This past decade has seen some of the biggest leaps in TV innovation. It will be remembered for the advent of DVR and online streaming, for genre redefining shows like The Office and Dexter. People are going to be talking about the awesome first season of 24 as much as they lament lions chasing Kim in season two. There’s so much to love and loathe that it’s hard not to view this decade as the true golden age of Television.
But what won’t happen is discussion of the following shows. These are the shows that you bring up to friends and they’re not quite sure what you’re talking about. Or you finally find that one person that also watched along with you, which causes you to drop your beer in shock. They’re not the best shows, or the worst. Some got a raw deal from the networks; others were hurt by 9/11, the writer’s strike, and other unforeseen outside problems. Still others just had a shaky start with little chance to prove future greatness before being snuffed out. These are “the others,” the programs that dared to be different, interesting, funny, introspective, dynamic and fun in ways that you missed. They’re gone forever, but there’s something on this list you should have been watching and now’s the time to seek it out on DVD.
Invasion (ABC) - 1 Season September 21, 2005 – May 17, 2006
Sci-Fi on network television is often a tricky situation. You have to engage a much larger audience than the geeks who are naturally drawn to alien societies or space battles. Invasion aired sporadically for a single season on ABC, and was as much a victim of finding that general audience as it was mishandling by a network that should know better. Shaun Cassidy’s series was one part Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a whole lot of Lost confusing mysteries. Hurricane Katrina put a damper on the main promotion of the show, which focused on the aftermath of a fictional hurricane that led to water creatures invading and taking over a town’s people. As the only season progressed the show got remarkably better than the banal premiere. Who knows where Invasion could have gone if allowed to air on a normal schedule, rather than being put on hiatus for an already cancelled Alias.
Firefly (FOX) - 1 Season September 20, 2002 – December 20, 2002
Joss Whedon’s Firefly is his greatest achievement in storytelling and yet couldn’t find the audience it deserved. Following a band of space pirates aboard a space ship the concept was solid: take the ideas of a western and mix in the aesthetic of a space opera, sprinkle with a charismatic lead in Nathan Fillion, and a healthy dose of relatable and intriguing characters. Firefly is a series that should have succeeded. While a damning Friday night timeslot did nothing to assist the show, it didn’t wallow in defeat. Loud fans, sometimes even annoying, went on a crusade to keep the show on air. But their efforts fell on deaf ears. Fox was proven right when the film follow-up, Serenity, was a flop at the box office. Blame the network all you want, but this is a case where the viewing public failed to support great television.
The Comeback (HBO) - 1 Season June 5, 2005 – September 4, 2005
HBO only gave The Comeback one season before pulling it from the air, which may have been a blessing in disguise. Kudrow’s train-wrecky performance as the former sitcom star anxious and determined to reclaim the spotlight is spot-on in terms of mixing charm with desperation. The series follows her character, Valerie Cherish, as she has her big “comeback” recorded for a reality show while she gets back to work on a new sitcom where she plays “Aunt Sassy” to a bunch of twenty-something hotties. There’s an awkwardness to the series that may have made viewers uncomfortable as Cherish is intent on portraying herself as a star, however getting passed that, it’s the moments where she lets her guard down that bring out the best in this short-lived series. Cancelled too soon? Maybe. The show could have gone on and it’s likely that Kudrow’s fantastic comedic timing could have carried The Comeback through future seasons, however the first and only season’s conclusion is a satisfying one.
Drive (FOX) - 1 Season April 13, 2007 – April 23, 2007
Fox didn’t bury this particular Nathan Fillion helmed project on Friday nights. It was given a prime spot on Mondays, but stiff competition from then hot Deal or No Deal and Dancing with the Stars led to the demise of the series after only four episodes. Drive, created by Whedon friend Tim Minear and Ben Queen, was a little Cannonball Run and a bit Death Race. It followed contestants on an illegal road race, most of who were coerced into being there for mysterious reasons. Not just a racing show, Drive sought to tell an intricate story about its characters’ lives. While seeds were planted early on that would lead to assumedly mind bending twists and story lines, fans will never get to know how Alex Tully would fare. And that’s a damn shame, especially when you consider the competition was a simplistic game show and an embarrassing D-List star dance travesty. They're still on the air, and a quality show like Drive is not. You have only yourself to blame.
