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Friday, October 5, 2012

Sci Fi Lists: The 10 Worst Sci Fi/Fantasy TV Cancellations of the Past 10 Years Beyond Firefly

Another new season has started, and already a few genre shows are finding themselves on thin ice (and you can keep track of that with my Cancellation Watch column over at this link).  And of course sci fi fans know that their shows get cancelled all the time, with some of those actually deserving their fate (Cavemen?  Are you kidding me?) while many did not.  Joss Wheden’s Firefly is the most notorious cancellation of the past 10+ years, and there’s not too much that I can add to that story that has not already been debated a million times across sci fi fandom.  It was a case of short-sighted network decision-making truncating a show that could have turned into the next major genre franchise along the lines of Star Trek, Bablyon 5, The X-Files, Farscape, and Battlestar: Galactica

But that was not the only good sci fi/fantasy series cancelled over the past ten years or so and here is my list of the ten additional shows that I felt suffered an untimely and unfair death.  Some you will know quite well, while others you may have missed (because they came and went so quickly).  And I am sure many of you have your own opinions on the most egregious cancellations in recent memory, so feel free to add your contributions in the comments below. 

(1st Alternate) Battlestar: Galactica (Syfy, 2003-09, 4 Seasons 75 episodes): I know that this one is not really considered a cancelled series (and thus I am listing it here as an alternate), but the fact is that its ratings were dropping and that Syfy’s “announcement” that the show’s fourth season would be its last effectively acted as a cancellation.  And personally, I believe that Syfy forcing a cap on the series led to the writers jumping the shark and delivering that wtf conclusion that almost no one was happy with.  I think one more season would have given them the time they needed to provide this show with a more satisfying wrap up.
Chances of a Revival: This one stands as is, but they keep trying to do continuations (Caprica, BSG: Blood and Chrome) with no luck yet.

10 ) Veritas: The Quest (ABC, 2003, 1 Season 13 Episodes): This series which delivered an odd Jonny Quest / X-Files / Mission: Impossible hybrid disappeared so quickly that most genre fans never knew it existed.  ABC pulled it after only a handful of episodes had aired, which was quite unfortunate because it was a fun little show that could have developed into a sci fi sleeper.  It hasn’t even received the DVD treatment, so those who want to check it out will have to do some searching for bootleg releases.
Chances of a Revival: Less than zero.  Almost no one saw it so it never developed a following. 

9 ) Dollhouse (FOX, 2009-10, 2 Seasons 26 Episodes):  This entry from Joss Whedon about people (referred to as “dolls”) who could be programmed with different personalities and abilities, was just out of place on the broadcast networks.  The writers found their hands tied and could not explore the more adult themes at the core of the show’s premise.  On top of that, the first season delivered a fair share of tepid episodes to get the show off to a rocky start.  But the future post-apocalyptic “Epitaph” episodes that ended the first and second seasons unveiled a fascinating story arc direction that could have helped this develop into a decent sci fi entry.  And hey, it was a Joss Whedon series, so you know it had the potential to really take off at some point.
Chances of a Revival: Next to none.  But a continuation with the “Epitaph” storyline would be awesome (and unfortunately the comic book series that did just that was cancelled after five issues).

8 ) The Middleman (ABC Family, 2008, 1 Season 12 Episodes):  This fun little series based on the comic book of the same name by Javier Grillo-Marxuach (who also worked closely on the TV show) may have been a bit too hip, witty, and quirky for its own good.  I’m not certain that they could have kept up the rapid fire, wit-a-minute pace of the first season for too many years, but at least a couple more seasons would have been nice. 
Chances of a Revival: Almost none.  It came, went, and was forgotten all too quickly.  But then it probably would not be too expensive of an addition to Netflix's line of original programming . . .

7 ) Pushing Daisies (ABC, 2007-09, 2 Seasons 22 Episodes):  This dark fairy tale for adults from Mr. Quirky himself Bryan Fuller was not really built to last for multiple years on Prime Time, but it would have been nice if we got more than two shortened seasons before ABC axed it.  Its quirkiness and eccentricities would have likely started to wear thin at some point, but I definitely would have liked at least one more season from this one and a more satisfying resolution.
Chances of a Revival: On television, almost none.  But Fuller has claimed he plans to provide the show with a better resolution in graphic novel form and he has also hinted at bringing the property to Broadway.

