Great TV shows that were canceled way too soon
It’s rare for fans to get a satisfactory ending for a TV show. Plenty of great shows go on past their prime, relying on increasingly ridiculous plotlines or exaggerated characters to salvage their ratings. Others simply fail to deliver the proper closure audiences need. But some shows are cut short by the studio or network, never even given a fair chance. Here’s a list of shows that fit into that final category.
‘The Punisher’ (2017-2019)
We were first introduced to Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle aka “the Punisher” in season two of Daredevil. From the moment he first appeared, fans knew they wanted more of the war hero-turned-vigilante. Marvel complied, and the Punisher was given his own show.
Sadly, we only got two seasons, and fans were heartbroken when the show came to an end. Bernthal seems to echo that sentiment. “I love Frank, too… I really don’t have any desire to move off of him.” At least The Punisher didn’t end on a cliffhanger like many of the shows on this list did.
‘The OA’ (2016-2019)
This show wasn’t for everybody. In fact, of all the Netflix Originals, this one is by the strangest: It involved alternate dimensions, near-death experiences, and interpretive dance moves that can raise the dead. If you think that sounds weird, you’re not alone — responses to the show were polarizing.
However, The OA quickly gained a sizable and passionate following and garnered generally favorable reviews from critics.
Unfortunately, Netflix canceled the show after its second season, leaving dozens of questions and the fates of characters unresolved. As for why Netflix ended The OA, your guess is as good as ours.
‘Jessica Jones’ (2015-2019)
It’s a crying shame that we only got three seasons of Jessica Jones. And while the quality waned slightly with each season, we never tired of seeing Krysten Ritter as the sardonic superhero-turned-private-detective.
Unfortunately, when Netflix purged itself of its Marvel originals, Jessica Jones found itself on the chopping block alongside Daredevil, Luke Cage, The Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders.
A revival seems unlikely, with even Ritter herself claiming she’s moved on from the character. “I feel good about closing the door,” Ritter told TVLine. We only hope she’ll open it back up one day.
‘Veronica Mars’ (2004-2007, and 2019-?)
Initially written by creator Rob Thomas as a young adult novel, Veronica Mars followed the exploits of its eponymous lead (played by Kristen Bell), who worked on solving mysteries as a private detective while attending high school and later college.
Despite improving ratings and a growing cult following, the CW canceled the series after three seasons. Fans demanded more, and Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell launched a Kickstarter to film a Veronica Mars feature film. Their goal was met almost immediately and the film was released in 2014, to more critical acclaim.
Five years later, Hulu revived Veronica Mars for a fourth season. No word yet on whether or not a fifth is in the works.
This show brought some welcome grittiness to the Marvel universe, was responsible for launching several awesome spin offs, and redeemed the beloved character that was butchered by the 2003 film travesty of the same name.
Everyone, including main character Charlie Cox, was sad to see the show end abruptly. “A lot of us really expected to keep going and I certainly did. The truth is, I felt like we had a lot of stories to tell, and although I understand (the cancellation) I’m very saddened by that,” Cox told Entertainment Weekly.
Despite what you may believe, we can’t lay the blame on Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. Reportedly, the viewership dwindled a bit, and Netflix wanted to focus their efforts (and budget) on original content.
The brainchild of Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, World War Z), this sci-fi series followed eight strangers from around the world who discover they are connected psychically, while being hunted by the Biologic Preservation Organization.
It was loved by critics and audiences, but Netflix decided to cancel it after two seasons, leaving on a cliffhanger. Outraged fans begged, kicked, and screamed, and finally got some closure. While there would be no third season, Netflix greenlit a two-hour film that served as the show’s finale. Both the series and film were awarded by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
‘Luke Cage’ (2016-2018)
It was the third of the Netflix Marvel shows to air, but many viewers and critics rank it number one. Set in Harlem — with each episode named after classic Gangstarr or Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth cuts — Luke Cage was as rugged as its bulletproof main character. Sadly, we only got two seasons before Netflix gave it the boot.
Mike Colter, who played Cage, confirmed that the script for a third season had been written, but various delays kept them from production.
“It’s unfortunate, but like I said, it’s always a possibility that something like that can come around again,” he said at a Television Critics Association event. “Just not right now.”
Fingers crossed that it happens soon.
