartoon Network's 'Adult Swim' programming block from 2003 to 2007. When the network's contract expired, Comedy Central bought the rights and began airing the show in 2008. The success of the show's syndication inspired a revival, and from 2008 to 2009 four direct-to-DVD feature-length 'Futurama' films were released. In 2009, Comedy Central ordered new episodes of the show, and it was officially back on the airwaves. After the entire 26-episode order had aired, Comedy Central did not renew it for another season, and 'Futurama' was dead yet again. The show's tumultuous history proves that fans still enjoyed the show even many years after its initial cancellation.
Seasons: 2 (2009-2010)
What it's about: A group of reluctant caterers in Los Angeles all try to make it in Hollywood.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Party Down' has arguably the funniest ensemble cast ever assembled for television (Jane Lynch, Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino) and was well-received with critics, but Starz just didn't have the platform the comedy needed to thrive. With proper marketing and the right network's involvement, 'Party Down' could have been a hit, but it never got a proper chance. The first two seasons are hysterically funny and simply do not get old even after repeated viewings.
Seasons: 2 (2007-2009)
What it's about: The Flight of the Conchords, a two-man band from New Zealand, try to find success on the New York City music scene.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Flight of the Conchords' featured hilarious original music and great comic performances from actors Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, and Kristen Schaal. The HBO show was an extension of the duo's comedy act, and they canceled it on their own accord. They still tour with their stand-up music performances to this day.
Seasons: 1 (1999-2000)
What it's about: 'Freaks and Geeks' centres on teenager Lindsay Weir, her younger brother, Sam, and their exploits while attending high school in suburban Michigan. Lindsay's ragtag group of pals are the titular 'freaks,' and Sam's less-popular crowd make up the 'geeks.'
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Freaks and Geeks' starred so many A-listers before their prime that it's unfathomable to think a show with such well-known talent couldn't survive. Unfortunately, star power doesn't work retroactively, and James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, and the rest of the gang were not quite on the radar yet. The series was both comedic and dramatic, with one episode leaning heavily one way while the next could be the complete opposite. The show always had its heart in the right place, and even though it received multiple Emmy nominations, it didn't make the cut. Vanity Fair's fantastic oral history on the cult favourite sheds some light on the factors that lead to its demise as it details how NBC repeatedly failed to find the show an audience.
Seasons: 13 (1999-2003, 2005-present)
What it's about: The adult cartoon centres on the misadventures of the Griffin family, their talking dog Brian, and the other inhabitants of Quahog, Rhode Island. The show has become extremely well-known for its cutaway-gag format that often mocks pop culture.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: The show lasted three seasons before getting canceled, but high DVD sales and ratings for syndicated reruns brought the show back to life, and now creator Seth MacFarlane is one of the highest-paid people in television. 'Family Guy' has gotten only more popular since its revival, spawning a straight-to-DVD feature-length film as well as multiple 'Star Wars' parodies in addition to a number of new seasons.
Seasons: 2 (1990-1991)
What it was about: The bizarre David Lynch drama follows an investigation into the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) headed by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Twin Peaks' was one of the top-rated shows of the 1990s and was a hit not just in the US, but worldwide. It ranks high on countless 'greatest TV shows' lists and received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards. When the series was canceled following its sophomore season, a prequel film (that also serves as an epilogue) titled 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me' was released, confirming that the world wasn't quite ready to let the show go. David Lynch is set to resurrect the series on Showtime in 2017.
Seasons: 1 (2002-2002)
What it was about: Joss Whedon's space Western set in the year 2517 follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a 'Firefly-class' spaceship, as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade both the authorities and other, more deadly combatants.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: Demand for the series' return was so high after its abrupt cancellation that a feature film continuation titled 'Serenity' was released in 2005 to give fans some closure. The film didn't set any box-office records, but the fan base is so devoted and hungry for content that creator Whedon eventually continued the story in comic-book form. The series also received an Emmy for its impressive special effects.
Seasons: 3 (2004-2006)
What it was about: 'Deadwood' is the thinking man's Western -- a period saga based on real people in 1870s South Dakota that charts the growth of a camp into a town while covering themes like the formation of communities and Western capitalism.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: Series creator David Milch wrote some of the best dialogue on television, which garnered comparisons to Shakespeare. The show won eight Emmys and one Golden Globe during its all-too-brief run and was abruptly canceled before it could properly wrap up the story. Rumours of the series' return to HBO continue to swirl.
Seasons: 4 (2003-2006, 2013-?)
What it was about: 'Arrested Development' follows the Bluths, a formerly wealthy and completely dysfunctional family, as level-headed son Michael takes over his family's affairs after his father is imprisoned.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: 'Arrested Development' is about as highly regarded as a TV comedy can be -- critics and fans alike absolutely adore the program, so much so that Netflix (quite successfully) revived the series in 2013. While the fourth season had its fair share of haters, the response was mostly positive, and Netflix has said the fifth season could start shooting in 2017. Strong DVD sales and streaming numbers helped bring 'Arrested' back to life, although its success was evident by the sheer number of awards and accolades the show earned during its brief stint.
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