We all know that the capricious television landscape is littered with forgotten series and woebegotten endeavors—shows that were one and done yet left behind indelible marks on culture. Like comets that streaked across our screens, they burned bright and then disappeared nary a trace.
These beloved series were yanked from our airwaves for a variety of reasons: bad marketing, an unlucky timeslot, network mismanagement—or maybe they were simply ahead of their time. Here’s a look back at 10 one-season-wonder television series that should have lasted so much longer.
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The Honeymooners (1955)
This revolutionary sitcom, which reflected the ups and downs of everyday life in postwar 1955 America, only lasted a single season, amounting to a grand total of 39 episodes as a full-fledged series. Built around star Jackie Gleason, who portrayed lovable oaf Ralph Kramden alongside his best friend Ed Norton (Art Carney) and wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph), The Honeymooners originally existed as sketches on numerous variety shows, including Gleason’s own The Jackie Gleason Show. CBS kicked the legendary sitcom off its schedule after a steady year-long ratings decline, only for the series to live on in the annals of American culture and gain popularity via decades of repeats.
Freaks and Geeks (1999)
This ‘80s-era high school-set series became a launching pad for a who’s-who of comedy powerhouses. It featured Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, and Busy Philipps, plus a creative team including Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, and writers like The White Lotus creator Mike White. The single season of NBC’s Freaks and Geeks is remembered today as a trailblazing show that deftly blended comedy and drama in a realistic way thanks to sharp writing and a plethora of stand-out performances. The show was so unique at the time that it stumped network executives, who quickly threw up their hands in the face of low ratings and relegated it to a graveyard timeslot on Saturday nights.
My So-Called Life (1994)
My So-Called Life, which premiered in 1994, was another ahead-of-its-time series that critics adored and audiences couldn’t figure out. Long before Homeland, it was a breakout role for star Claire Danes (who won a Golden Globe and snagged an Emmy nod for her portrayal of 15-year-old Angela Chase). The series also featured future big-names such as a babyface Jared Leto and Star Trek: Discovery lead Wilson Cruz. Despite only churning out 19 episodes, the show has gone on to collect a rabid cult following.
Battlestar Galactica (1978)
Long before it generated an avalanche of books, comics, films, and subsequent series, the space-age epic Battlestar Galactica began as a humble 1978 television series that was axed after 24 episodes. Spurred by Star Wars mania, the exorbitantly expensive ABC series encountered a chain of bad luck including counter-programming courtesy of CBS (the network shifted its hugely popular All in the Family so that it aired in direct competition with Battlestar Galactica). After its cancellation, an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign was launched by fans to try to save the show. On the upside, its fervent following launched an immensely popular franchise that mostly recently produced the 2012 Syfy series Blood and Chrome.
The Dana Carvey Show (1996)
This 1996 sketch comedy show was, as its name suggests, hosted by Dana Carvey, a Saturday Night Live and Wayne’s World star. It featured a robust line-up of comedy talent, including writer/cast members Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, as well as bizarre skits positioned around the whirling dervish that is Carvey. Perhaps it was too subversive: the series was canned after just eight episodes. It’s a television failure so legendary that it’s chronicled in the 2017 documentary Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of the Dana Carvey Show.
High Fidelity (2020)
Hulu’s 2020 series High Fidelity, starring Zoë Kravitz, should have been a slam-dunk. The series was inspired by the 2000 John Cusack hit movie, which was based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 book. With a passion for music and a penchant for breaking the fourth wall, the Brooklyn-based show celebrated culture and diversity to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, Hulu declined to renew High Fidelity for a second season, much to the chagrin of fans and cast members. “At least Hulu has a ton of other shows starring women of color we can watch,” Kravitz later wrote on social media. “Oh wait.”
Firefly is another single-season sci-fi show that spawned a subsequent franchise. Created by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame), Firefly starred Nathan Fillion in an epic story about navigating the ravages of a society that’s set 500 years in the future. Canceled after only 11 episodes, the Fox series found new life on DVD, later spawning the 2005 film Serenity, as well as a series of comics, novels, and podcasts.
Police Squad! (1982)
Hot off the success of their 1980 comedy megahit Airplane!, the creative trio Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams concocted this spoof series of police procedurals. The resulting show, starring Leslie Nielsen, is pure silliness and set the stage for three smash spinoff movies in the form of The Naked Gun series. However, ABC canceled the series after just four episodes. The show later gained a cult following, with series including The Simpsons and 30 Rock influenced by its then-unique confluence of smart, zany comedy delivered at a rapid-fire pace.
For a show that cultivated such a major fanbase, the ABC Family (now Freeform) series Bunheads feels like it lasted more than just a single season. Catapulting current Music Man lead Sutton Foster from Broadway star to mainstream name, the ballet-focused series borrowed heavily from Gilmore Girls, right down to a handful of cast members who appeared on both shows. That’s probably because both shows were from the mind of Amy Sherman-Palladino, who later went on to create the Amazon hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Following the cancellation of Freaks and Geeks, Judd Apatow regrouped with this half-hour comedy for Fox in 2001, bringing Freaks star Seth Rogen along for the ride. Swapping high-school antics for college dorm life, Undeclared marked the first major role for Jay Baruchel and featured high-wattage guest appearances from Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, as well as future boldfaced names ranging from Kevin Hart to Amy Poehler. The talent wasn’t enough, however: Fox sent Undeclared out to pasture after just 17 episodes.
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