The world of television is a complex one. TV shows are simultaneously an art and a business. They cost money to produce, and their function is to generate revenue for the network or streaming service. This means that there is often a disparity between the shows of high artistic quality or loved by fans and those that stay on the air for a long time.
Time and time again, network executives seem to favor shows that are more mainstream and less edgy. This is mainly because these have a broader appeal and attract larger audiences, which means more advertising money and a better bottom line.
However, this also means that many fantastic TV shows get canceled early on in their lifetimes because they aren't attracting enough viewers. Typically, these shows manage to find a cult following, but this group is usually too small to convince the networks to stick with them.
If a show gets canceled early, there's a good chance we will miss out on it. Sometimes these series only last a season or two, but they are still high quality.
To make sure you don't miss out on any of the best television shows that are out there, we've compiled a list of 16 shows that ended way too soon.
The primary reason why a show gets canceled is that it does not have high enough ratings, i.e., not enough people are watching it. There are a variety of reasons why a good TV show might not manage to attract an audience. Some of these reasons include:
Below is a list of 16 shows that got canceled far too early. Each one got taken off the air early for a different reason, but the fact remains that they were cut short before fans were ready to say goodbye.
Most of these shows are still available on streaming services, so if you see one you like, go check it out. Who knows? Maybe if enough people start watching it, the networks will give it another shot.
Science fiction shows are a real hit or miss TV genre. The format allows writers to explore complex ideas in society by taking people to a different world or somewhere with dramatically different technology. However, while this can be a compelling way of exploring issues in society and making people think, it can also be off-putting and lead to a show's early cancellation.
A perfect example of this is Firefly. Created and directed by Joss Whedon and starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, the show centers around the crew of the spaceship "Serenity." The show is set in 2517, and the main characters belong to a group trying to survive on the frontier of society. This plot allowed the show to mix elements of both the western and science fiction genres.
The network canceled it after just 11 episodes of a 14-episode long first season. In 2013, the show won an Emmy for Visual Effects, and DVD sales were strong after it was canceled. This led to the creation of a film and a comics series, though there are no talks of the show returning.
Today, you can watch it on Amazon Prime or Hulu, and if you're a fan of science fiction or westerns, you should seriously consider trying it out, though you may wind up being frustrated when there's no season two.
Another format that is notoriously hit or miss is cartoons for adults. Some turn into massive hits (The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob's Burgers, etc.), but others fail to gain traction and get canceled. A perfect example of this is Futurama.
The show was created in 2003 by Matt Groening, also the creator of The Simpsons. It followed the character Phillip J. Fry, a human who had been cryogenically frozen for more than 1000 years and came back to life in the 31st century.
The show's humor was sharp and irreverent, and it also asked people to put themselves in a very different world. It was canceled after just four seasons, but then it started getting increasingly popular, with reruns airing on both Comedy Central and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.
This delayed popularity helped bring the show back for three more seasons until it was once again canceled in 2013. In total, it aired for seven seasons, so maybe this doesn't quite count as a show that was canceled "too soon." However, given its popularity, it probably didn't need to be canceled in the first instance and probably could have gone on longer.
Nevertheless, it remains a popular cult show. You can still watch it on Comedy Central, or it's also available on Hulu.
When we think of William Shatner, we tend to think of his role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, but he also stared in a legal comedy called Boston Legal. The show gave us five excellent seasons and was canceled far too soon.
The show was a spin-off of The Practice, a show by executive producer David Kelley that lasted from 1997-2004. Boston Legal carried over many of the main characters introduced in Season 8 of The Practice. In addition to Shatner, the show also stars James Spader and Candice Bergen, and it's simply incredibly funny.
However, midway through the fifth season, ABC decided the ratings weren't high enough, and they canceled the show. Today, you can find all five seasons on Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Disney+.
Fans of NBC's hit sitcom Parks and Recreation may remember Party Down as "that other show starring Adam Scott." This sharp, irreverent comedy had Scott playing a character that was nothing like the nice guy he portrayed alongside Amy Poehler in Parks.
In this show, Scott portrays an aspiring actor who has never really had his big break. He starred in one big beer commercial and thought that might be his chance but failed to secure work after that. So, he decided to return to his old job – working at a catering company.
