Five Television Shows Murdered Before Their Time

It happens more often than we care to think about.  That new show, that new show that has wined and dined us with interesting, strange, exotic characters and wonderful quirky plot lines, that new show that has stolen our hearts after a few dizzying exhilarating dates and promised us a long glorious affair… that new show has been canceled.  After only one or two whirlwind seasons.  Leaving us alone with fading memories, unfulfilled fantasies, and broken hearts.

It’s happened to us all, and no matter what anyone else says, we never really get over it.

Here are five of the brief affairs that still haunt me:

#1: Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

The basic premise of Freaks and Geeks was rather similar to any number of other teen dramedies.  It followed two high school students, sister and brother Lindsay and Sam Weir, as they attempt to survive high school in the early 1980s.  However, these are not your usually golden-girl/golden-boy, prom-queen/quarterback-hero students.  Lindsay belongs to the Freaks group, including: James Franco, Soth Rogen, Jason Segal, and Busy Philipps; and Sam’s group was the geeks, which included: Samm Levine and Martin Starr.

The focus of the show was on Lindsay, as she goes from straight-A, “proper” girl to Army-jacket-wearing rebel with slacker friends.  Linda Cardellini was charmingly unaffected as Lindsay.  And, in fact, that entire cast was absolutely excellent as is evident by the number of them who eventually went on to bigger television and movie roles.  Even though the show was set in the early 1980s, the plots were highly recognizable.  Everyone could see their high school in this show.  I definitely identified with the show, as “my” group in high school was effectively a combination of the freaks and geeks (with a few slightly more well-adjusted people thrown in for good measure).  Also, the soundtrack was amazing including such bands as The Who, Styx, Van Halen, Billy Joel, the Grateful Dead, and Rush.  And, in fact, the dvd release was actually held back for two years just so they could retain all the music rights for the release.

Unfortunately, the show was canceled by NBC after only 12 episodes.  3 more episodes were aired later due to a fan-led campaign.  But 3 episodes of the 18 filmed were only ever seen on the dvd release.  The show has an enormous cult following, and was named the 13th best show of the past 25 years by Entertainment Weekly in 2008.  Sadly, no amount of fan pressure could keep the show alive, and it was pronounced dead in July 2000.

(Purely by luck, one of today’s Freshly Pressed blogs is about Freaks and Geeks.)

#2: The Invisible Man (2000-2002)

Let me begin by saying, I LOVED THIS SHOW!  Inspired by the novella The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, but the concept of invisibility is the only thing that carries over.  The tv show opens with Darien Fawkes, a thief facing life imprisonment, who is offered freedom in exchange for being a test subject for his scientist brother, who works for a U.S. spy organization.  The brother has created the “Quicksilver” gland, which secretes a substance that coats the cells and bends light, making the person invisible.  After implanting the gland in Darien, the brother is murdered, leaving Darien in semi-forced employment as a spy for the organization.  He is saddled with a partner, Bobby Hobbes played by Paul Ben-Victor (yes, I talked about him on Wednesday too.  What’s your point?), whose job it is to keep the ex-thief control, especially when the gland begins to overload his brain and make him more than a little crazy for short periods of time.  The show kept the scifi side of things balanced with comedic buddy-cop elements Darien (played by Vincent Ventresca) and Bobby playing off each other to hilarious effect.  Add in a sub-plot about an evil secret agency called Chrysalis that tries to recruit and then kill Darien, and you’ve got a DIAMOND of a show.

Vincent Ventresca was (and still is) hilarious in a dead-pan way, but capable of carrying the more serious, weighted moments of the show, and was an absolute joy to watch.  And, as I’ve said before, Paul Ben-Victor is just plain awesome.  The supporting cast was strong.  And the plot lines, while sometimes wavering between interesting, strange, intense, and slightly-silly, were always entertaining and fun.

The show aired on The SciFi Channel, and lasted 2 seasons.  Then, in a fit of in-fighting between the SciFi Channel and its parent company, then USA Networks, the show was cancelled with warning or reason, despite a strong cult following and decent viewer ratings.  It was cold-blooded murder, and I have yet to recover from the loss.  To make matter worse, it was YEARS before the first season was released on Dvd, and the second season is STILL yet to be released.  That’s like shooting the victim in the head, kicked the corpse around for awhile, and then hiding the body in the walls of building so that no one will ever find it again.  I just don’t understand WHY!  One of these days, USA and SciFi Channel (now Syfy) are going to pay for this crime.  I swear.

