Gone, but never forgotten, some television series arrive with a lot of fanfare, only to shockingly end after just a single season. Some have promise, but just don’t deliver. Others are so good, they develop a cult following, even after just a handful of episodes.
Here are some of the best of these one-hit wonders, each of them a great show that, for whatever reason, didn’t make it past its first season.
This cult-classic series set in the ’80s didn’t even get to air its full first season. Only 12 of the 18 episodes of the teen comedy/drama from Paul Feig and Judd Apatow made it to air in 1999-2000 before the series was canceled by NBC. The show helped launch the careers of several stars, including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and James Franco, who star as a group of high school misfits. To this day, it remains a puzzle why this series, which ranked 11th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, never got its due.
This 2014 romantic comedy was meant to be a modern-day interpretation of My Fair Lady/Pygmalion and starred Karen Gillan as Eliza Dooley, a woman obsessed with becoming famous on social media. John Cho portrays Henry Higgs, a marketing image guru whom Eliza reaches out to for help and who (surprise, surprise) ends up falling for her. ABC canceled the series before the first season even finished, airing only 7 of the 13 total episodes. Hulu picked up the show and streamed the final six episodes. The series had potential to modernize a classic tale, but the ratings just weren’t there.
Based on the late Anthony Bourdain’s bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, this 2005 sitcom starring one Bradley Cooper had promise. Cooper portrayed an executive chef who makes a comeback after suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. Unfortunately, the MLB playoffs led to Fox putting the show on hiatus after just three episodes, and it never recovered. The fourth episode aired before it got the ax, with the remaining nine never making it to the small screen. A two-disc DVD set was released in 2007, while Cooper got the last laugh when he later enjoyed his breakout role in The Hangover and, most recently, directed and starred in the hit remake of A Star is Born.
The decision to end this musical drama, set in the ‘70s and following a ragtag group of teens in the Bronx involved in the era’s music scene, had more to do with economics than popularity: It reportedly cost Netflix $120 million to produce, making it the streaming service’s most expensive original series. The first season technically aired in two parts, with 6 episodes in 2016, followed by the remaining 5 episodes in 2017. The show wasn’t a massive success for Netflix, but it received good reviews from both critics and audiences.
There were high hopes for this Fox legal comedy starring Rob Lowe as an actor who played a lawyer on TV, then decided to join his family’s hometown law firm, annoying his younger brother (Fred Savage), a legitimate lawyer. It looked like things were going to work when the first season order was expanded to a full 22 episodes, while critics lauded the humor, saying it was “buoyed by Rob Lowe and Fred Savage’s chemistry as a hilarious new odd couple.” But the series never caught on, and it ended before a second season could commence.
There was an outcry when this cult-hit 2002 space Western was prematurely canceled by Fox. Directed and created by Joss Whedon, and featuring an ensemble cast led by Nathan Fillion, it developed an underground following as fans marveled at the adventures of the colorful, outcast crew of the starship Serenity in the year 2517. Only 11 of the 14 episodes aired, but the series did well through DVD sales, and even won a Primetime Emmy Award for its visual effects. The story continued in Whedon’s 2005 film Serenity, and the saga expanded to include tie-in comics and even role-playing games based on the show’s universe.
Helping catapult the careers of A-listers like Claire Danes and Jared Leto, this 1994 ABC high school drama was either far too ahead of its time, or couldn’t hack it next to the major success of another teen drama that had already established a loyal following during the same decade, Beverly Hills, 90210. Set in the fictional Liberty High School in Pittsburgh, the series followed a group of teenagers coming into their own and tackled controversial issues like child abuse, homophobia, and school violence. Despite the cancelation, it was heavily praised, though fans were left with a cliffhanger ending that never really gave the series the closure it deserved.
The premise of this 2012 NBC police procedural fantasy drama was intriguing. Jason Isaacs plays Los Angeles detective Michael Britten who, following a car accident, finds that he lives in two realities: One where his wife survived but his son perished in a car accident, and another where his son survived but his wife has passed. He flips back and forth, relying on different colored wristbands that indicate which reality he’s in each morning. While trying to figure out the difference between reality and fantasy, Michael finds he’s able to better solve crimes in one reality by knowing what happens in the other. The series was heavily praised, but low ratings led to a cancelation after 11 episodes. Fans created a “Save Awake” campaign to try and save the series, to no avail.
Judd Apatow suffered the same fate with this 2001 sitcom as he did with Freaks and Geeks: No shortage of high praise and a cult following, but a premature cancelation. Telling the story of a group of present-day college freshmen at a fictional California university, the series starred actors who went on to very successful careers, Jay Baruchel and Charlie Hunnam. It also featured a long list of high-profile actors as recurring characters, including Jason Segel, Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Charlie Hunnam, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Busy Philipps, among other names. How’s that for a cast list?
Before he was Lincoln Burrows on Prison Break, Dominic Purcell played a man named “John Doe” in this 2002 sci-fi drama on Fox about a man who wakes up in the middle of an island, with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. That would be strange enough, but he seems to have a vast amount of knowledge about pretty much everything, from useful information to useless trivia. He uses his abilities to help the Seattle police department solve crimes, all the while trying to figure out his true identity and escape the nefarious organization hunting him. Interestingly, a current series with a similar premise and a character named Jane Doe, Blindspot, is now airing its fourth season. While John Doe ended on a cliffhanger, producers provided the answers to what would have happened had it gotten a true finale.
This Aaron Sorkin comedy-drama for NBC that took a behind-the-scenes look at production on a fictional live sketch comedy could have marked Matthew Perry’s triumphant return to the small screen. However, it became Sorkin’s only TV series not to air beyond an inaugural season, lasting only a single, 22-episode season that premiered in 2006. It could have something to do with the series being up against 30 Rock, which launched at the same time, on the same network, with a very similar premise. That Tina Fey comedy went on to be a quotable classic, if not a ratings monster, running for seven seasons.
Premiering in 2013, this Fox sci-fi/crime drama from J.J. Abrams surprised viewers when it bit the dust. Set in 2048, scientific and technological development led to crime rates rising exponentially, requiring human police officers to work alongside lifelike combat androids to help them keep up. Starring Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, and Minka Kelly, the series developed a loyal following. But Fox had other major titles coming up like Gotham, which went on to become a huge success. Compounding the show’s problems, episodes were aired out of sync from what was initially intended, which meant viewers never really latched on. Ratings steadily dropped, and the show — and its promising storyline — was cut short.
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