Day Break (ABC) - 1 Season November 15, 2006 – December 13, 2006; April 20, 2008 – June 8, 2008
Day Break had the challenge of figuring out how to tell the Groundhog Day story, but replacing the comedy and charm with murder and conspiracy. It’s possible that viewers weren’t willing to try and remember the rules of Brett Hopper’s (Taye Diggs) repeated day existence. Framed for the murder of a district attorney, Detective Hopper relived the same day over and over. The only things that carried beyond each version of the day were his memories and any injuries he sustained. Except in extreme circumstances the effect Hopper had on the world that day would be erased when it began again at 6:18am. The final episodes were shown streaming on ABC.com and quickly brought a bit of a closure to the series for the few fans that were left. Perhaps a bit overreaching in concept, Day Break had at least four or five good seasons in it that could have created the Lost wannabe water cooler show ABC was clearly looking for.
Traveler (ABC) - 1 Season May 10, 2007 – July 18, 2007
ABC’s Traveler was a mixed bag from the start. It was clearly one of ABC’s early attempts to find the future new Lost, but the plot was a little too silly for a lot of critics and viewers. Strong performances by the leads kept you interested in the story of two young men framed for the bombing of a NYC museum. They then found out that their supposed college buddy Will Traveler was responsible, and then the conspiracies started piling up. Traveler could never find an audience, averaging around 5 million viewers each week. The show should never have been formulated as weekly television; it was a perfect fit for a limited run (maybe 10 episodes) series. But that format hasn’t been something network television cares to endorse.
Justice (FOX) - 1 Season August 30, 2006 – December 22, 2006
After Alias ended Victor Garber turned his bad assery to the court room as a ruthless lawyer in Justice. Ron Trott and his team of lawyers tried to entice viewers by defending people that are controversial and of note to the media. It was a marketing firm as much as a place of law. Trying to mix the typical weekly law drama with the more interesting aspects of a show like House, which successfully portrays an amoral antagonist, Justice didn’t have the bite and heart in the early episodes. If the characters were given just a little extra humanity the series may have caught on, but Fox pulled the plug after 13 episodes.
Bionic Woman (NBC) - 1 Season September 26, 2007 – November 28, 2007
If we’re being honest Bionic Woman wasn’t quite what anyone hoped it would be. David Eick, one of the geniuses behind Battlestar Galactica, brought this modern version of the classic series to NBC with none of the character development and brilliance of his Sci-Fi work. But that was early on in the show, as Bionic Woman continued its first and only season a glimmer of hope began to shine. Guest appearances by Katee Sackhoff as the first bionic lady helped to elevate the action of the show, and we were just starting to take notice of the story when the writer’s strike stopped production. After that NBC was coy about whether the show would be cancelled. Eventually NBC just sort of never put the show back into production, essentially cancelling the series. Perhaps the writer’s strike was to blame for the shutdown of a fledgling, if still growing in creativity, tv show like Bionic Woman. If so, it’s not the only program that the strike had adverse affect on.
Pushing Daisies (ABC) - 2 Seasons October 3, 2007 – June 13, 2009
Do television viewers just have no soul? Not even a small amount of wonderment as they travel through their dreary days? With more heart and joy than most anything that’s come out of TV in the last decade Pushing Daisies should have succeeded. People should have rejoiced in this quirky tale of love. Instead they turned away when Kristen Chenoweth broke into song, or rolled their eyes when Ned and Chuck used bee suits to embrace on the roof. Stylized like a story book, the fairy tale series was just too much for viewers to grab onto. Season one started strong, with nearly 10 million average viewers, but by the time season two began that number was more than halved. Out of everything that was cancelled this past decade this is the one you should feel most ashamed about letting go. Pushing Daisies was pure love in all its vibrantly colorful and alliterative glory.
