When DJ and I were talking about blog ideas recently, we considered looking at TV shows that have gone on too long, i.e. “jumped the shark”, but we realized what a vast graveyard of shows there were, and it has been discussed ad-nauseam in other places. The more difficult group of shows to find were those that were canceled too soon and had more story to tell or just more to offer its audience. It seems like streaming services are willing to give shows a longer leash to build up their audience, although the axing of underperforming shows is still a broadcast network ritual. Of course, now some shows will just jump to another network, which is a relatively new phenomenon. So today we ask the question: what were some TV shows that we felt got the hook too soon?
I have to admit, not a lot was coming to mind as I started to think about this topic. I was bummed back in the 80’s when The A-Team got canceled, but where I was a kid, my perspective on quality was a bit skewed, so maybe it ended when it should. In more recent times, I tend to be a pretty tough critic on shows, so I’m usually the one to abandon it long before it abandons me. But there are some exceptions…
Twin Peaks (1990 -1991)
Twin Peaks was groundbreaking television back in 1990, and it launched with great ratings and soon became a cultural phenomenon. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” became a household catchphrase, and Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper was everyone’s favorite FBI agent. Despite the early success, including 18 Emmy nominations, it was canceled after only two seasons. It was the creation of both Mark Frost, an accomplished TV writer of hits like Hill Street Blues, and visionary filmmaker David Lynch. In his films, Lynch had a fascination with penetrating the veneer of All-American normalcy and then plunging into the dark, disturbing currents roiling underneath. It was no different with Peaks, and his dark themes, while tame by today’s cable standards, truly pushed the envelope. Beyond murderous inclinations, the show explored sexual taboos, even implying incest. Obviously, the show was able to initially pique the mass viewing audience’ interest, but I have to assume the non-linear format of the storytelling was too much for some, leading to a ratings decline. Still, ABC should have had the insight to know they had a unique show on their hands, which I’m sure skewed to the coveted younger demographic, and given it another season or two at least. It had a solid cast of either likable or interesting characters and that usually will keep viewers tuning in, even if the story occasionally goes off-track. In today’s age of streaming shows, Peaks would have easily gone on to more seasons, but in the early 90’s, perhaps it was too much ahead of its time.
Bonus: After years of revival talk, Showtime produced and aired 18 new episodes last year, which I didn’t get to see, but it remains to be seen if that was a one-off or if more seasons will follow.
DJ: I have to admit I loved this show, it was appointment viewing and it creeped the hell out of me but for some reason couldn’t bring myself to watch the revival. Maybe it was X-Files revival syndrome or the fact that what I heard seemed confusing and I just didn’t want a show to confuse me anymore.
I would count FlashForward as a show influenced by Twin Peaks (although via Lost) and once again it was ABC dropping the hatchet too early on a promising story. Even though it was less than a decade ago, this was still well before the golden age of HBO and streaming, so getting a noted film actor like Joseph Fiennes to star in the series was still a notable “get” at the time. Fiennes did a great job anchoring the show, and while the rest of the cast was good, in retrospect it probably could have used a more prominent female actor to bring in viewers. The central mystery of why the world lost 2:17 of consciousness, but seemingly gained visions of their lives six months in the future, was unique, even if it felt like something lifted from the world of Lost (to add to the comparison, the show cast Dominic Monaghan in a prominent role). As the show went on, it felt like it gained its own identity, and I found it increasingly entertaining. For whatever reason, a good portion of the rest of the viewers felt otherwise, as less than 60% of the audience stuck around in early December for the airing of episode 10 – the last of the initial group of episodes made. ABC had already ordered another batch of 12 shows, and when it returned in March, the ratings continued to freefall. As much as I liked the show, I did feel that it was intentionally holding back its plot revelations so it could stretch into future seasons. I think they were counting on the patience of an audience like Lost had, but the difference was that Lost did a much better job of creating compelling characters early-on, where FlashForward struggled to do that beyond Fiennes’ FBI agent. I think if ABC had retooled the show a bit, and brought on one or two big-name actors for season 2, it could have righted the ship and made a modest hit out of this series.
Bonus: The show originally was being developed at HBO, but they felt it was better suited to a broadcast network. Years later, HBO’s The Leftovers covered similar ground with the plot of an unexplained “global event” and how it impacted the lives of the cast.
