In the middle of upfronts week, everyone focuses attention on next fall: what new shows the networks picked up, what the primetime schedules will look like, etc. Lost among all the hubbub are the shows from last fall that were not fortunate enough to be granted a spot on next year’s lineup. These are the cancelled programs – those that, for whatever reason, did not connect with enough of an audience to become successful.
The shows I’ve watched that have been cancelled have given me a complicated relationship with network television. On one hand, I love it – I hardly watch anything on cable. But on the other hand, I hate how ratings-driven the network TV business is. Pretty much everyone understands that the Nielsen ratings system is flawed – but no one seems to be able to come up with an alternative. And so, many shows end up cancelled within their first year.
Since I started seriously watching network TV in fall 2005, I’ve seen ten programs I watched cancelled in their first year and an additional two cancelled in their second year. These were Commander in Chief, The Nine, Journeyman, New Amsterdam, Cane, Aliens in America, Kings, Dollhouse, V, Pan Am, Alcatraz, and, most recently, Awake. Major props to you if you remember any of these. Some of these programs, like Alcatraz, limped along, growing steadily worse after relatively good pilots. Others, like Commander in Chief, Kings, and Awake, were (at least to me) stellar throughout their runs. It is a sad day when a gem like Awake cannot finish its story.
But looking at the ratings of these shows, it isn’t difficult to understand why their networks chose to cancel them. The audiences simply weren’t watching them – at least not live, which is really all that matters. The networks could learn a thing or two about nurturing new shows – just look at how much Fringe has improved (in quality, not ratings) since its first season.
More importantly, it really is a shame that more people did not watch a lot of these shows. I’d go as far as to say that Kings, Dollhouse, and Awake were masterpieces, albeit flawed in some respects.
If there’s a common thread in my twelve cancelled shows, it’s that they aren’t the network TV norm – they all broke convention in some way. Audiences weren’t interested in shows about a female president, a Pakistani exchange student in the Midwest, a modern Old Testament retelling, or a detective who experiences two realities. I commend the creators of each of these shows for trying something different, and I only wish that their efforts had not gone so unnoticed.
What cancelled programs have you watched in recent years?