The Job (ABC) - 2 Seasons March 14, 2001 – April 24, 2002
Long before there was Rescue Me Denis Leary told a similar tale on ABC with The Job. The sex and violence was toned down quite a bit, but the story of a messed up cop who was good at his job while being a horrible husband and boyfriend is familiar to anyone watching Leary’s current FX series. The Job also has the distinction of being the funnier of the two shows. The short lived comedy utilized the single camera style before it took over network comedy, or the names Pam and Jim were even a distant thought in the minds of the public. The second season was delayed in the wake of 9/11, and when it returned in the Spring of 2002 the amoral McNeil and his relentless use of drugs, alcohol, women and witty quips failed to find an audience. But that’s OK because the character lives on as Tommy in Rescue Me.
Life (NBC) - 2 Seasons September 26, 2007 – April 8, 2009
For a brief moment it looked like Life was going to succeed. There was a small, but loyal, fan base building up around the story of the wrongfully imprisoned Charlie Crews. Rather than a typical police procedural Life wove an overarching plotline into its weekly stories, giving the series more heft as a whole unit than similar programs. But it was Damian Lewis’ charming portrayal of the Zen like changed detective that held the show together. Unfortunately you really had to be aware of its existence, because NBC was doing Life little favor with promotion. By the end of the second season the show was floundering in the ratings and NBC finally announced a third season would not be produced.
Tru Calling (FOX) - 2 Seasons October 30, 2003 – April 21, 2005
Another casualty of FOX was a sci-fi/fantasy show starring Eliza Dushku. No, not the one you are thinking of. In 2003, after the curtain fell on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, scene stealer Dushku was rumored to be considering a spin-off show based on her badgirl vampire slayer character, Faith. But instead, she took a starring role in Tru Calling. She played Tru Davies, a college student who gets a night position working at a morgue with mortician Davis, played with great quirk by Zach Galifianakis. But when the dead bodies ask for her help, it sends her back in time Groundhog Day-style one day to save them from their wrongful deaths. This show started off slow but as the story behind her “calling” started to be revealed, it got even more intriguing. Jason Priestley’s career got revitalized a bit when he joined the show as Jack Harper, a mysterious man who is dedicated to making sure the fate of the people Tru is trying to save runs its course. The second season started off running, with Tru and Jack racing against each other, while debating whether what Tru does is right or wrong. It also unveiled that not only was Tru’s gift inherited from her late mother, but her father had Jack’s job before and had moved on to become his boss. FOX gave the show one season but waited almost an entire year before starting the second, and then canceled it after only six episodes, replacing it with The Omen meets The O.C. bomb Point Pleasant. Tru Calling was not given a fair shake to begin with, buried beneath Friends’ final season and Survivor. When it finally got its second shot, it wasn’t until it was forgotten about by what little audience remained.
Veronica Mars (CW) - 3 Seasons September 22, 2004 – May 22, 2007
The CW has been suckling at the teat of Smallville for a long time when it comes to their dramas. So it was a surprise when a funny, smart, witty and intelligent show began airing on the network in the form of Veronica Mars. To the casual observer, including many of us here at Blend Television in the early days, the show looked like another CW teen drama. Looking back perhaps that’s what The CW wanted us to believe, but the truth is that VM was a great show. Creator Rob Thomas got to take his young lead character and put her in the FBI during the series’ frantic wrap-up in season 3. And in the process took away nearly everything that had made the show great. Considering the state of the network in general at the time it was surprising that The CW would force the hand of its best creative team.