#3: Dead Like Me (2003-2004)

Dead Like Me was strange and funny and sad and brilliant.  I think most people know what it’s about, but just to be sure: in 2003 Georgia “George” Lass, a somewhat aloof young woman who is distant with her family, dies (killed by a toilet seat, still one of the strangest scenes in any tv show ever).  However, instead of moving on to “the great beyond” she becomes a grim reaper one responsible, not for killing people, but for collecting souls and ushering them on to the afterlife.  What is most strange about this show is that the grim reapers are spirits, but un-dead.  They are still physical beings that people can see and interact with though people do not see what they originally looked like, but rather someone else entirely.  They still need to eat and sleep, and therefore, still need to hold down day jobs, while also fulfilling their duties as grim reapers.  This concept was so strange that it alone would have made the show charming.

However, the characters, and the cast that played them, really carried this show beyond an intriguing concept.  Ellen Muth (who plays the main character, George), Mandy Patinkin, Jasmine Guy, and Callum Blue play the main reapers, who meet every morning at Der Waffle Haus to receive their assignments, and were good enough to receive several award nominations.   Britt McKillip, who played George’s extremely eccentric/dysfunctional little sister Reggie whose strange way of dealing .with her sister’s death eventually leads her to being placed in therapy, was an absolutely brilliant addition to the cast and the story.

This show dealt with death and grief, suicide, choice, and fate, family and love and friendship.  And everything in between.  And in the middle of all that, managed to be completely hilarious.  And yet, after only two season and 29 episodes, it was cancelled.  Killed in the prime of its life.  The producers tried to pull a Frankenstein and bring it back to life with a direct-to-dvd Dead Like Me: Life After Death, with an option for a new season, but the movie was pretty bad (due in part to weak writing and the replacement of one of the major characters), so the experiment failed miserably.  And thus, another awesome show was laid to rest.

#4: The Dresden Files (2007)

Based on the hit urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher and aired by the SciFi Channel, The Dresden Files seemed like a sure thing to me.  The books were popular (and awesome), the pilot episode, while obviously not endowed with the best budget ever, was smart and entertaining.  And, though Paul Blackthorne didn’t really match the books’ descriptions of the main character Harry Dresden, he played smart-ass, slightly world-weary, and awkwardly-cool with such panache that I just didn’t care.

The Dresden Files (book series and tv show) followed professional wizard Harry Dresden, who helps the police on cases and works for hire on a variety of “cases” involving saving a boy from the monsters under his bed and helping a father catch his daughter’s killer and put her ghost to rest.  His backstory includes a witch mother who died when he was a baby, a father who was a stage magician (and not a particularly good one), and an wizard uncle who wanted to use Harry as a child and killed Harry’s father to do so.  Harry eventually “self-defensed” his uncle to death, and is now on the outs with the High Council, the governing body of the magic community.

Besides Harry, the other two semi-main characters are Bob: a very old spirit of a wizard whose soul was sealed into his skull as punishment for using black magic in 900 A.D. and who know works as Harry’s assistant; and Lt. Connie Murphy: the detective who often goes to Harry for help on strange police cases.

I’ll be honest, it was not the best show ever made.  But the episodes were fun, strange, and occasionally dark, and Paul Blackthorne as Harry and Terrence Mann as Bob were both absolutely fantastic.  I think the show could easily have stabilized its formula and become extremely good.  Unfortunately, the show only survived a single 12-episode season before being axed down and thrown in the dump heap behind SciFi Channel’s officers, right beside The Invisible Man.  And it’s a crying shame, I tell you.  It really is.

#5: Firefly (2002)

Firefly is possibly the KING of all shows cruelly murdered before its time.  It was sucker-punched, beaten, and finally lynched by FOX Network.  Firefly was awesome for more reasons than can possibly be discussed here, but let’s list a few.  It was the brain-child of Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that’s enough right there.  It was a space western.  A SPACE WESTERN.  A sci fi, set in a galaxy filled with high-tech planets controlled by the Alliance, with out-lying worlds that look like something out of Gunsmoke how is that NOT awesome?  Also, Nathan Fillion is the lead.  ‘Nuff said.

The show follows Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds and his crew on the Firefly-class spaceship called Serenity.  Mal and his second-in-command, Zoe, are survivors of a rebel group that fought in a war against the Alliance some years before, and lost, and now they work as petty criminals stealing cargo from ships, gun-running, smuggling, etc, in order to get by and keep out of the Alliance’s hands.  The motley crew (could I resist?  No, not really), includes a young intelligent flirtatious woman as the ship’s engineer, a somewhat-crazed gunman, a surprisingly mild-mannered pilot who is married to Zoe, a preacher with a past, and an Alliance doctor on the run with his sister, who was experimented on.  Every single cast member was perfect; the dialogue was fast-paced and manic, the sets and costumes and special effects were surprisingly detailed, and the music was good.  And Mal, the heart of the show, was so torn between cynical and self-serving/loyal and honor-bound that was downright comical watching him trying to reconcile the two.

