If you’re a TV fan, you’ve experienced the pain of your favorite show being cancelled at least once. Probably more than once. Yet there are a rare few that sting more than others – the ones that still get on your nerves every time they come to mind. They’re the shows you always miss and never forget. As we prepare to look forward to new TV, here’s my list of the top 10 TV cancellations I’m still raving about.
In order of how upsetting their demise was:
1. Sports Night (ABC)
I am never, ever going to let this one go. Ever. I don’t care that Aaron Sorkin went on to great success with The West Wing, The Social Network, and The Newsroom. I’m happy to have seen almost all the main cast reappear on major TV shows since. Yet nothing is ever going to make me forget that Sports Night was a near-perfect TV series cut down in its prime. It was a relatively unknown writer and his similarly fairly unknown cast doing a show that wasn’t really about sports, and it was a pleasure to watch what they could do. More than a decade later, Sports Night hasn’t lost any of its magic.
What will always keep this one tops on my ‘dearly departed’ list is that it was more than a TV show for a lot of people, myself included. Sports Night was the show that got me excited about television enough to throw away a legal career. It introduced me to many actors, actresses, writers and other shows that I became a fan of. It even convinced me to take a swing at my childhood pipe dream of being a sports anchor. There are so many things I can trace back to this show that I could write a whole other article. No matter how many TV shows get taken away from me, the loss of Sports Night was the first one to truly break my heart.
2. Lone Star (FOX)
As a writer myself, one of my biggest pet peeves is when TV shows are yanked off the air too quickly. Such was the case with Lone Star – the pilot got rave critical reviews and then it was pulled just an episode later. It was such a quick and undeserved demise that I threw things and said things I cannot print – and in fact, the entire reason this column you’re reading exists is because I went on a whole other angry tirade about this cancellation, two years later. Just thinking about this one still sends me into a temporary apoplectic rage.
What is it about Lone Star that still gets under my skin? It was really, really great. Kyle Killen – who remains one of my favorite TV writers even if he can’t catch a break – had a fantastic concept and was executing it well, and he deserved the chance to let his characters develop and plots play out. You can’t really get an idea of a show’s true merit in two episodes. I’ll also forever be indebted to this series for introducing me to James Wolk, who literally made my jaw drop with how amazing he was in the lead role. He is one of those folks I can’t even find superlatives for (and he’s on my must-watch list for 2013). One of my major career regrets is not having had the chance to interview James for this show, or to do any sort of press for it – I was coming off of major surgery when it aired – because I just wish I’d been a part of Lone Star somehow. It was that awesome, and it had the potential to be one of the best shows of all time, but we’ll never know.
3. The Chicago Code (FOX)
Speaking of not being able to catch a break, I feel for Shawn Ryan. He’s churned out three great shows over the past two TV seasons – The Chicago Code, Terriers and Last Resort – and all of them have gotten cancelled. The one that stings the most for me is Chicago Code, which I’d still rank amongst my favorite TV shows ever to have aired even if it only got thirteen episodes. It was one of those series where everything came together, from a perfect cast headlined by Jennifer Beals and Jason Clarke to great efforts from the crew in aspects like beautiful cinematography. It all added up to a show where I was yelling at my TV and hanging up on people who tried to call me on Monday nights.
Chicago Code was one of those series that wasn’t so much a show as it was a whole fully-developed universe. When you watched it, you got sucked into it and forgot that you weren’t actually there and in the moment. That’s the kind of experience TV buffs like myself live for. It had me guessing – which is rare for me considering how much TV I’ve watched in my lifetime – got me thinking and even made me cry a time or two. And like the two shows before it on this list, it opened some doors for me along the way. I walked by Jason Clarke during FOX’s TCA presentation and wish I would’ve stopped and told him how phenomenal of an actor he is. Without Chicago Code, I never would have discovered him – or another show on this list, too – and so I’ll always have a soft spot for this series.