Each episode was set at a different party. For example, one took place at a spoiled kid's bat mitzvah. Scott plays a bit of a jerk, but he's offset by a great cast that includes Lizzie Caplan and Martin Starr, among others.
Unfortunately, it lasted just one season, so there's not much to go back and watch, but you can find it on Hulu and Amazon Prime if you want to check it out.
Freaks and Geeks, which aired on NBC for just one season (1999-2000), has a star-studded cast. At the time, many of the actors weren't stars, but they soon would be.
For example, some names in the ensemble include James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps. Jason Segel, John Francis Daley, Martin Starr, Samm Levine, and Linda Cardellini.
The show centered around a group of high school students living in suburban Detroit and aimed to explore the complexities of teenage life. However, it never got a regular episode schedule. There were reportedly some disagreements between network executives and the show's creators and producers, leading to its cancellation.
The show's executive producer, Judd Apatow, cast many of the show's stars in future productions, making Freaks and Geeks the launching pad for many modern comedy stars.
Later on, Time, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and Rolling Stone all included the show on its list of greatest TV shows of all time, despite there only being 18 episodes. Today, you can watch it on Hulu, though don't expect a reunion. The show's cast has more than moved on.
Another example of science fiction making people think, Quantum Leap was a show starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell that aired for five seasons from 1989-1993.
The show's premise centered around Dr. Sam Beckett (Bakula), a physicist able to leap through spacetime and assume the role of people in history to correct what he considered to be their mistakes.
It's an interesting exploration into the role history has on today's world, and it was also a nice mix of comedy and drama. It is frequently ranked as one of the top cult shows of all time, for it remains extremely popular despite having less than 100 episodes and being canceled almost 20 years ago.
Today, you can catch reruns on several TV stations, and you can also stream it in its entirety through the NBC app.
At the beginning of nearly every episode of My Name is Earl, the main character, played by Jason Lee, says the following: "You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner: karma. That's when I realized that I had to change. So, I made a list of everything bad I've ever done, and one by one I'm gonna make up for all my mistakes. I'm just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl."
This sums up the premise. Earl is a small-time thief trying to make up for his wrongs. Yet things keep going wrong, and the situations he finds himself in are just plain old hilarious.
The show faced steep competition from other shows airing at the time (The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, etc.), so it never gained a major following, leading to its cancellation after just four seasons. Still, it has remained a popular cult classic and is just as funny as ever. Check it out today on Hulu or Amazon Prime.
Originally known as just Star Trek, this was the first installment in the franchise that would later include eight different TV shows, 13 different movies, as well as books, games, and toys. It later gained the name "The Original Series" to distinguish it from the rest.
The original cast, Starring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as First Officer and Science Officer Spock, and DeForest Kelley as Chief Medical Officer Leonard' Bones' McCoy, provided the foundation for a massive series. Yet, it only lasted three seasons on its own.
It's possible the audiences of the 1960s weren't quite ready for a space travel sci-fi show, and this is why it ended so soon. Yet given the popularity of the entire franchise, it's surprising that the original only lasted just a few seasons. Today, you can watch this classic on Netflix.
With a star-studded cast that included Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, and Jeffrey Tambor, as well as narrator Ron Howard, it's hard to imagine that this show lasted just three seasons.
Beloved by fans, this show is non-stop laughs, but its biggest problem was that the characters – members of a wealthy family under indictment for fraud, trying to save their own skin (and money) – were not very likable. Even Bateman's character, Michael Bluth, who was supposed to be the moral center, did some very questionable things. This may have caused the show to struggle with mainstream audiences.
As a result, it was canceled after just three seasons despite receiving excellent critical acclaim. It is frequently included on lists of the best TV shows of all time, and it was later brought back by Netflix for a fourth and then a fifth season, though these received mixed reviews. Some wonder if the show was only ever meant to be three seasons, but this question remains unanswered.
Nevertheless, fans all lament there only being three seasons of this excellent TV show. Today, you can stream it on Netflix to see what all the buzz is about.
Everyone love's a good mystery, and The Society, which first appeared on Netflix in 2019, promised to be a great one. Set in West Ham, Connecticut, the show focused on a group of teenagers trying to figure out what happened to the people in their town. They all disappeared!
The first season included just ten episodes, but it attracted a relatively large audience and was set to be a big hit. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the filming of the second season, and the people involved moved onto other projects, meaning it's unlikely to see another season.
