Television, as Conan O'Brien will tell you, is a fickle business. They build you up, they use you up, they toss you aside. And sometimes the powers that be don't even wait to use you up -- they just decide that you're done, for reasons that have little to do with quality and everything to do with money, and you're a footnote in the television archives.
Not all cancellations are created equal, granted. Some shows deserve their grim fate in the potter's field of TV. But other shows deserved far better than what they got.
Ten dollars if you can explain to me why this brilliantly funny, terribly romantic, and quirky as hell bowling-alley lawyer series ("I'm a lawyer, and I own a bowling alley. Two separate things.") didn't hit with more viewers. Actually, the answer is easy: because NBC never stopped moving it around the schedule. It also didn't help that Ed was always on the verge of cancellation, it tried to come to some sort of series conclusion at the end of every season, just in case. This caused something of an identity crisis for the residents of Stuckeyville (and their faithful fans), and a serious disservice to its stellar cast.
8. WKRP in Cincinnati Bailey or Jennifer? It's almost as classic as the Maryann/Ginger debate. Granted, this show lasted long enough to enter syndication--which is where its fan following seriously (and finally) took off. Why it didn't take in its original run is anyone's guess, but the absurdist style of comedy it boasted still largely holds up today, more than 30 years later. One of the biggest ways WKRP has gotten screwed, however, is in its syndication package, which has now stripped the show of its original soundtrack (based on classic as well as then-contemporary rock) and replaced it with awful generic guitar riffs. Johnny Fever would not approve. 7. Sports Night/Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
The former was largely ignored, and the latter was a victim of its own hype (and, maybe, of the sudden success of Tina Fey's 30 Rock). Studio 60 wasn't as strong as Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, but it was a solid walk-and-talk, and could have developed into something great, especially considering its strong cast. When it didn't clear its own high bar, it was shown the door. Sorkin's Sports Night was also unceremoniously ushered out, but at least had one episode to mourn its own passing with one last slam: "Anyone who can't make money off a show like Sports Night," one character says in that last episode, "should get out of the money-making business." You tell 'em, Sorkin! (Now put down the coke spoon, man.)
6. The Tick Speaking of spoons ... the Tick's utensilish war cry should have been heard on FOX for a long longer than its eight episode run (a ninth was later released in the DVD version). Like most brilliant comedy, it was unappreciated in its initial run, despite being a cartoon cult-hit both in the FOX Kids block, and later on Comedy Central. But television, like gravity, is a harsh mistress. 5. Pushing Daisies (and Dead Like Me, and Wonderfalls)
Bryan Fuller, TV's equivalent of a heroin-addicted hooker: no matter how he keeps getting beaten down, he keeps coming back for more. Check out this track record: Dead Like Me, two seasons. Wonderfalls, less than one. Pushing Daisies (a show which Fuller left the then-successful Heroes to do) barely squeezed out two seasons before falling to the TV garden shears. This may require intervention.
4. My So-Called Life Ending it on a cliffhanger was bad enough, but missing the genius of this show as a whole was the real crime perpetrated by ABC. Claire Danes was reported to have something to do with its ultimate demise, apparently deciding that she'd do better in moving to films, but it probably had more to do with ratings against Friends. After all, why bother with feeling shitty about the realities of being 15 and in high school when you can instead be 29, live in unrealistic splendor in New York City, and always get the good couch at the coffee shop? 3. Firefly
Why did this show deserve to last? Two words: Joss Whedon. And one more word for the decision to cancel this outer-space western after one season: moronic. 2. Arrested Development
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Arrested Development was the opposite of According to Jim. This wasn't a show that viewers to which could lay on the couch and turn off their brain. According to Jiml asted eight seasons. Arrested Development barely got three. This is injustice. And it's also solid proof that there are far too many stupid people in America, and most of them are programming television in America. 1. Freaks and Geeks
One of the best shows television has ever offered up, featuring up-and-comers that would become stars of both comedy (Seth Rogen, Jason Segal) and drama (Linda Cardellini, James Franco) in recent years. Which only makes sense, since Freaks and Geeks was produced by Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). That's one hell of a pedigree, especially for a show that lasted only one spectacular season. The half-hour comedy Undeclared got the same treatment, which means that Apatow and company probably won't bother returning to the small screen anytime soon. So nice job, programming pinheads. Well done.