6 ) Jericho (CBS, 2006-08: 2 seasons 29 episodes):  CBS drew the ire of many genre fans when they axed this post-nuclear attack series after one season.  True, they did reverse their decision (after fans sent 20 tons of nuts to network) and greenlighted a second season.  But that only comprised seven episodes and forced the showrunners to cram too much story into too short of a time.  This was a series that was built to last and that could have run five years or more, even if it probably never would have been a huge ratings magnet.  But it had a dedicated core of fans that could have kept it alive and turned it into a notable genre entry. 
Chances of a Revival: Not impossible as Netflix has been talking with CBS about bringing it back as part of their original programming.  Also, the story has continued in comic book format, and you can read more about that at this link.

5 ) Moonlight (CBS, 2007-08, 1 Season 16 Episodes):  This slick, sexy vampire series beat both True Blood and Vampire Diaries to Prime Time screens, but it also got axed before either of those made their debuts.  This is one of several examples demonstrating how CBS has no patience with genre shows, and it’s truly a missed opportunity that could have ridden the wave of vampire-mania into a hit series if given the time to build an audience (and its numbers were not that bad during its one and only season).
Chances of a Revival: Next to none.  The stake seems to have been placed firmly in this one.

4 ) Defying Gravity (ABC, 2009, 1 Season 13 Episodes):  Yes, this delivered Grey’s Anatomy in space and went heavy on the soap opera during the first half of its one and only shortened season.  But it did deliver a well thought out, realistic look at near-space travel, and it switched gears to go much more heavy on the science fiction elements during the second half of its run.  It was a shaky first season, but the developing story arc showed a ton of promise.
Chances of a Revival: Next to none.  It has developed a bit of a cult following with its DVD release, but not enough to bring it back.

3 ) Stargate: Universe (Syfy, 2009-11, 2 Seasons 40 Episodes):  This third live action entry in the Stargate television franchise got dinged by fans of the previous incarnations for veering too close to Battlestar: Galactica territory while fans of the latter series felt it was too slow and lacked the hard-hitting stories that BSG was known for.  But the show really started to hit its stride by its second season (even if it did completely waste Robert Knepper's talents) as it began to unfold its far reaching story arc.  It was a promising show that got off to a rocky start and that never earned the respect it deserved.
Chances of a Revival:  Not impossible.  Syfy does not own the license to the Stargate franchise and there have been some rumblings of a continuation.  But nothing of note has surfaced yet.

2 ) Jeremiah (Showtime, 2002-04, 2 Seasons 35 Episodes):  J. Michael Straczynski’s post-apocalyptic series loosely based on the French comic book of the same name has gone mostly unrecognized by the science fiction and fantasy community, but it delivered an excellent tale that deserved to finish out its planned five year arc.  Unfortunately, Showtime cut it short after only two seasons, and even though its finale gave us a wrap up of sorts, I didn’t come anywhere close to telling the full story JMS wanted to tell.
Chances of Revival: Almost none.  This one it too long gone.

1 ) Carnivale (HBO, 2003-05, 2 Seasons 24 Episodes):  This excellent, gritty supernatural series created by Daniel Knauf about a traveling carnival that was at the center of a battle between good and evil had only completed two of its planned six seasons when HBO lost faith in it.  It delivered a dense, multi-layered story unlike the typical television hour and should have been able to succeed on the premium cable network that aired it.  But they claimed it had gotten too expensive to produce and unjustly cut short a story that many (including myself) had found themselves strongly attached to.
Chances of a Revival: Sadly, almost none.  HBO talked about doing a movie that would offer some sort of resolution, but Knauf said that he just could not do justice to the story with a shortened conclusion (so how about carrying it on as a book series or set of graphic novels?  Cause I definitely want more of this story).

Of course there are several other series that fans will quickly bring up when it comes to recent cancellations, most notably Legend of the Seeker and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  And while I loved both of those in their first seasons, I felt they both went off course during their second years.  Of course I would have much rather had a third season of either of those than any seasons of shows like The Event, V, or Awake.  And fans of Stargate: Atlantis will insist that their show suffered from an unfair cancellation, but then that one at least got five seasons.  Still, it would have been nice if they delivered on the promised direct-to-DVD movies instead of just throwing that plan to the curb.  And feel free to talk up your own favorite cancelled series from the past ten or so years in the comments below.

You can read more about why these shows were cancelled as well as the Nielsen Ratings system that the networks rely on in the book Why Were They Cancelled? The Plight of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television in the Face of the Unforgiving Nielsens and Networks.

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