In the vast world of television, thousands of programs have graced the small screen in the past few decades. And every year, most of those shows fall through the cracks, gone and forever forgotten, nothing more than a footnote in the career of a television actor. On a few occasions, certain shows are remembered long after their premature demise. One of the most enduring franchises in the last 50 years began with a program that met its end after four seasons: Star Trek. It's the basic functions of television: sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it falls apart. And not all bad television shows are canceled immediately, the same way not all good shows enjoy a long and lasting run.
It's a well-known feeling among all television viewers to see our favorite shows killed off before our very eyes and to long remember them in our minds. Sometimes it happens after three or four seasons. Sometimes it happens after three or four weeks. I'd like to share some of my favorite shows in the last number of years over which I still feel the pangs of loss.
**Veronica Mars - 3 Seasons, 65 Episodes**
Television dramas that introduce a season-long murder mystery tend to flame out after the initial mystery is solved. Some will agree that once the question "Who killed Lily Kane?" was answered, the quality of the series declined. While that's partially true, I enjoyed Veronica Mars to the bitter end. The heart of the show was the relationship between father Keith Mars (played effortlessly by Enrico Colantoni, current star of Canadian-made drama Flashpoint) and daughter Veronica Mars (played to perfection by Kristen Bell, upcoming co-star of the Showtime comedy House of Lies). Whether they were part of the in crowd or on the outside looking in, they stayed together.
The series followed Veronica as she worked her way through Neptune High while playing junior private detective to the town's inhabitants, including solving the murder of her best friend, Lily Kane (played by Amanda Seyfried, before her days of Mamma Mia! and Dear John). As the show progressed, a romance bloomed between Veronica and bad boy (and Lily's ex) Logan Echolls, a much-LoVe'd union amongst fans.
Forget father-daughter bonds, love triangles (and quadrangles) and murder mysteries. There was a certain charm about the show that followed it through three seasons (including a network swap when original net UPN went under in 2006). Even when the main plotlines weren't as involving as the original season, the show continued to be something different and fun to watch. The CW specializes in teen-oriented dramas, but has yet to match the sharp wit and endearing qualities of Veronica Mars. Talks of a feature film are whispered periodically, but nothing will likely ever come of it. Fans can take solace in knowing that, by now, Veronica would very likely challenge the very best TV detectives in solving murders, crimes and various mysteries in the Neptune universe. You're missed dearly, Veronica Mars.
**Millennium/Harsh Realm/The Lone Gunmen - 3 Seasons, 67 Episodes/1 Season, 9 Episodes/1 Season, 13 Episodes**
In 1993, Chris Carter created what would become one of the most iconic television programs of its generation: The X-Files. Laying the groundwork for virtually every science-fiction based program to follow it, Carter helped make Mulder and Scully household names and made "The Truth is Out There" and "Trust No One" catchphrases of the 1990s. Carter created three different series during The X-Files' nine year run, however none of them came close to the popularity of the alien-obsessed drama.
In 1996, Frank Black began solving crimes on Millennium, a series created ten years before its proper time. Black had the unique ability to experience visions of the bad guys and their victims, something the likes of Simon Baker and the CSI teams would envy. Law & Order put crime-solving on the map in the 90s, but the crime-time boom didn't occur until well into the 2000s, when CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds hit the scene. Even Medium and Ghost Whisperer, two programs with a paranormal edge, enjoyed lengthy runs. If it had been introduced just a few years later, Millennium would have likely reaped the benefits of an audience craving crime-solving with a twist. As it stands, it ended after three years, but enjoyed a proper conclusion during a seventh season episode of The X-Files.
In 1999, Carter thought outside the box with the virtual reality-based Harsh Realm. As it stands, 9 episodes can hardly gauge just where the show was heading, but I and many other fans were hooked from the start. After only three weeks on the air, FOX pulled the plug, and the remaining six episodes weren't seen until several months later on the FX Network. Like Millennium before it, Harsh Realm came a few years before its time. As Lost hit the airwaves in 2004, so should Harsh Realm have debuted, as fans were more tolerant of continuing fantasy dramas.
