Ever since groundbreaking shows like 24 and Lost took serial story arcs to the next level in the 2000s other huge shows followed suit with the likes of Prison Break, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad and even the juggernaut that is known as Game of Thrones continuing the trend.
Serial shows such as those proved that there will always be a massive audience for quality big budget TV. The TV format also helps character and story development in a way that many films can’t fairly depict in an average 90 to 120-minute time slot, giving viewers a level of depth and detail that can sometimes rival a good book.
The popularity of DVD box sets also helped popularize binge watching an entire series much the same way they would staying up all night just to turn one more page reading a book. Now more than ever with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime not only giving viewers a much easier way to access and binge on all their favourite shows, but they’ve become so big that they now produce their own exclusives.
The streaming services also opened the door to many shows that may have been a hard sell on normal television networks. Amazon’s pilot season has been proving to be a success, producing hits like Red Oaks and Sneaky Pete. Both services have even been known to rescue shows on the brink of cancellation such The Last Kingdom on Netflix, and Ripper Street on Amazon. However, not all shows have been quite so lucky with several getting canceled on streaming sites and regular television networks. With that in mind here’s a list of 15 shows past and present that were canceled way too soon.
Salem was a supernatural historical drama that put a different spin on the infamous real-life Salem Witch Trials that occurred in 17th century colonial Massachusetts. It was a well executed and fantastic looking production that told a very bloody, dark, and gritty tale led by a strong cast of actors such as Jane Montgomery, Shane West, Ashley Madekwe, Tamzin Merchant, Elise Eberle, and Iddo Goldberg.
Although it was a long way from Game of Thrones type numbers, Salem started out well with fairly decent ratings on WGN America, but they gradually dropped to around 261,000 viewers leading to the show’s cancellation after the third season. Despite the writers trying to give the viewers some closure, it was obviously rushed to its conclusion. It’s a shame the network couldn’t have given the series a bit of extension to tie up the loose ends. Nevertheless, it still provides some entertaining viewing and the full box set is available now on Netflix in the UK and US.
14. Terra Nova
Terra Nova was a science fiction fantasy series executive produced by Steven Spielberg, that told the story of a colony of people in the mid-22nd century fleeing an overpopulated and polluted world, by traveling back in time 85 million years into the Jurassic period.
One would think that the combination of Spielberg and dinosaurs would be enough to retain its viewership alone, but alas the ratings dropped low enough for the network to cancel the show before they could get a second season off the ground. It was a shame because Terra Nova was a great science fiction series that somehow managed to successfully combine the likes of James Cameron’s Avatar, Stargate and Jurassic Park, all while telling a very compelling human story.
The original 1983 V miniseries garnered a great deal of a cult following over the years despite its eventual cancellation as a result of production issues. V is often heralded as a show that helped prove that big budget sci-fi on television could be both lavish and intelligent, setting a benchmark for more shows in the genre like The 4400, Taken, and even the X-Files.
In 2009 the V franchise was reimagined for a modern era, with its story holding many parallels with real life modern society. Just like the original, the new series chronicled the arrival of a sinister and technologically-advanced alien race arriving on Earth under the pretense of peace.
The show ran for two seasons and featured a great cast and narrative, but unfortunately, it couldn’t hold on to its viewership long enough for the ABC network to justify production on a third series and ultimately ended in 2011 with no real resolution to the story arc.
Netflix canceling the sci-fi drama Sens8 was a surprising turn of events, especially as the show is still quite heavily promoted, and showing up on the sites top trending lists upon logging in. Sens8 was conceived by The Matrix writers and directors the Wachowski’s and featured a fantastic cast of diverse and complex characters.
The ambitious narrative centered on eight strangers from around the world that find themselves mysteriously interconnected. In addition to the complex narrative and characters, the series provided some truly excellent action scenes too which shouldn’t come as surprise coming from the Wachowskis.
