Life expectancy can be all too short for a TV show.
While the likes of Two & Half Men can trundle on for season after season until it's more like Three Men & One Of Them Isn’t Charlie Sheen Anymore, others can be cruelly cancelled after a single season, or less.
Sure, some deserve to be canned immediately, but for every Joey, there’s one show that slips under the radar; a gem, re-emerging on streaming services and DVD months later in a blaze of binge-watched glory to remind studio execs that their axe-swinging may have been a tad premature.
So with mixed reactions to news that NBC have decided not to renew Mads Mikkelson's Hannibal for a fourth season, we’ve listed the TV shows that were cancelled far too soon…
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
There couldn’t really have been a more fitting title for something broadcast during the graveyard shift on Channel 4. The late night slot led to low ratings and, subsequently, an early demise after just six episodes. The great irony here is that this only bolstered its cult status and why you’ll hear it namechecked by many A-list American comedy actors keen to come across as culturally savvy. But there’s no denying the prospect of more unintentionally hilarious horror from the big fat juicy brain of mastermind author Garth Marenghi (with a little help from Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade) would have been too much to resist.
No real action, no stylish sets, just suspense and furrowed brows inside a mundane-looking office. Yep, on (crumpled, heavily scrawled) paper, Rubicon, didn’t look like much when it aired on BBC4, (and AMC Stateside) in 2010 for a short season. But then that was the point. Heavily influenced by seventies conspiracy thrillers like the Parallax View, the story presented us with an introvert codebreaker working for a New York-based so-secret-it-doesn’t-exist US intelligence branch who, ever so slowly, gets caught up in his own conspiracy. Trust us: if you buy the DVD, you won’t regret it.
Billed as the British Mad Men, the BBC’s slick ‘50s drama, following the goings-on of a journalistic team working at the height of the Cold War, was unique in its own right. Featuring the cream of British talent including Ben Whishaw and Dominic West as two newsmen, the show was cut short after just two quick-fire seasons. Whishaw himself said he felt disappointed in the Beeb’s decision to leave the series on a knife edge: “We all felt we were coming back together again to finish off the story – so it was a blow to be honest.” We're with him on that.
Feminist. Filmmaker. Friend to everyone. Josh Whedon was apparently in bits when executives came on set to let him know they were cancelling Firefly after just one season, yet he kept it together to tell the crew that this would be their last episode. Fans could be forgiven for getting teary-eyed themselves: the deadly 1-2-3 combination of empowering characters, superb visuals and dark storytelling are just some of the reasons its cancellation is a travesty to sci-fi.
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Even Joey had more seasons than Studio 60. We’re sure it’s a fact Matt Le Blanc has reminded Matthew Perry of many times since over games of foszball – OK, we’ve got to stop pretending Friends is real, we'll get help. We’re not saying this was ever of West Wing standard - though the Sorkinisms were hard to miss - we’re just saying it deserved more time, particularly with Perry giving his finest work in years as the producer of an SNL-like TV show. Dramatising an industry that already takes itself too seriously might well have been too much for some, but we’d have liked more.
Six episodes. That’s all we got from 1982’s Police Squad, starring Leslie Nielsen as that most inept of inept detectives Frank Drebin (a name picked blindly from the phone book). The sharply-written zingers and masterful slapstick humour of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker were just outrageous. We’re still so riled by the network’s decision to cut the show short that we’ve got a good mind to call 911 ourselves. Still, at least we got the Naked Gun films from it – so it’s not all bad.
The Black Donnellys
Better known as the other Irish-American crime drama which aired around the same time as Jason Isaacs’ Brotherhood, The Black Donnellys was set in present day Hell’s Kitchen New York and is easily as good as its rival show. But that shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise considering the Oscar-winning writer/director Paul Haggis was behind it all, pitting Irish vs Italians as the titular brothers are reluctantly involved in some very hairy criminal activity. Though, of course, we all know the real crime is how it stopped being aired.
Freaks and Geeks
Now the holy grail of imported region 1 DVDs, Judd Apatow’s Freaks And Geeks is arguably the ultimate example of how a show can be cancelled prematurely. Registering just one season between 1999 and 2000, it still managed to launch the fresh-faced talents of Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segal among others, making it a cornerstone of modern US comedy. TV hipsters may also tell you that it featured writing credits from Bridesmaids (and that forthcoming Ghostbusters reboot) director Paul Feig – and they’d be right. He even won an Emmy for one episode.