February 23, 2007

Seven TV Shows That Died an Untimely Death

Tomorrow, February 24, is the 18th anniversary of the death of Laura Palmer. (And to think that she was only 17 at the time…gosh, it makes me feel old.) Laura Palmer was, of course, the fictional character around whom the plot of the TV series Twin Peaks revolved. A few minutes into the pilot, her corpse was discovered washed up on a beach. And thus appears the central mystery of the show for quite a few episodes: Who killed Laura Palmer? Everyone in the town seemed like a suspect, or at least everyone had a secret. For almost two decades, this quirky and much-maligned series by David Lynch was my favorite television show of all time. But it was too good for network television: it was cancelled after a grand total of only 30 episodes, leaving major questions unanswered and plot lines dangling.

But Twin Peaks wasn’t the first or the last great TV series to have its life snuffed out prematurely. Needless to say, “great” is a matter of taste, but here is my personal list of the top shows that deserved a much longer life, in order of how sad I was/am at their cancellation:

  1. Firefly: It’s simply not open to debate. Firefly was the Best Television Program Ever, but its light was snuffed out after only 14 episodes (only 11 of which originally aired, though all are available on DVD, on iTunes, and in syndication). Yes, it was a science-fiction western, and yes, that’s as odd as it sounds. But every inch of it was utterly brilliant, from the writing to the faux-handheld effect for the CGI space footage that Battlestar Galactica later appropriated. The sequel movie, Serenity, was equally shiny.
  2. Twin Peaks: It’s dead…wrapped in plastic (on DVD). The first season has been out for a while, and the second season is finally being released in April. You still can’t officially get the pilot on DVD in the U.S.; find a region-free import from Hong Kong on Amazon.com or eBay.
  3. Arrested Development had its development arrested halfway through its third season. It may not have been the funniest comedy of all time, but it was certainly the smartest. I was constantly amazed at the show’s subtle cleverness; clearly it was too subtle for mainstream audiences.
  4. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip appears to be about to ride into the sunset. It’s gotten terrible reviews during its single season on the air, especially when compared with 30 Rock. But Studio 60 is one of very few shows on TV I can watch without feeling that my intelligence is being insulted. The dialog, if frequently implausible, is zippy, and the acting is first-rate.
  5. Star Trek: The Original Series boldly went where too many other great shows have gone: into syndication after a mere three seasons. Of course, it’s been reincarnated many times over, but it still amazes me that the series that started it all had such a short run.
  6. Boomtown: had a solid first season of 18 episodes, but then busted six episodes into the second season. It was a crime drama, but with the unusual twist of showing the same events from several different points of view within an episode. Once again, as a show that expected too much of its audience, it got the boot.
  7. In Justice: was unjustly cancelled after 13 episodes in 2006. It must have been Kyle MacLachlan, playing another oddball character. OK, it was a merely average legal drama, though no worse than most. But I liked the fact that it tackled the extremely important if unpopular subject of wrongful convictions. Yes, it does happen, and far too often, with devastating consequences. I thought that a TV show with some slightly wacky characters would help to get the message out, but…I guess there’s no justice.

I know everyone’s going to disagree with something on this list, and have favorites of their own. Feel free to vent, commiserate, or offer additional selections in the comments.

14 Responses to “Seven TV Shows That Died an Untimely Death”

  1. John Cooper said:

    I’m glad to see you put in a word for Studio 60: the show has flaws, to be sure, but it’s got something virtually no other shows do, and you nailed what that something is. Like a Tom Stoppard play dazzles you with concepts, Sorkin’s writing dazzles you with conversation.

    I’m also an admirer of Arrested Development who owns the whole series on DVD. But I wouldn’t be quick to say that it lost audience because it was too subtle–although the jokes were smart and flew by quickly, there was plenty of broad humor there for the less attentive. Instead, I think AD’s twisted take on family was too quirky for its time. Although two and a half seasons was too little, I’m glad Fox let it stay on as long as it did; not long ago, Fox was infamous in my house for axing programs such as Futurama and The Andy Richter Show after underpromoting them to the point of disrespect. I’ll never forget when they scheduled Futurama for 6:30, then promoted their Sunday line-up with the slogan “The Fun Starts at 7:00!”

  2. Mark said:

    The worst part about firefly is simply that there isn’t anymore. There’s a comic book that takes place between the end of Season 1 and the movie… but honestly, who cares about that?

    I want to know who the dudes with the blue hands are, damn it.

  3. damn said:

    Max Headroom.

  4. Abel said:

    A couple of other shows that should make the list.

    The Job: ABC. With Dennis Leary, a cop comedy that was cancelled in its first Season. A little too bold for ABC’s taste.

    Action: Fox. With Jay Mohr, canclled in its first season as well, the show was bleeped constantly and would have worked on HBO.

    Your list is great, I loved Boomtown and have all three seasons of Arrested Development on DVD.

  5. Jay said:


    Mad Jack the Pirate

    Dinosaurs (the Disney show with the Sinclair family)

  6. Nightfall said:

    Sports Night! Two seasons were just not enough.

  7. AfterImage said:

    The Job is at the top of my list as well. Dennis Leary was great as the cop who couldn’t get a break. Second on my list is Freaks and Geeks. I was a geek growing up and I truly related to what the characters were going through.

  8. stormy said:

    hay this whud be cool if you cud whatch it

  9. Johanna said:

    I had no idea you liked Firefly! Are you aware that its creator, Joss Whedon, is the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer?

  10. Snik said:

    The end of Firefly really hurt, partly because it was canceled at the peak of its appeal. That REALLY hurt.

  11. Ukendt said:

    2 shows from like waaayy back:

    The Adventures of Brisco Country Jr. – a one season deal.

    Ned and Stacey – with Debra Messing and the guy from Wings.

    They were both fun to watch.

  12. Duante said:

    ‘Eyes,’ which ran for just a few months on ABC the same season ‘Lost’ debuted. Fabulous show, critics loved it…never took off. And ABC didn’t stick with it as long as they should’ve.

    And ‘Buddy Faro,’ a hip 1998 Dennis Farina private-eye show born out of the ’90s lounge revival. Ran eight episodes only.

    ‘Maybe It’s Me,’ a WB sitcom circa 2000 or so, with Fred Willard and Julia Sweeney as the parents of a seriously crackpot family. Great stuff. One whole season and promptly forgotten.

  13. Donny said:

    Anyone remember Strange Luck with DB Sweeney?

    Only 17 Episodes, it competed for airtime against Sliders on FOX in the mid 90’s – I definately think the better show lost!