However, the interesting premise and passionate fan base weren’t large enough for Netflix to commission a third season. It’s not all bad though because there will be a two-hour special finale episode that will air sometime in 2018.
11. Penny Dreadful
Showtime’s compelling gothic-horror drama Penny Dreadful was everything that the Sean Connery film League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been. The series featured the likes of Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dorian Gray and many other familiar characters.
Although Penny Dreadful creator John Logan claims that he always intended for the series to end the way it did at the conclusion of Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green) story, some fans don’t buy it. The reason why so many have trouble accepting this explanation is that the series ended so abruptly, with more than a few loose ends remaining untied. The series could have definitely done with another season, or at the very least the further two episodes the show was forced to drop from its originally planned schedule.
Southland was a gritty police crime drama series in a similar vein to shows like The Wire and The Shield and was every bit as good. The series had a bit of a bumpy ride over its five season duration having been previously canceled on NBC before its second season was set to air, and then picked up by TNT for the remainder of the series.
Unfortunately, Southland ended on a season five cliffhanger that left viewers completely at a loss regarding the fate of the shows central characters. There were talks of a two-hour wrap-up movie to give the series the ending it deserves but nothing ever materialized. A great shame for a cop series that stood out amongst the crowd of identical procedural cop dramas with no end in sight.
BBC America’s show Copper was America’s answer to the popular British period crime drama Ripper Street. Both shared gritty, atmospheric, and authentic settings, each featuring a grieving lead suffering great loss, the grief, of course, being the overarching plot throughout both shows.
However, where Ripper Street was rescued from cancellation by Amazon Prime, but the 1860s New York set Copper — a Prime exclusive in the United Kingdom — wasn’t as fortunate. It premiered in August 2012 drawing in the largest audience ever for a BBC America series debut at 1.1 million total viewers. However, Copper lost most of its momentum at the launch of its season 2 premiere. Of course, the decline in viewership led to the demise of the show, but for those who did stick with the series from beginning to end would’ve undoubtedly been disappointed with how the show ended. There were some brief hopes of a feature length finale but like most other canceled shows it’s highly unlikely.
8. The Stargate Franchise
The televised version of the Stargate franchise began with Stargate SG-1 (SG-1) back in 1997 as a follow up of to the big budget Roland Emerich film Stargate. SG-1 surpassed the X-Files as the longest running North American science fiction series and spawned the spin off series Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe.
Luckily for fans of SG-1 that series was wrapped up with two straight to DVD movies, but this wasn’t to be the case for either Stargate Atlantis or Stargate Universe. Atlantis was canceled in favor of Stargate Universe because the network wanted a more moody ensemble character driven series similar to that of Battlestar Galactica. However, SG Universe failed to hold on to its viewership resulting in the series ending on a cliffhanger after two seasons. Worse still, the planned straight to DVD movie finale for SG Atlantis was also canceled effectively killing the whole franchise. Or so we thought because a brand new MGM produced 10 part webisode series called Stargate: Origins is due to launch sometime in 2017, and its story will explore Dr. Catherine Langford’s backstory.
For such a short-lived series that didn’t even manage to complete its first season, Firefly continues to gain new fans fifteen years after its cancellation. The show was created by Joss Whedon whose prior credits included the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series long before making the massive box office hits that would be the Avengers movies.
Firefly was a clever, well-written space western drama that included a great cast such as Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Summer Glau, Morena Baccarin, and the late Ron Glass to name a few. The series was aired in the incorrect order on the Fox network, causing confusion and annoyance with general viewers, ultimately leading to its cancellation.
6. Robin of Sherwood (Robin Hood)
Robin of Sherwood, also known as Robin Hood in the US, was aired on the ITV network in the UK, Showtime in America, and ran for three seasons between 1984 and 1986. The series starred Michael Praed as Robin of Loxley and Jason Connery –the son of Sean Connery – as Robert of Huntingdon, effectively combining the two Robin Hood legends. The gritty and dark take on the Robin Hood story cleverly combined pagan mythology, real life historical events, and 20th-century fiction.
