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, where impatient network executives are focused only on last night's ratings. Indeed, some shows don't even make it to debut — recently NBC canceled its Will Ferrell-produced, Krysten Ritter sitcom "Mission Control" and Fox canceled the ambitious ancient Egyptian drama "Hieroglyph" before they even aired.
As new series 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.17. 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 centers 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 1 in which Jake Green exclaims "nuts" when a neighboring 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."
16. ABC: "Pushing Daisies" suffered from the writers strike.
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.
15. HBO: "Mr. Show" was funny but didn't connect with viewers.
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") 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, 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 AV Club loves it so much that its writers went back and reviewed the series in 2010.
14. HBO: "Hung" received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations but lasted just two seasons.
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.
13. NBC: "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip" was beaten to the punch by "30 Rock."
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 centered around 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.
12. HBO: "Enlightened" earned Laura Dern a Golden Globe, but the show had low ratings.
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 the year.
11. Showtime: "Dead Like Me" suffered after the show creator left after five episodes.
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 afterlife.
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.
10. HBO: "Carnivale" couldn't keep up its initially high ratings.
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 seperate 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.
9. UPN/The CW: "Veronica Mars" was resurrected with a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign.
Seasons: 3 (2004-2007)
What it's about: Set in the fictional town of Neptune, California, "Veronica Mars" follows the titular character through high school and college as she works nights as a private investigator trying to solve her best friend's murder, unraveling other mysteries along the way.
Why it shouldn't have been canceled: The series earned a spot on countless "best of the years" 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.
8. Starz: "Party Down" had an incredible cast, but couldn't find an audience.
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 unfortunately it never got a proper chance. The first two seasons are hysterically funny and simply do not get old even after repeated viewings.
7. NBC: "Freaks and Geeks" launched the careers of many of today's top stars.
Seasons: 1 (1999-2000)
What it's about: "Freaks and Geeks" centers around teenage 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 favorite sheds some light on the factors that lead to its demise as it details how NBC repeatedly failed to find the show an audience.
6. Fox: "Futurama" had nine lives but eventually died.
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 2003-2007. 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 2008-2009 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 tumultous history proves that fans still enjoyed the show even many years after its inital cancellation.
5. Fox: "Family Guy" was resurrected thanks in part to ratings of syndicated reruns.
Seasons: 13 (1999-2003, 2005-present)
What it's about: The adult cartoon centers 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 cancelled, 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 men in television. "Family Guy" has only gotten more popular since its revival, spawning a straight-to-DVD feature length film as well as multiple "Star Wars" parodies in addition to several new seasons. The show's continued success proves that Fox made a mistake in axing the show. The very first episode after its cancellation pokes fun at Fox's poor track record in the opening scene as Peter Griffin lists every cancelled series Fox ordered since it left the air:
"Dark Angel," "Titus," "Undeclared," "Action," "That '80s Show," "Wonderfalls," "Fastlane," "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," "Skin," "Girls Club," "Cracking Up," "The Pitts," "Firefly," "Get Real," "Freakylinks," "Wanda at Large," "Costello," "The Lone Gunmen," "A Minute with Stan Hooper," "Normal, Ohio," "Pasadena," "Harsh Realm," "Keen Eddie," "The $treet," "The American Embassy," "Cedric the Entertainer Presents," "The Tick," "Luis," and "Greg the Bunny."
4. ABC: "Twin Peaks" is being resurrected by David Lynch, 25 years after it initially aired on ABC.
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 '90s and was a hit not just in the states, but worldwide. It ranks high on countless "greatest TV shows" list and received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards. When the series was cancelled following its sophomore season, a prequel film (that also serves an epilogue) titled "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" was released, confirming that the world wasn't quite ready to let the show go. Earlier this month, Showtime announced David Lynch will resurrect the series in present day, 25 years after it ended on ABC.
3. Fox: "Firefly" released a film to give fans closure.
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 fanbase 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.
2. HBO: "Deadwood" won eight Emmys and one Golden Globe before abruptly ending.
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 such as 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 it's all-too-brief run and was abruptly cancelled before properly wrapping up the story. Rumors of the series' return to HBO continue to swirl.
1. Fox: "Arrested Development" found a new home on Netflix after being canned by Fox.
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 succesfully) revived the series in 2013. While the new season has its fair share of haters, the response was mostly positive and the powers that be at Netflix say it's "just a matter of when" in regards to a possible fifth season. Strong DVD sales and streaming numbers helped bring "Arrested" back to life, although Fox should never have gotten rid of it after the sheer number of awards and accolades the show earned during its brief stint.
Those were the shows that never should have been canceled.
Now check out the best new shows to watch this fall >>
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