4. The Unusuals (ABC)
I’ve seen a lot of cop shows in my lifetime, and The Unusuals remains one of my favorites, behind only The Chicago Code. As edge-of-your-seat serious as Shawn Ryan’s show was, Noah Hawley’s was equally funny and unpredictable. He created the most unique ensemble of characters I’ve ever seen on any TV series before or since – without them losing their credibility. To play them, he also assembled a group of great actors who had never quite gotten their due, incuding a pre-movie stardom Jeremy Renner, former Joan of Arcadia star Amber Tamblyn, and the ever-dependable Harold Perrineau. Together they made up the funniest batch of cops I’ve seen on TV since Police Squad! – who were also well-developed human beings.
The reason the loss of The Unusuals still bothers me is akin to one of the reasons Sports Night still troubles me. The characters never felt like characters. From the pilot, they felt like people I could walk into on the street, or have a drink with at the bar. Between Hawley’s writing and the perfect casting, they became folks that the audience not only cared about, but knew and also understood. Even today, I occasionally catch myself wondering what became of Jason Walsh, Leo Banks and the rest of the Second Squad. The Unusuals, in that sense, was like my Cheers: every time I watch it, it’s like coming back to an old hangout where everyone knows your name. And I still miss everyone.
5. Brotherhood (Showtime)
Thanks to Jason Clarke’s wonderful work on The Chicago Code, I discovered his previous TV series, Brotherhood. It was one of Showtime’s earliest original series, premiering just before Dexter, and it’s the one people don’t talk enough about. Blake Masters and his writing staff put together a series that is one of only three that’s ever inspired me to write thousands of words per episode because there was so much to discuss – not just plot and characters, but things like themes and camera angles. This was a series so rich that as a writer and as a fan of television as a medium, it was one of my favorite shows to talk about.
I miss Brotherhood for the simple fact that it raised the level of discussion. When I explain to people who aren’t TV fans what the medium is capable of beyond just simple entertainment, I point to Brotherhood. It was anchored by phenomenal performances by Clarke and Jason Isaacs, who were simply brilliant together and apart. Each of them were forces of nature in their respective roles as politician Tommy Caffee and his mobster brother Michael. The ensemble around them was underappreciated, too, as they painted a portrait of life in Providence that was far from perfect yet always arresting. Even when it was complicated, painful or uncomfortable – and it often was – it was always a beautiful thing to watch. Too bad Brotherhood didn’t last long enough to enjoy the attention and acclaim Showtime’s later original series did – it might have gone on to even greater heights.
6. Law & Order (NBC)
No one can say Law & Order wasn’t on long enough. The classic police procedural was on just about as long as I’ve been alive. That’s what makes its cancellation so frustrating – it was on the verge of history. Set to break the record for longest-running live-action scripted American primetime series established by Gunsmoke, the series went from a sure renewal to suddenly axed before it could get there. To add insult to injury, it was replaced by its own spin-off show, Law & Order: Los Angeles. Ouch.
It’s going to be a very long time before we see another primetime drama get anywhere near breaking Gunsmoke‘s record, if we ever do. TV shows today are lucky to get two seasons, let alone 20. It’s a shame that NBC didn’t at least let Law & Order, which spawned a half-dozen other shows and was a huge program for the network, have a farewell season, even if it was just to break that record. Especially as the latest cast, including Jeremy Sisto, Alana de la Garza and an electric Linus Roache, had revitalized the series. As long as there were headlines in the New York Post, there would’ve been Law & Order stories to tell. At least we can console ourselves with the endless reruns.
7. Traveler (ABC)
Traveler was the best show audiences never got to see. David DiGilio’s ambitious conspiracy thriller was, for its very brief run, as good as 24 at its best. Centered on a pair of college students who discover that their roommate is not who he appears to be and has set them up as suspected terrorists, this was a show that never let up. Whenever it seemed to be revealing answers, there would be another wrench thrown in, and not just for the sake of perpetually leading the audience on. This show had so many layers and so many real possibilities on the table that anything could happen. It was a legitimate unpredictability that many later shows now thrive on.
The saving grace for this series is that following its cancellation, DiGilio took to TVGuide.com and posted a full outline of what would have happened in seasons two and three, so at least fans weren’t left hanging. Unfortunately, it was almost a double-edged sword, because that outline was so good it left me honestly depressed that the contents would never be filmed. I’ve gotten a little better at letting this one go – if it hadn’t ended, we wouldn’t have Matt Bomer on White Collar or Aaron Stanford on Nikita – but I still look back at that outline and think, “Wow, that would have been a fantastic series.” There have been other conspiracy shows and thrillers on TV since, but none ever got my heart racing like Traveler.
8. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX)
I grew up as a Terminator devotee. I saw all the movies, read all the books, and I went on the Universal Studios Hollywood ride more times than is probably healthy. For me, neither of the movies after Terminator 2: Judgment Day captured the same magic as that film. For that, I had to look to Terminator‘s small-screen incarnation. It might not have been a blockbuster movie, but it was the best extension of the franchise since T2. Linda Hamilton will always be Sarah Connor to me, but Lena Headey was just as good with her own portrayal of the iconic heroine. And the show’s most unlikely casting choice – adding Beverly Hills 90210 star Brian Austin Green – proved to be its best, as Green’s Derek Reese was surprisingly fantastic. Add in sci-fi staple Summer Glau and Thomas Dekker, and TSCC had a pretty great ensemble that was as faithful to what was great about the franchise as they could have possibly been.
It was obvious that Josh Friedman and everyone involved in TSCC respected Terminator‘s long history and were passionate about it, and that’s what made it so memorable. It was so much more than just another effort to bring back a known property. There was a noticeable amount of effort put in, from the performances to the effects and another beautiful TV score by composer Bear McCreary. This was the way I wanted to step back into the Terminator universe. It was real, serious sci-fi for sci-fi fans on the level of Battlestar Galactica – and it was great while it lasted.
9. Leverage (TNT)
Considering that this one just happened, I can’t put it higher up on the list since I don’t know if I’ll still be upset about this months or years from now. But I am one of the folks mourning the sudden loss of Leverage, one of the original series that helped put TNT on the map in that department. While it wasn’t quite as great as it used to be, there was still plenty of life left in this caper show, most of it due to the perfect ensemble cast. Each of the actors was spot-on in their particular roles; I can’t imagine another Nate, Sophie, Eliot, Hardison or Parker. They were simply all great – and their wonderful chemistry together was what made Leverage always worth watching.
What makes Leverage appear on this list is that it went out so quickly you might have missed it. After spending its previous season on Sundays, the show shifted to Tuesdays for its last run. The announcement of its cancellation came so abruptly that its series finale – which happened to land on Christmas Day – broadcast with bugs in the corner that said ‘season finale.’ The positive here is that the creative team had already decided to go with the series finale they’d always planned, just in case Leverage didn’t come back, so at least audiences weren’t left wondering. But it’s a rare thing to get a cast that fits together as well as these five actors did, and they shall all be missed.
10. Dinner For Five (IFC)
Hiding over on the Independent Film Channel was one of the reasons I ever got a satellite dish. IFC gave now hugely famous director Jon Favreau his own chat series called Dinner For Five, in which he and four Hollywood friends all went out for the evening, and audiences got to enjoy their candid conversation. This wasn’t fluff and it wasn’t edited to fit anyone’s expectations. It was honest, open, lively dialogue about all sorts of things in the business, such as fans too closely associating actors with characters they played, or strange audition stories. Favreau had all sorts of interesting names on the show, from Jennifer Garner to Christian Slater and Timothy Olyphant, and the chatter was never dull.
IFC pulled Dinner For Five when they wanted to go in a different direction, and considering Favreau’s career explosion after having directed flicks like Elf and Iron Man, he probably would have pulled the plug on it by now anyway. Yet while it was around, it was a wonderful half hour that was fun, witty, but most of all insightful, and it was a pleasure to see these actors and producers just getting to be themselves. Maybe one of these days Favreau can be persuaded to come back to the dinner table for a one-off special episode. At least, I still miss all those dinners he shared with us.
It should be said that audiences are lucky these ten shows and many others ever made it on the air – so many other series never get beyond the pilot stage. Their networks deserve credit for bringing them into our homes, and their casts and crews even more thanks for all their hard work making these programs come alive. As the old saying goes, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
For more end-of-year TV talk, you can also check out my list of 5 Television Actors Deserving of More Notice in 2013.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my official website and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.