Arrested Development (FOX) - 3 Seasons November 2, 2003 – February 10, 2006
For many fans Arrested Development was the epitome of what great TV comedy could be. And to be honest Fox was really giving the show a shot. Certainly more than their track record would lead you to believe. Three full seasons were produced, and the timeslot changes were less about making room for other things than they were for finding a time when the vocal fans would sit down and watch. The series has gone on to be a cult hit on DVD, but the honest truth is that once again we have an example of great television being ignored by the viewing public. For all of their weird quirks the Bluths were an iconic TV family, and it may have been difficult for Joe Average at home to relate to their odd charms. But is there really any better way to heat up TV dinners than in the hot tub?
Jericho (CBS) - 2 Seasons September 20, 2006 – March 25, 2008
Perhaps we have a little too much network bashing going on in this article. So let’s turn it around and commend CBS for listening to fans and bringing this show back after it’d been cancelled following a mediocre ratings streak in season one. Fans bombarded CBS with pounds and pounds of peanuts, a reference to a line in the season one finale. CBS had no sound business reason to bring the show back, but upon viewing the fan fervor they did anyways. And what did it get them? A kick in the nuts as fans and viewers just didn’t show up. Of course amidst being cancelled and re-picked up Jericho changed from a show about a nuclear blast surviving town to something about two warring towns laid on the backdrop of a major national nuclear holocaust conspiracy. The Jericho of season one is why fans mailed out nuts, and whatever that train wreck of a second season was is likely why they didn’t watch.
Kitchen Confidential (FOX) - 1 Season September 19, 2005 – December 5, 2005
I doubt Anthony Bourdain, who wrote the brilliant book on which this series was based, would be happy to admit he had anything to do with the show. Bourdain’s book was a gritty, hilarious, and insightful look into the workings of professional restaurant kitchens. Fox’s Kitchen Confidential was a clean version of those stories, including a supremely sterile and improbably white kitchen as the centerpiece of the show. But the single camera comedy, which was paired with Arrested Development, did achieve one important thing: it was funny. The show started off weak in the ratings, but worse after only two episodes was interrupted for an extended period for the baseball playoffs. People who wanted to watch this show their friends raved about couldn’t find it anywhere. By the time it returned no one even cared or realized Fox had another great comedy that was floundering. Only four episodes made it to air, but the entire 13 run production can be seen on Hulu.
The Riches (FX) - 2 Seasons March 12, 2007 – April 29, 2008
A cable show getting unfairly overlooked? Cable shows don’t get the ratings numbers that network does, but this decade has seen the gap close in. The Riches starred Eddie Izzard as the patriarch of a gypsy family that took over the lives of some dead rich folks. It was good from the beginning and only got better. In fact, it came as a huge surprise to many when the show just didn’t come back. Both Rescue Me and The Riches were adversely affected by the writer’s strike. The former took a hiatus and came back stronger than ever over one and half years later, while the latter was just never brought back. Oddly enough The Riches had a higher premiere rating and its season one average was sometimes double what Rescue Me pulled in for the same year. We’re not completely sure why they’re not around, but the Malloy family is sorely missed in the television landscape.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (FOX) - 2 Seasons January 13, 2008 – April 10, 2009
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the last good thing fans are going to get from this franchise. Only a miracle return of James Cameron could save things, and even that’s not a guarantee the quality will return. SCC was vastly superior to both Rise of the Machines and Salvation because the series understood what made the first two films good, while the modern films thought it was all about flipping large trucks and the biggest explosions possible. Terminator was a love story and Judgment Day was a character story, and neither relied on murderous stalking robots to draw in fans. SCC picked up the thread that T2 had begun and was immediately successful in almost every way. 18 million people watched the premiere, and the show was not afraid to tell great character based stories. Despite some plodding plotline threads in the second season SCC still maintained a great insight into the workings of the strange family headed by Sarah. Unfortunately those 18 million viewers didn’t stick around and after an average 11 million viewer first season the second season could barely break past 3 million, and soon went to the trash heap of cancelled Fox shows.
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