Thirty years on, Robin of Sherwood still remains one of the best and most influential adaptations of the core legend. Unfortunately, the financial backers Goldcrest had to withdraw from the project, and HTV was unable to finance the series on its own, resulting in an abrupt end to its third season. All was not lost, however, with most of the cast reprising their roles for an audio play known as The Knights of the Apocalypse with two more set for 2017 starring both Praed and Connery.
5. Marco Polo
Marco Polo was a huge historical epic from Netflix that chronicled a fictional take on the Marco Polo’s early years in the court of Kublai Khan. The series cost a fortune to make and was one of the first on Netflix to embrace 4K and Dolby Vision together. While the series could, on occasion be a bit of a slow burn, the pay off is fantastic, with blistering martial arts, a beautiful setting, and score, those who gave it a chance were treated to a series that could easily rival the likes of other historical dramas like Vikings.
A particular stand out was Benedict Wong’s commanding performance as Kublai Khan who was the first non-native to rule over all of China. Wong’s performance complimented the quietly intelligent portrayal of Polo by Lorenzo Richelmy, and as a result, the two shared a great chemistry on screen. However, as stunning as the landscapes and the performances were the series couldn’t hold on to its viewers resulting in a $200 million loss for Netflix forcing them to end the show with no resolution to the story in sight.
Created by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, HBO’s Vinyl was a drama set in 1973 that centered both on a fictional music producer named Richie Finestra – played by Bobby Cannavale – and one of the most pioneering generations of modern popular music.
Cannavale’s stand out performance as the cocaine addicted music mogul is absolutely incredible in this series and is a huge presence every time he’s on screen. He was accompanied by solid performances from the likes of Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, and Ray Romano.
The true driving force behind the series was the music, effectively transitioning from one scene to the next with the likes of David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Karen Carpenter, and Alice Cooper just to name a few. As a result, the budget for series must have been huge, and despite the promise of a second season Vinyl didn’t pull in enough viewers to justify the cost to give the show a second run.
Bloodline is another Netflix Original series that was received well by both viewers and critics alike and was a brilliantly cast and acted dark family drama wrapped in a modern day mystery noir. Bloodline’s story centered on the Rayburne family’s dark past, and the sudden arrival of the black sheep of the family Danny — brilliantly portrayed by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn (Star Wars: Rogue One).
Those who appreciated slow-burn shows like The Affair will find a lot to love with the stylistically similar Bloodline. However, it may have been the pacing that contributed to the show being wrapped up three seasons early, with some critics wondering if the binge-style format may have been the wrong approach for the series.
2. Freaks and Geeks
Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks was a short-lived comedy that lasted only 18 episodes on the NBC network. The series helped make huge stars of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini. Similarly to Firefly, many of the episodes were aired in the wrong order and the series was actually canceled before it completed its 18 episode.
According to Apatow, NBC wanted a “cool” high school drama, which was a complete contrast to a series realistically depicting life as struggling and insufficient teenagers. The conflicted vision for Freaks and Geeks and the fact that its viewership was perhaps unfairly compared to established shows like Friends and Frasier was what likely led to the series getting the ax early.
HBO’s western drama Deadwood ran for three seasons before it was abruptly canceled in 2006. The large ensemble cast led by Ian Mcshane (American Gods) and Timothy Olyphant (Justified) featured well-known historical figures such as Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and many more key figures during that time period. In addition, the show’s creators worked from historical news clipping from that time to give Deadwood an authentic feel despite much of the character drama being a work of fiction.
Deadwood is a Golden Globe and Emmy winning series that continuously pulled in good numbers, but scheduling conflicts and expiring contracts meant that a fourth season would never materialize. In some potentially good news, Ian McShane announced in April 2017 that writer David Milch submitted a script for a two-hour Deadwood movie to HBO, so fans still have something to be hopeful for.
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