9 Of The Best TV Shows That Lasted Only One Season

TV shows get canceled all the time. And usually they deserve it. But every once in a while, a true gem of a show gets canceled before it even gets a chance to really find an audience. Sometimes this is because of advertiser pressure, or because the network doesn’t know how to market it correctly, and sometimes it’s simply because the show is too damn weird to last, a beautiful freak that gets chased out of town by normal folk. But whatever the reason, the one thing the following shows all have in common is that they are nine of the best TV shows that only lasted one season.

9. ‘The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.’

Network: Fox
Aired: 1993-94

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. actually managed to survive for 27 episodes, which these days seems like a lot, but back when Network TV Dinosaurs walked the earth, that was the equivalent of one full season. And really, it’s kind of a miracle that the show lasted that long. That’s because it was just too goddamn weird for most people. It was part western, part comedy, part sci-fi, and people had no idea what to do with it. It seems only fitting that cult icon Bruce Campbell was the star, and maybe if a network like SyFy got a hold of it, it would have a chance today. Then again, they’d probably just turn it into Brisco County, Jr.: Ghost Hunter.

8. ‘Lucky Louie’

Network: HBO
Aired: 2006

Lucky Louie was Louis C.K.’s first experiment in TV land before he really figured it out, and it’s both really, really funny and really, really weird. It’s weird because the whole thing was filmed and presented like an old-fashioned laugh track style family sitcom, only it’s completely freaking filthy. Which means it never really had a chance. The sitcom style audience was turned off by the humor, and the people who appreciate Louis CK were turned off by the format. Of course, the format itself was part of the joke, but people don’t tend to make clever in-jokes into smash hit TV shows, and in the end, this show was just too raw and strange even for HBO.

7. ‘Fastlane’

Network: Fox
Aired: 2002-03

Fastlane was a completely ridiculous show. It was also completely awesome. It was basically an updated version of Miami Vice, complete with killer soundtrack (the pilot episode even featured Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight,” which, come on…) explosions, and lots of other cool stuff you don’t normally see on network TV. And the reason you don’t see them on network TV is the same reason Fastlane was canceled – that shit is expensive. Fastlane actually got decent ratings, but they weren’t quite enough to make the show worth it to Fox, who spent a reported $2.6 million per episode. Unless you’re pulling monster ratings, that just isn’t gonna fly, and rather than slash the budget and destroy what made the show so fun, they just decided to kill it instead.

6. ‘Action’

Network: Fox
Aired: 1999-2000

Action is another show that was ahead of its time, and would probably flourish today on cable. It was the story of a sleazy Hollywood agent, played by Jay Mohr, and the equally reprehensible people in his life. It was cynical, it was dark, and it had absolutely no chance of surviving on network TV. Today, it would probably find a home on FX, and wouldn’t seem much different than most comedies. Of course, that’s probably what made it stand out back then, and it might actually seem kind of lame and derivative today, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Yesterday’s noble trailblazing failure is today’s tired rip-off. Still, everyone from Ari Gold on Entourage to Charlie Sheen Sheening it up on his show owe something to Action.

5. ‘Playmakers’

Network: ESPN
Aired: 2003

Playmakers never had a chance, and in hindsight it was a miracle the show was even made. That’s because it was a show that went hard at the NFL, featuring a fictional team that dealt with everything from drugs to wife beating to gays in the locker room to… you get the point. It was harsh. Which is kind of a problem when the NFL is the golden goose of your network. The show’s demise was simple – the NFL freaked out and told ESPN to kill it and ESPN said “yes, sir” and begged master’s forgiveness. But while it aired, Playmakers was incredibly fun in that sleazy soapy kind of way, and Roger Goodell’s assassination of this show is the perfect symbol of his never-ending war on fun.

4. ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’

Network: ABC
Aired: 1974-75

Look at that air-date again. Now check out the premise of Kolchak: a Chicago newspaper reporter investigates various mysterious crimes, most of which involve the supernatural, including vampires and werewolves and all manner of weird shit. That’s basically The X-Files, only twenty years earlier. Half of all shows, books and movies made today are pretty much direct descendents of Kolchak. Of course it failed. It was decades ahead of its time. The only difference was that Kolchak was a grizzled old dude and not a 17 year-old girl and he never made out with an Abercrombie model with sick abs. Then again, maybe that’s what they had in store for season two. Who’s to say?

3. ‘My So-Called Life’

Network: ABC
Aired: 1994-95

My So-Called Life introduced everyone to Claire Danes and Jared Leto, and remains a cultural touchstone for an entire generation. Not bad for a show that only lasted 19 episodes. It was a show that was never, ever going to get big ratings, so you can understand why ABC pulled the plug. But the reason why the show is still so loved to this day is the same reason it failed – it spoke almost solely to that disenfranchised zombie generation existing somewhere between Generation X and the Millennials running wild today. But go anywhere on the Internet, and you can see the attitude of My So-Called Life. It was a pop-culture cannon shot that most people couldn’t hear, but the ones who did hear it were the ones who went on to shape the pop-culture world.

2. ‘Firefly’

Network: Fox
Aired: 2002-03

Yes, another show prematurely murdered by Fox. But really, you can’t totally blame them because, again, this was a show that was just never going to find a broad audience. Firefly is the perfect example of a show that was destined for cult hit status. You either loved it or though “What the hell is this nonsense?” It was basically a space western – a remarkably literal space western. Even the theme music sounded like it belonged to an old-timey camp in Wyoming. Still, the people who loved Firefly really, really loved it, which is why it has lived on as a movie – Serenity – and as a convention staple. It would probably flourish on a network like SyFy today, and let’s face it, the name Joss Whedon carries a hell of a lot more weight in mainstream circles than it did a decade ago. But in the end, all that matters is that its fans will straight up fight you to defend the honor of their show, which is always the mark of a show that left too soon.

1. ‘Freaks and Geeks’

Network: NBC
Aired: 1999-2000

I guess you can’t blame NBC for not being able to market a show produced by Judd Apatow and starring James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Oh wait…

No, but really, to be fair, all of those names were pretty anonymous when the show first aired, but that also speaks to how damn good it really was. It effectively launched the careers of the core of today’s Hollywood comedy royalty, and it did so by being savagely intelligent (which actually probably hurt its cause on network TV), emotionally complex (ditto), and featuring extremely relatable characters (is there a word stronger than ditto here?) This show – and its failure – is one of the reasons why nobody watches network TV shows anymore. It was too good for TV, and while that means that it was doomed from almost the start, it also means that it lives on in the many TV shows and movies it influenced, and which its stars went on to make. And that’s about as good a second season as anyone could hope for.

Lucky Louie image: YouTube
Playmakers image: YouTube
Freaks and Geeks image: YouTube