Unfortunately, there's no real reason to believe 2001's The Lone Gunmen would have worked during any era of television. Created almost exclusively for fans of The X-Files (who had turned away in droves by that point during the latter half of the show's eighth season), The Lone Gunmen dealt with government conspiracies, oddball mysteries and the occasional terrorist attack on the World Trade Center months before it actually happened (it's in the pilot episode!). Still, for hardcore X-Philes, this was an enjoyably quirky series devoted to three of the most beloved side characters in the X-Files universe. Opinions differ on the final episode of The X-Files to feature Frohike, Langley and Byers (the Season 9 episode "Jump the Shark"), but nothing can tarnish these 13 episodes for me.
It's going on eleven years since Chris Carter last introduced a new television series to the masses, and I still hold out hope, despite his reputation for running The X-Files into the ground, that he will deliver a new hit sometime in the near future.
**Pushing Daisies - 2 Seasons, 22 Episodes**
A quirky, offbeat comedy canceled after 2 seasons. Lee Pace stars as Ned, a pie maker with a unique ability to revive the dead for less than one minute, providing tremendous help in solving murders with Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). When he allows the one minute rule to be broken for childhood love Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (a delightful Anna Friel) to continue living, he begins a seemingly lifelong quest to woo the love of his life, despite not being able to ever touch her. Oh yeah, a single touch will end her life forever after being revived by the pie maker.
If you've never seen it (for shame), it sounds outlandish, and looks it too. Unlike many shows before and after it that embraced this wildly colorful visual style, Pushing Daisies seemed to perfectly balance a real world with that of something that resembles a comic book. The cast was incredible, especially the always-amazing Kristen Chenoweth, who went on to win an Emmy for the series. The writing verged on sappy, pretentious and downright silly. But it always managed to find a balance. Unfortunately, the series aired its first season before the writers' strike of 2007, resulting in a truncated rookie year. It lost any momentum it ever had when ten months had elapsed between new episodes. Still, the show just wasn't poised to ever gain a massive following. Talks of a movie/comic book continuation continue to this day, but it'll never match the magic of its original run. We could all use a bit of Chuck, Emerson, Olive Snook, the Darling Mermaid Darlings and the Pie-maker in our lives right now.
**Titus - 3 Seasons, 54 Episodes**
Perhaps the most cutting edge sitcom to showcase a dysfunctional family, Titus came on the scene in 2000, starring standup comic Christopher Titus as he introduced us to his too-good-for-him girlfriend Erin (Cynthia Watros), dummy brother Dave (Zack Ward), overly feminine best friend Tommy (David Shatraw), and politically incorrect dad Ken (an excellent Stacy Keach). Never has a sitcom with a studio audience dealt with issues like suicide, molestation, homophobia, alcoholism and death, teetering between heartfelt drama and gut-busting comedy. Titus never let us go too far that it became depressing, but it didn't let us forget how real the situations were either.
Certainly not for everyone (and not for the faint of heart), Titus was another show at odds with its network. FOX (perhaps rightfully) felt uncomfortable dealing with such heavy topics on a half-hour sitcom. Towards the end, the then-network president pleaded with Chris Titus to present "happier" storylines on the show. Directly conflicting with Chris's intentions for the show, a decent performer in the ratings felt the pain of cancellation and all its fans are left with is an open-ended conclusion and 54 episodes.
On a side note, while I do enjoy Christopher Titus's standup, I feel his material was much better suited for the sitcom. It plays out better when you can see the people he's talking about. Stacy Keach especially shined as Ken Titus, a man who rarely said the right thing but was also never wrong.
Certain shows that have come and gone may have started strong and finished weak, and vice versa. Here are a few of my other favorites that never found the right audience.
**Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - 2 Seasons, 31 Episodes**
If there ever was a show with a ton of potential, it was the series based upon the film franchise, The Terminator. Starring Thomas Dekker and Lena Headey as John and Sarah Connor, respectively, the show followed the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, adding in the new, sexy Terminator, Cameron (played by Summer Glau). In the first season of 9 episodes, the series began with a killer premiere, but by the time the season finale rolled around, it started to feel a bit boring. It's simple: TV can't keep up with the action of a feature film, so any down time felt tedious.
By Season 2, the damage seemed irreversible. I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. A good episode here and a bad episode there in the first half of the season paved the way for redemption: the last six episodes of Season 2 were some of the best sci-fi shows I've ever seen. It finally lived up to its potential and seemed poised for a solid third season. Alas, not everyone stuck by it and by the time the Season 2 finale aired, the show was stuck on Friday nights, churning out dreadful ratings. Personally, I enjoy the last episode as a series finale. Sure, it's open-ended, but what the fans came to know as The Sarah Connor Chronicles seemed to come to an end in that episode. It was an appropriate finish for a disjointed series.