DJ: Sonya Walger (Penny from Lost) also was in the cast. I liked the show, it had a great concept and I did want to see more, but I was very worried it was going to have a mysterious resolution that was going to be unfulfilling. Another show I would mention that had the same type of high concept was The Event on NBC with Blair Underwood, Jason Ritter and Laura Innes. Everyone was looking for the next Lost but these networks did not want to give it time. Let’s see what “the current fits in this category” Manifest does.
I’m guessing a number of readers will scoff at my inclusion of Seinfeld in a discussion of shows that left too soon. I do realize that Seinfeld is typically held up as the gold standard for shows that avoided “jumping the shark” and left on a high note. Sure, the show was able to do that, despite the mediocre and somewhat unlikeable two-part send-off, but there was so much left in the tank. The show went 9 seasons, and other than some shaky early episodes when it was finding its rhythm, every season was fantastic with rarely a bad episode (ok- yeah, the two-parter when Kramer goes to California sucked), but otherwise. I can’t understand why Jerry didn’t want to at least do a tenth season – an even decade of television achievement seems like a goal he’d want to reach. The ratings were as high as ever, and no one was even remotely criticizing the show for a drop in quality. There was no sense that the writers were running out of ideas, and actually, some of my favorite storylines were from episodes in the last two seasons. Similarly, as far as I know, the cast was solid, as no one was blowing up into a movie star and wanting “out”, or being heavily courted for other projects. Yes, I’m well aware of the comedian mantra “always leave them wanting more”, but as a diehard fan, I can’t help but feel a little bit like Jerry let us down – as if he made his millions and just felt too lazy to do another season. Despite how that sounds, I’m not bitter, but I’ve watched the re-runs so many times, I wish there were another 20-30 shows in the mix to re-watch. I would have gladly accepted a few weak episodes here and there for another few seasons of the show.
Bonus: According to Forbes, Jerry Seinfeld’s 1998 earnings from the show came to $267 million (including syndication). He refused NBC’s offer of $5 million an episode (over $100 million in total) for a 10th season. Ah, to be able to turn down $100 million…
DJ: You don’t have to twist my arm, those last couple of seasons were “gold”. I continue to watch reruns today. I actually watched one today, the neo-nazi limo ride one, a classic. I will say though if you want similiar humor and I keep telling you watch Curb your Enthusiasm, especially the season with the Seinfeld reunion, it’s the closest you will ever get.
I have watched a lot of television, and there are some shows I feel are gone too soon but a ton that aren’t gone soon enough (see most of CBS’s current lineup). Two of my favorites would make this list but I had already written about, Freaks and Geeks and Happy Endings. Both these shows should have lasted longer. I stayed away from one season shows just because there are many, networks just don’t want to give a show a chance.
Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
If Tim Burton made a TV show and he did it well it might look like Pushing Daisies. This ABC show was a critical darling and to my surprise actually had two seasons albeit it only 22 sixty minute episodes. It’s a show that has a fantastical premise but is filled with pleasing actors and great writing. It’s a case of the week but also has an overall mythology. It was funny, dramatic and endearing. It starred Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) as Ned, a pieman, who has the power with his touch to bring living things that have died back to life including people. The catch – he has a minute to touch the person again so they will die permanently or someone else dies. The premise is he brings his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) back to life and can’t bring himself to touch her again and of course, someone else dies. Chi McBride stars as a local detective who is looking for his missing daughter. The three of them along with Olive the waitress (Kristin Chenoweth) solve a quirky murder of the week. His power helps awaken dead murder victims for just a minute to help with the cases. The set design was bright, colorful and bold. There were Jim Dale’s quirky narration and plenty of flashbacks. The actors had a great chemistry. The show was nominated for 17 Emmy Awards and won 7. It often comes up for a reboot by its creator Bryan Fuller even including a potential Broadway show. He even pushed it as a replacement for Roseanne last year. For me this was complete escapism TV, I didn’t have to think too hard, I wasn’t upset by a show with a real-world issue, and it could just take me to a different world. We need more fun shows like this, television should be escapism. It doesn’t have to be dark, depressing and edgy.
Bonus: Bryan Fuller also created the one season “gone too soon” show Wonderfalls and was a writer on NBC shows Heroes and Hannibal.