It was an awesome show.  It should have gone on for YEARS.  And yet, the viewer ratings averaged only 4.7 million per episode, so after 11 episodes, it was cancelled.  Such viewer ratings might indicate to some that the show was at fault.  But remember, I told you it was sucker-punched and beaten.  FOX, after giving Whedon the green light, for some inexplicable reason, seemed hell-bent on killing the show: changing the air time and air day several times, showing the episodes OUT OF ORDER, and promoting it as a comedy rather than the character-study it was intended as, as if they were attempting to so completely flabbergast viewers that they wouldn’t dare show there faces again in Firefly’s presence.

Of course, this failed, as Firefly has an astoundingly enormous fan base (who call themselves Browncoats), which tried several times to save the show.  Unlike in the case of Dead Like Me, the Frankenstein experiment worked long enough to give us the absolutely amazing full-feature film Serenity, but hopes of a continuation of the series were quickly dashed.  The series now haunts the earth as a ghost in the form of graphic novels, while those of us who loved the show still mourn it’s cold-blooded, pre-meditate, first-degree murder by the FOX executives.

And there, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the list of 5 shows that I continue to mourn to this day and probably will for years to come.  But what poor innocent murder victims do you still mourn?  Which of your tv shows were cut down in their youth, before they had a chance to grow to maturity and show the serial-killer executives that they could be productive members of society?

(Also, this concludes my month-long tribute to television.  However, I really enjoyed writing about tv shows, and apparently some of you enjoyed reading them, so I will probably keep doing these kinds of posts from time-to-time.  Though not in one long month of themed blog posts.  ‘Cause that’s pretty exhausting.)

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17 thoughts on “Five Television Shows Murdered Before Their Time

  1. I heard of every show on here except for the Invisible Man. I enjoyed Freaks and Geeks – it was a great show and very heartfelt, but I think it died just because of what it’s about. Television is usually about escapism of some sort, so most people want to watch shows about pretty people doing pretty people things, not freaks and geeks haha. I hadn’t realized the show was that old though.

    I never got a chance to watch Dead Like Me but it looked interesting. I liked the Dresden Files when it first came out, but I will definitely agree with you that the quality wasn’t all that good, haha. If I remember correctly, it used to play right after Eureka on Sunday nights, but they moved Eureka and left Dresden on Sunday…I think that’s what killed it. If they’d of left Eureka there a bit longer, then it might have boosted Dresden’s ratings enough that it maybe have survived.

    Ah…Firefly. I’ve not seen the whole season, but what I have seen is pretty awesome! And of course the movie is great too. Fox tends to do that “let’s kill the shows our fans like” kind of crap. I think the network exists in spite of itself haha.

    • Yes, sadly many people had never heard of The Invisible Man, which is a shame, because it was a great show. And I agree about people wanting to watch shows about pretty people… which drives me NUTS.

      I think Dresden Files could really have picked up giving the opportunity and a slightly better budget.

      As for Firefly: go watch the rest of it!!!

  2. Let me add a couple: Fairly Legal and Undercovers. Fairly Legal was a great show about a lawyer who became an arbitrater, and Undercovers was a good show about a couple of retired spies who are called back from time to time to do special ops for the CIA. So far as I know, each ran for one season and has not reappeared. Sad.

    • I didn’t see either of those, but I might have to take a look if I can. Wonder if either are on netflix…

      Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. I didn’t even bother reading the Firefly section because it would have probably just made me depressed. Suffice to say I am no fan of Fox.

    Now the Dresden Files…there’s something interesting. I watched the show when it came out and I did kind of like it. I read it’s based on some books and after a while I finally decided to read the first one. I now own all of the books (including the Side Jobs book) and my copy of Ghost Story should be sent as soon as it’s published.

    Now then, even though the series was really it’s own thing, only barely related to the books, I still think it didn’t really have a chance, which I guess is why I don’t feel too bad about it being cut short. With the stuff that happens in the books, well….even if you use one third of it, it would mean the show would require an absurd budget – I’m talking something like the money they are throwing in the Game of Thrones series.

    • Lol! That’s true, it would have required an enormous budget, and SciFi wouldn’t even give them the minimum required for the simple stuff they did in the first season. Still, it would have been awesome if they had the money to do it better.

  4. Wow, Clay. Just… wow. I don’t know, what would happen if Sherlock Holmes walked into the bat cave? Lol.

  5. Okay- so I know I have much catching up to do… But you knew well and good as soon as you made mention of Firefly in the title I would be compelled to immediately read and respond to this.

    Mostly, I feel sadness at the loss of these wonderful shows- but part of me feels like these shows, though tragically cut short, were given an opportunity few shows are given- a chance to leave on a high note, to walk from the stage of life before with their heads held high, before falling victim to the usual ailments of aging television shows: cast changes, faltering writing, and declining ratings…

    I’m not glad these masterpieces were murdered in cold blood, but I’m glad that they had the chance to live and die gloriously.