**Andy Richter Controls the Universe - 2 Seasons, 19 Episodes**
After he played sidekick to Conan O'Brien on Late Night and before he played sidekick to Conan O'Brien on The Tonight Show and Conan, Andy Richter tried his hand on three separate sitcoms: FOX's Quintuplets, NBC's Andy Barker, P.I. and the first of his ventures into television post-Conan, FOX's Andy Richter Controls the Universe. It was a quirky take on comedy before quirky became popular. It aired a season or two before Arrested Development, another quirky comedy that was pulled before its time.
On the show, Andy played a technical manual writer for Pickering Industries with a vivid imagination. Cutaways and gags provided by Andy's subconscious provided hilarious moments, amidst a stellar supporting cast, including Criminal Minds star Paget Brewster. Unfortunately, the show proved too offbeat for a mainstream audience, as FOX canceled the series after just 14 episodes (and 5 more unaired). While Andy currently co-stars alongside Conan O'Brien on TBS, I still yearn for a time when Andy Richter Controls the Universe was found by the masses. Surely that's the way it was in Andy's daydreams.
**Stark Raving Mad - 1 Season, 22 Episodes**
Perhaps one of the lesser-known (or lesser-remembered) on the list, Stark Raving Mad premiered in 1999 following NBC's Frasier. Neil Patrick Harris (in-between Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson days) starred as Henry McNeeley, a stuffy, pompous book editor dealing with Stephen King-esque horror author Ian Stark, played by Tony Shalhoub (between his days on Wings and Monk). It was an updated take on The Odd Couple, as each man dealt with the other in humorous ways.
The show was hardly original, but something about it clicked with me. There was a certain charm to it that I can't quite describe. Harris and Shalhoub were as great as they've ever been. Harris channeled David Hyde Pierce's Niles Crane perfectly, and Shalhoub's eccentricities were a joy to watch. Unfortunately, as the show progressed, network tampering was obvious, as certain elements that made the show were stripped away as NBC tried to boost the failing ratings. By that time, it was too late, and the series felt the mighty axe after 18 episodes, leaving four never to be aired on American TV.
It should be noted that the writing pedigree was top-notch: the series was created by Modern Family co-creator Steven Levitan, who also wrote for Frasier, The Larry Sanders Show and Just Shoot Me.
As a side note, I omitted two of my all-time favorite series that met an untimely end because they went on/will go on to see proper conclusions: Firefly and Arrested Development. Firefly had a solid conclusion with the feature film, Serenity, while Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz is working on a 9-to-10 episode fourth season of Arrested that will lead into a feature film.
Also, it's funny that the majority of my list consists of series that aired on FOX. You can't blame the network for thinking outside the box and presenting original primetime programming. You can blame mainstream viewers for ignoring original primetime programming. Thankfully, they've become more tolerant in recent years.
-CBS's Blue Bloods scored its largest audience and best adults 18-49 demo since its series premiere over a year ago. Your grandmother thinks this news is terrific.
-ABC's Once Upon a Time has scored big in its third week on the air, handily taking the Sunday night crown that was poised to go to Pan Am. Is it too late for Christina Ricci to join the fairy tale drama?
-AMC's Hell on Wheels premiered to 4.4 million viewers following the latest episode of The Walking Dead. AMC continues to prove its the place to be currently for awesome drama. Especially if your bag is flesh-eating zombies, meth dealers, adulterers and vengeance-seeking Conferdate soldiers.
-Emma Stone is set to host Saturday Night Live this Saturday for her second time in as many seasons. Nothing funny here. I just love Emma Stone.
All righty, folks, thanks so much for reading any or all of my column. Sound off below on your own favorite gone-too-soon series. I'll remind you the list above is only partial. I could rhyme off a dozen more shows off the top of my head that I loved and seemingly no one else did. Perhaps in the future, I'll continue the list. Perhaps it'll include some of the shows I'm watching now...
Next week, to commemorate the end of a historic career on daytime television as one-half of the hosts of Live!, I will take a look at the life of perhaps the most beloved personality in daytime: Regis Philbin. Until then, stay tuned.