MG: I did not see this show, but it does sound like an interesting premise. I did not know Lee Pace did high-profile protagonist stuff before Galaxy. I suppose you are right that there should be more escapism and less edgy stuff, even though I always gravitate toward the darker material. Maybe it’s just a quality issue in some cases.
Lost had one of the best pilots I have ever seen and it continued being amazing through its first season. I was surprised to see it only ran for 6 seasons. I felt it was longer. I remember being very disappointed it was ending, though, and was hoping for a great reveal at the end. It did reveal some things but the end for me was not totally on the ball. Like a lot of J.J. Abrams shows he tells a great beginning but leaves before a game plan is worked out. To be fair Fringe and Person of Interest did find their logical conclusions. I just thought Lost had so many more stories to tell. I remember people at work excited that Lost was on that evening, no one says this about Bull or Blindspot. I loved the premise, a plane crash on a mysterious island, flashbacks, flashforwards, action, and some great character studies. They were able to handle a large ensemble of characters and give each their own time to shine. I was often having a WTF moment at what I was seeing on screen. There were Polar Bears, a Smoke Monster, a group on the island called the Others, and the Dharma Initiative. Michael Emerson received an Emmy for his portrayal as lead Other Ben Linus and he was awesome. I remember rewatching season 1 to try to catch any mythological Easter eggs. I was all in. The writers could have played with my mind for another 10 years. At the end of the day, a lot of the questions remained open and the series finale did not feel fully satisfying. This is a case where the network wanted more seasons, they wanted to run it into the ground a la The X-Files but writers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof were ready to leave and wanted to write a conclusion. Would have loved a few more seasons and why no spinoffs yet, so many shows have been influenced by Lost?
Bonus: During the hiatus of seasons 3 and 4 ABC put out 13 mini-episodes entitled Lost: Missing Pieces and yes I watched those too.
MG: Lost was one of my greatest TV-watching experiences of all-time, which is why I felt so cheated by the completely unsatisfying ending. I used to enjoy reading Entertainment Weekly’s show analysis, which delved into all of the minutiae and “Easter eggs” – discussing Egyptian gods that were referenced and how they might tie into the storyline. Alas, it seemed all for naught, as you could make a long list of all that stuff that was left dangling and unresolved. So I would agree that Lost absolutely could have used another few seasons to try and tie together all of it’s mythology and perhaps come to a more complete resolution.
King of Queens (1998-2007)
From 1990 to the present there have been few TV sitcoms that I have truly enjoyed that I would rewatch over and over again. The list starts with the king of all sitcoms and that would be Seinfeld in a class by itself. After that it would be Friends, Everyone Loves Raymond and King of Queens. Other shows have not been that consistently funny, I am looking at you Modern Family. I would consider throwing Fraser in there too but that’s it. The common denominator with these shows is they pretty much went out still on top and could have continued. The King of Queens centered around Kevin James as IPS driver Doug Heffernan and his wife Carrie played by Leah Remini. Their chemistry was dynamic. Outside of their home life, which also included the amazing Jerry Stiller as Carrie’s father, there was their work lives and Doug’s relationship with his friends. The Heffernan’s had real-world problems unlike the cast of Friends, money troubles, marital issues and were easier to relate to. Also, the show was really funny. 11 years after the show ended I still laugh at jokes I laughed at then. The side characters, Deacon, Spence (Patton Oswalt), Holly, Cousin Danny, and Lou Ferrigno as Lou Ferrigno also made this more of an ensemble as the seasons grew. Like Seinfeld I am not sure why this ended, I had heard that the two main stars did not always get along but I suspect Kevin James just wanted to do some movies with his buddies. When Kevin James came back to TV two years ago to star in Kevin Can Wait I was hopeful and when they added Remini to the cast I was excited to get that magic back but alas the show was crappy. Should have just done a few more seasons of Queens or rebooted.
Bonus: The King of Queens often reused actors for bit roles, playing different characters, Remini and James’s spouses show up in many different roles as does Jerry Stiller’s daughter Amy.
MG: I enjoyed King of Queens, mostly for the likeable cast, although it was not Must Watch TV for me and I definitely did not see every show. Where I didn’t fully follow the development of the show over the seasons, it’s hard for me to comment on the need for more. On the plus side, with the show ending we were treated to the fantastic Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Grown Ups films (and their sequels), so it all evened out I think.