Wire's Top 10 Brilliant But Canceled
It's the sad fate of every science fiction fan to fall in love with
amazing, creative television shows only to see them struggle in the
ratings and eventually disappear into the land of repeats and DVD box
sets ("Own the complete series for just $24.95!").
It happened just this spring for Jericho fans, who got a mini-reprieve
of seven episodes thanks to a whole lot of nuts (the kind you eat, not
the fans themselves), but they too would eventually see their show ride
off into the sunset like so many others before it. For too many of
these on-the-bubble shows, the bubble popped before the rest of the
world caught on to the genius that went into them. Fortunately, they
live on in the memories of fans, including those of us here at SCI FI
We now present a list of the top 10 brilliant-but-canceled SF&F shows,
as determined by SCI FI Wire's news editor and contributors. For the
purposes of this list, the selections were made based on quality
network shows that were not renewed after their first season. Bonus fan
points (and sympathy hugs) if you remember them all.
1. Firefly, created by Joss Whedon. Fox. Original run: September 2002
to August 2003. Number of episodes produced: 14
Joss Whedon's high-concept space western was a difficult sell to
mainstream audiences, television critics and even its own network, but
it inspired a group of dedicated fans (called Browncoats, after the
show's rebel fighters), who are still active today (as evidenced by
their booth at this year's Comic-Con). Through their active
campaigning, the Browncoats got more than some fans do. The 2005
feature film Serenity brought back the characters, resolved the
relationships and tied up loose narrative ends. And it continues to
live on in comic books, novels and games. Still, we can only imagine
where the crew would have gone, say, in season six or seven.
2. Wonderfalls, created by Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland. Fox. Original
run: March 2004 to December 2004. Number of episodes produced: 14
Before Pushing Daisies on ABC, Bryan Fuller teamed up with Todd Holland
(Malcolm in the Middle) and Tim Minear (Angel, Firefly) to create this
quirky series, about a cynical twentysomething souvenir-store clerk
(Caroline Dhavernas) in Niagara Falls. When she begins hearing the
voices of talking animal figures, she finds herself forced to actually
care about helping others. The show expertly blended dry wit,
unpredictable plots, a sharp cast and an unsentimental approach to
sentimental material. Unfortunately, it got lost in a season of shows
with similar concepts (like Joan of Arcadia, which lasted one season
longer). Considering the network never really had any idea what it had,
let alone how to properly promote it, the writing was probably on the
wall from the beginning for this lost gem.
3. Now and Again, created by Glenn Gordon Caron. CBS. Original run:
September 1999 to May 2000. Number of episodes produced: 22
Why CBS chose not to renew this inventive, funny, sad, well-cast,
newfangled take on The Six Million Dollar Man is no mystery. Despite
the intriguing concept of a man who is hit by a subway train and wakes
up in a perfect, government-built body, the ratings for this show were
not exactly stellar. Stars Eric Close (Without a Trace) and Dennis
Haysbert (24) have since gone on to more high-profile gigs, but once
upon a time they had great chemistry together as the restless,
super-powered secret agent and his by-the-book handler.
4. Alien Nation, created by Kenneth Johnson. Fox. Original run:
September 1989 to May 1990. Number of episodes: 22
The not-so-subtle pun in the title gives some indication of the
allegorical themes at work in this series, based on the film of the
same name. Picking up where the film left off, the show is set in a
world where an alien slave ship has crashed on Earth and left its
passengers stranded. Forced to assimilate into human society, they
encounter the same kinds of struggles as any every other immigrant
group throughout history. Except that they get drunk on sour milk and
require three partners to procreate. Through the mixed-species
partnership of a pair of police detectives--one human, one alien--the
show explored issues of immigration, racism and cultural identity.
Although it was canceled after one season due to budgetary pressures,
Fox did bring it back in a series of five television movies.
5. Space: Above and Beyond, created by Glen Morgan and James Wong. Fox.
Original run: September 1995 to June 1996. Number of episodes: 24
This futuristic war drama followed a squadron of marines known as the
Wildcards aboard the USS Saratoga, the space-faring equivalent of an
aircraft carrier. In addition to an alien threat and rebel AI
mercenaries, the soldiers also faced conflicts closer to home, with the
introduction of artificially bred humans and a potential government
conspiracy. The show's dark tone, desaturated look, military backdrop
and exploration of complex topics such as the moral ambiguity of war
make this a predecessor of sorts to the more successful Battlestar
Galactica. But back in 1995, the public wasn't quite ready for this
kind of series, and the show failed to attract an audience wide enough
to justify renewal.
6. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., created by Jeffrey Boam and
Carlton Cuse. Fox. Original run: August 1993 to May 1994. Number of
Clever writing, great production values and a brilliant turn in the
title role by the one and only Bruce Campbell made this genre-bending
SF-western-comedy a pleasure for those who were hip to its
self-referential humor, witty dialogue and memorable performances.