Still, it's a fun show to watch, so long as you're okay with not having any idea how things end. You can still find it on Netflix if you want to check it out. Who knows? If enough people give it a chance, perhaps they will bring it back?
Sometimes spin-offs work, and sometimes they don't. In the case of The Carrie Diaries, which aired on The CW from 2013-2014, things didn't quite work out.
The show was a prequel to the hit HBO comedy Sex and the City. The name refers to that show's main character, Carrie Bradshaw, and the show portrays Bradshaw in high school and interning for a law firm. It was supposed to go all the way up until the beginning of the HBO classic but was canceled after just two seasons.
Fans of Sex and the City were upset as they enjoyed the opportunity to learn about their favorite character before she became the Carrie Bradshaw they all knew and loved. You can still check it out today. It's on CW Seed, but you'll only get a taste of her early life since there are just 26 episodes.
Although this show was canceled after just six episodes, the concept remains interesting. It's based on Alex Riley, a successful inventor, and businessman in Chicago, and shows his life at three different points: a 14-year-old, 40-year-old, and a 60-year old.
In each setting, we get to learn more about this character, and it serves as a valuable way of thinking about time and how the decisions we make impact our lives.
It performed poorly upon release, ranking last among CBS's Monday Night shows, leading to its cancellation. Looking back, it had promise and could have lasted longer. You can check out the few episodes that were made on Amazon Prime.
What if you could bring things back to life by just touching them? What would you do with this power?
For Ned, the main character of ABC's Pushing Daisies, he decides to use this ability to help solve murders.
The show gained a reputation for being quirky and fast-paced and using lots of metaphors and double entendres. So, if you're going to check it out, you must be ready to pay attention.
Unfortunately, the writer's strike in 2007-2008 interfered with the production leading to the show's cancellation after just two seasons and 22 episodes. It remains immensely popular and is frequently featured in lists of "shows fans most want to see return."
It's been thirteen years, so this is unlikely. But who knows? If you want to check it out, you can find it on Amazon Prime.
After the main character Dean Sanderson, Jr.'s long-running TV show, The Grinder, ends, he returns to his hometown of Boise, Idaho, to live with his family and join their law firm. Given that Sanderson had never actually trained to be a lawyer but instead just played one on TV, you can imagine the antics.
The lead, Rob Lowe, is at his finest in this show, yet it never received high enough ratings for FOX to continue it, despite receiving positive critical acclaim.
In total, the show lasted just one season that consisted of 22 episodes.
Tru Calling was a blessing and a curse for fans of supernatural thrillers, primarily because it only lasted two seasons, making it a major tease.
The show's main character, Tru Davies (Eliza Dushka), is a 22-year-old med student who gets a job at the morgue. After a corpse wakes up and talks to her, she realizes she has the power to relive the day of the woman's death and possibly prevent it.
Tru struggles to keep her powers a secret, and learning how to use them makes for an interesting plot that always keeps you alert. Plus, the show also stars Zach Galifinakis, who does not play a goofball and instead provides an excellent balance against Dushka.
If you want to check the show out today, head over to Amazon Prime.
A Netflix original, this is another favorite amongst sci-fi and supernatural fans. The show's premise is that another human species is living in today's world, with the power to directly enter other people's lives and live as them. We learn about this through the show's main characters, who discover that their power emotionally and mentally links them and allows them to communicate with one another, share their knowledge, language, and skills.
However, the Biologic Preservation Organization (BPO) does not want it known that this species exists, so they send out their bounty hunter, Whispers, to find them and capture them. Most of the show centers around the eight "sensates" trying to figure out their powers while also avoiding capture.
In the meantime, it also explores many LGBTQ+ themes, asking audiences to rethink some of their standard definitions of love.
It aired for just two seasons despite being critically acclaimed and loved by fans. You can still watch it on Netflix, though the ending is unsatisfying due to its early cancellation.
There you have it, 16 shows that were canceled way too soon. As you can see, there are many reasons why a show doesn't last, and it often has little to do with its quality. However, if there is a show on here that you love, keep the faith. Maybe someday enough people will catch on for there to be a reunion. However, until then, all we can do is enjoy the snippets of these gems and hope for more good TV down the road.