    • You make a very good point. They lived glorious lives. And I suppose we should be grateful they lived at all — so many wonderful shows are murdered before they even leave the producers’ office to see the light of day.

  6. You would think that in a universe of 500 million channels, networks would give their shows more time to find an audience. But the networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) seem to have less patience than ever. Either a show finds success right away or it’s gone after three or four episodes. It makes it tough to make the commitment to a show, knowing it could be gone overnight.

    • What I would really like to see is instead of cancelling these programs, networks deciding to ship the entire show (fanbase included) over to one of their subsidiary cable stations. I would tune in to FX if it meant I got a new episode of Firefly every week (hell, I would fight sharks with my bare hands to see an episode of Firefly every week).

    • After writing this blog, I had to get on Netflix and watch the first couple eps of Dresden Files again. And now I’ve ended up just going through the whole series again. I intend to watch the last 2 eps tonight. Man, I wish there was more to look forward to.

  7. A few more to add to your list:
    (1) American Gothic (1995-1996). An eerie, almost uncategorizable show starring Gary Cole and produced by Sam Raimi. Cole plays a small-town sheriff in South Carolina, a manipulative man who apparently has supernatural powers and a definite bent for evil. Lucas Black plays a twelve-year-old whom Gary Cole’s character, for some reason, is hell-bent on adopting.. after first “taking care of” his family. Excellent show, with what i consider Cole’s best work. It made it through a whole season, with decent ratings, but was not renewed. With some advertising, it did extremely well overseas.

    (2) Crusade (1999). A spin-off from the acclaimed SF series Babylon 5, Crusade (again starring the luckless Gary Cole) was a much more action-oriented show than its parent. TNT decided to kill the show before it aired, though, as they realized it wouldn’t bring in a TNT-type audience, so they forced ever-more-absurd changes on the producers, until the producers refused to accommodate them, and TNT had an excuse to cancel the show before it aired. Thirteen episodes were made. Some of them were pretty weak, but the show had enormous potential and a strong cast (most of whom went on to great performances elsewhere).

    (3) Odyssey 5 (2002). Another “five year mission” show, this one only got one season (and even then didn’t get all 20 episodes aired in the US on Showtime). A great cast headed up by Peter Weller played the crew of a space shuttle that survived the destruction of earth outside their windows, but were sent five years back in time by some aliens to stop the destruction. The show takes place entirely on earth, but includes some very interesting speculation about machine AI, nanorobotics, and the malleable nature of history (as their knowledge of what is to happen is increasingly voided by their attempts to exploit it). The show was almost pure character study, though, as each member of the diverse crew has a different priority in how they want to live out the next five years, and the team breaks down several times. The show got almost no advertising and so no viewers, but is in my opinion the best of the shows mentioned here so far.

    • OMG YES! American Gothic was an AMAZING SHOW! It was an absolute crime when it was canceled. And Gary Cole was fantastic as the villain! And Crusade was also good, though it had some problems, you’re right that it showed plenty of potential, and I wish it had been given more of a chance. I never saw Odyssey 5 so I can’t say anything about that one, but it certainly sounds good.

      Thanks so much for commenting and for reminding me about some fantastic shows!

  8. I’ll agree on F&G, DLM, and Firefly. Absolutely, 100%. I don’t know about Invisible Man so I have no opinion on it.

    Now, here’s where I rant a little. Dresden Files died fast and hard for one reason. They weren’t true to the essence of Harry Dresden. I get that shooting in a Jeep is much easier than a VW Bug. That’s not a problem for me. I get why they made the character changes to Murphy as well. I can even *almost* get behind Bob being a human spirit instead of a never-human being of air and intellect…

    No, wait, I can’t! It goes against everything that character is, to give him a human past. Bob resided in a skull because that was the “home” created for him by whomever first recruited him. He has no conscience, no proper understanding of good versus evil, and a deep, abiding love for romance novels (the trashier the better). He is the representation of thousands of years of knowledge.

    And if the perversion of Bob wasn’t enough, what they did to Harry was worse. I never took issue with how Blackthorne looked. But when you have a character who is chivalrous to a fault and doesn’t believe in one night stands lolling in bed with a woman he barely knows, you’ve altered something about him so profound that there’s no going back. Bad screenplay adapters, no cookie!

    I could tell when Blackthorne had read at least one of the books. There was a shift in his acting, his stance, something, that felt more honest to the personality of Harry Dresden. Unfortunately, it was too late for the series. They had pissed off too many of Butchers fans. We had already invested too much time and effort in warning people away from the show.

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