Unfortunately, that didn't include most of the viewing audience. Fox
scheduled the show on Friday nights, a timeslot notorious for low
ratings, with the exception of The X-Files, which just happened to
premiere the same year. Seems that the network could only afford to
take a chance on one low-rated show, and we all know how that turned
out, so they're probably not regretting their decision (though they may
be regretting that second movie right about now).
7. American Gothic, created by Shaun Cassidy. CBS. Original run:
September 1995 to July 1996. Number of episodes: 22
Moody, atmospheric and sinister, this show from creator Cassidy and
executive producer Sam Raimi was the epitome of subtle,
character-driven horror. Featuring career-making performances by Gary
Cole and Lucas Black, the series centered on a boy (Black) whose soul
is desperately sought by the competing forces of good--represented by a
small-town doctor and the ghost of the boy's dead sister--and
evil--represented by Cole as the demonic Sheriff Buck. Notable veterans
of this promising, terminated-before-its-time show also include
Battlestar Galactica's David Eick and Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan
8. Jake 2.0, created by Silvio Horta. UPN. Original run: September 2003
to February 2003. Number of episodes produced: 16
NBC seems to have a hit on its hands with Chuck, but it's a safe bet
that few of the show's viewers realize that the exact premise was
already done in a little-seen show called Jake 2.0. Like its successor,
Jake dealt with an affable, lovelorn geek (Ugly Betty's Christopher
Gorham) who receives a computer upgrade to his brain (thanks to
nanobots, in this case) and is recruited by the government as a spy.
This was back in the early days of UPN, when the network was still
trying to find its identity and looking for a breakout hit to
complement Star Trek: Voyager. This didn't turn out to be it.
9. Nowhere Man, created by Lawrence Hertzog. UPN. Original run: August
1995 to May 1996. Number of episodes: 25
One of the most frustrating things that can happen when a show is
yanked before its time is a denial of answers to a big, overarching
mystery. That's what happened in the case of Nowhere Man, about a
photographer (played by Bruce Greenwood) who takes a controversial
picture in a South American war zone and suddenly finds his identity
erased by a covert, possibly governmental, organization. Nowhere Man
incorporated elements of The Fugitive and The Prisoner, but unlike
those shows, it never got an epic final episode, leaving fans (dozens
of them) to wonder forever (or for a few weeks, at least) about the
significance of that fateful photograph.
10. Eerie, Indiana, created by Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer. NBC.
Original run: September 1991 to April 1992. Number of episodes: 19
Although it may not have featured big-name stars, this semi-anthology
series engaged the few viewers it attracted with the story of a boy
(Omri Kats) who moves to the titular town and becomes best friends with
the only other normal kid on his block (Justin Shenkarow). Together,
they investigate a series of strange phenomena in their neighborhood,
including a Tupperware lady who seals her kids up in large tubs every
night to keep them immortal and a pack of intelligent dogs who scheme
to take over the world. The show's bizarre plots and offbeat tone
helped keep it in the public consciousness, inspiring the creators to
continue the storyline in a series of books. --Cindy White
Of course, obligatory dragons:
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Speaking of television shows that have gotten cancelled, I was reading that my former favorite soap (seriously, the only "daytime drama" I ever actually watched) has gotten the axe. This does not surprise me - about a year ago, it was pulled from NBC and put exclusively on NBC's Direct TV station, requiring any fans who still wanted to watch it switch to Direct TV. I did not like that soap that much. (For anyone interested, it was Passions. And yes, it was HORRIBLE. The writing was appalling, the characters idiotic, the situations astoundingly stupid, and yet... I COULDN'T STOP WATCHING once I was hooked. I started watching because of the supernatural element, and I was home sick for a week and plead only "Well, Spike watched it" and being slightly feverish. As to why I kept on watching? I can't explain that.) Anyway, I predicted back when it was first moved that NBC was doing this because they REALLY wanted to cancel it outright, but the fans complained, and so they moved it to Direct TV and the subsequent enormous drop in ratings would give them a clear reason to cancel. This is precisely what happened, because I'm assuming I was not the only fan who wasn't going to switch to Direct TV just for Passions. ANYWAY, the one thing that has made me happy was finding out that my favorite characters (a pair of thoroughly insane elderly lesbians) are getting married on the show. So, a toast to Norma and Edna, the strangest pair on television. Seriously.
Speaking of lesbian marriages, it's official. We are going to be married in the Old Orange County Courthouse on October 17, 2008, at 9 o'clock in the morning. Anyone who's going to be in the area and free that morning is welcome. I believe Barb has some formal invitation-thingies in the works. It's not going to be anything big or formal, we're just hoping some friends can swing by.
I think that's all the news for now.