‘Iron Fist’ (2017-2018)
OK, so among the Netflix Marvel originals, Iron Fist was definitely a tier below the rest. Still, the show’s second season improved the action scenes and pacing, and the ending suggested things would pick up further in the third season. Sadly, the show was never given a chance to reach its full potential.
We’ve heard rumors of a possible Defenders revival, so there’s a small chance that we’ll get to see Danny Rand alongside all our favorite Netflix Marvel superheroes in the future.
‘The Get Down’ (2016-2017)
Set in the Bronx in the 1970s, the show traced the birth of hip hop, as a cast full of DJs, dancers, artists, gangsters, and politicians navigated obstacles of poverty and crime. The musical drama was created by Baz Luhrman, a director known for vibrant, stylized films like Moulin Rouge and the 1996 film adaptation of Romeo + Juliet.
The show was loved by audiences and critics alike, but that didn’t stop Netflix from pulling the plug after only one season. Netflix won’t release ratings, so we’ll never know how many viewers the show pulled in, but we do know the show was very expensive to produce, and the first season was plagued with production delays. Perhaps they just felt it was more trouble than it was worth.
‘Sleepy Hollow’ (2013-2017)
Another show that reimagines familiar stories and characters in a creative way, Sleepy Hollow imagines Ichabod Crane transported to the year 2013, where he must once again defeat the headless horseman.
Ratings sagged a bit after its initial pilot, but the second season holds a 100% rating on rotten tomatoes (76% overall).
“Bringing a show out on Friday night is tough,” explained Fox chairman Gary Newman. “We love the show, we think the storytelling has always been incredibly inventive, and Ichabod is fantastic.”
The show will truly be missed.
‘Good Girls Revolt’ (2015-2016)
This was a smart but short-lived but period drama involving women researchers fighting for workplace equality in a newsroom circa 1969. The women face unequal pay, harassment from their male colleagues and bosses, and are seldom credited for their hard work.
Despite mostly positive reviews — and many comparisons to Mad Men — the show didn’t make it past its first season. Sadly, we likely never learn how things turned out for the brave girls in their fight against patriarchy.
‘Scream Queens’ (2015-2016)
Scream Queens had a star-studded cast, full of notable actresses from the horror genre, including Jamie Lee Curtis of Halloween and Emma Roberts from American Horror Story. Much of the fun of Scream Queens was that the show was deliberately campy, never taking itself too seriously.
Despite impressive amounts of delayed viewers and sizable social media buzz, Scream Queens failed to garner the live ratings it sought after. Fox canceled the show after only two seasons, disappointing fans of the horror-comedy.
It’s rare when writers and actors can bring an original flair to well-worn characters and plots. But NBC Hannibal delighted audiences and critics by playing fast and loose with the source material and serving healthy helpings of blood n’ guts (seriously how did they show this stuff on network television?).
It’s tough to rival Anthony Hopkins’ iconic performance as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, but actor Mads Mikkelsen delivered.
The rest of the cast was excellent too — especially Hugh Dancy, who played Will Graham, the brilliant yet disturbed FBI investigator.
The third season ended on a slightly ambiguous note, leaving audiences simultaneously satisfied and itching for more. They may get their wish — creator Bryan Fuller is reportedly trying to secure the rights to Silence of the Lambs, and Mikkelsen claims he’d gladly pick up the glove if that were to happen.
With a few notable exceptions, DC doesn’t have the best success rate in terms of adapting their comics to the screen. That’s why Constantine was a breath of fresh air, bringing the horror element to CW’s DC universe. Sure, the quality was a bit uneven, but Matt Ryan’s performance as the eponymous con-man turned supernatural detective was enough for us to forgive its flaws.
Unfortunately, despite critical acclaim, audiences caught onto the show a bit too late. Constantine was canceled after only one season. On the bright side, you can catch Ryan as John Constantine every now and then in Legends of Tomorrow.
‘Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23’ (2012-2013)
This comedy featured Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones, Breaking Bad) as Chloe, a sharp-witted slacker living it up in New York City by tricking roommates into paying their rent up front, then driving them out by behaving insufferably. She meets her match, however, when June moves in, and proves determined not to leave.
Audiences and critics loved the snappy dialogue, and the show currently holds 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Sadly, the show only lasted two seasons — and the first season was truncated to only nine episodes. However, there may be hope for a revival, as Ritter has enthusiastically claimed she’s up for it. “It would be a dream come true,” she told a Comicpalooza audience in 2018.
If you’ve never heard of this show, you’re not alone — and that’s a crying shame. As Melissa Maerz wrote in Entertainment Weekly, Enlightenment was “the best show nobody’s watching.” The short-lived show was both moving and hilarious.
Laura Dern gives a Golden Globe-winning performance as Amy Jellicoe, a high-powered executive who finds spiritual enlightenment while in rehab.
Despite the critical acclaim, the show never gained the viewership it needed for HBO to keep it going past two seasons. Bummer.
‘Arrested Development’ (2003-2006 and 2013-?)
Thank the heavens this show was brought back. Fox canceled the show after three seasons due to low viewership despite excellent reviews, a star-studded cast, and a passionate cult following. Fans of the show couldn’t help but think they’d seen the last of the dysfunctional Bluth family.
Fortunately, they never gave up hope, and Netflix picked up the show where Fox had left off, airing a new season over seven years after the original program had concluded. To date, there have been two more seasons of Arrested Development made by the streaming service (five in total), but no word whether there’ll be any more.
‘Bored to Death’ (2009-2011)
We may never get over this one. This HBO comedy about a struggling writer-turned-private eye never failed to bring the laughs as well as excitement and mystery. Star Jason Schwartzman plays a fictionalized version of the show’s creator Johnathan Ames, who seeks inspiration by rebranding himself as an unlicensed private investigator.
Schwartzman was joined by comedy giants Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson (playing a comic book and magazine editor, respectively), who helped him solve cases (and get into more trouble).
Sadly, HBO canceled the show after three seasons — ending it on a cliffhanger! Reportedly, Jonathan Ames has been writing the script for a movie, but we haven’t heard any updates in a while.
‘Better Off Ted’ (2009-2010)
This hilarious satire drew critical acclaim and has since developed a cult following, but throughout its original airing it never brought in many weekly viewers. In fact, it performed so terribly that ABC pulled the plug early on its second season (the two final episodes can be seen on Hulu and Prime Video).
Better Off Ted’s creator Victor Fresco says the show simply wasn’t promoted enough and given time to catch on.
“I think not enough people knew about it,” he told New York Magazine. “It wasn’t like we had a lot of people watch it and they didn’t come back to it … I still feel there’s an audience out there for it, because I know that the people who liked it, liked it a lot.”
‘Pushing Daisies’ (2007-2009)
Another Bryan Fuller show taken far too soon. Pushing Daisies was as funny as it was poignant in its exploration of death, love, and life, and beloved by critics and audiences alike.
Unfortunately, the fantastical dramedy about a baker who can bring the dead back to life was cut short after only two seasons.
We may never forgive ABC but perhaps Pushing Daisies’ crime was that it came out too early.
“Now what we’re celebrating in television is the identity of niche as a demographic that can be explored in different stories,” Fuller told Vanity Fair. “That would have been a more fertile soil for Pushing Daisies to grow in.”
As for a revival? Fuller’s in: “I ask Warner Brothers every year to see if they’d be open to it.”
Made as a collaboration between HBO and BBC, this period drama was expertly written, bringing interpersonal conflict to the forefront, while weaving real historical people and events throughout. Of course, there was also plenty of HBO’s signature debauchery and violence.
Despite critical acclaim, viewership dwindled after the first season. BBC was unwilling to keep gambling on the expensive show and pulled the plug at the end of season two.
Reportedly, creator Bruno Heller has finished the script for a film that would tie up the story line’s loose ends, but it’s unlikely to see the light of day. “I’m not holding my breath,” Heller told Entertainment Weekly in 2011.
‘John from Cincinnati’ (2007)
Here’s another weird one. It’s difficult to explain the premise, even for the show’s creator David Milch.
“I don’t know what it’s about,” he admitted on The Late Show with Craig Ferguson. “I don’t know the bottom line.”
Not exactly the best way to sell a TV show. Then again, even if the mysterious “metaphysical” plot lost you at times, absorbing the sublime backdrop and puzzling clues as to who John really is (God? An alien? A robot?) remained fascinating.
The short-lived supernatural “surf noir” ran on HBO in the time slot right after The Sopranos. As you might expect, many fans of the notorious crime drama failed to stick around although John from Cincinnati was gradually picking up steam.
Sadly, the show was canceled one day after the season finale. Fans of the show were left with tons of unanswered questions.
Deadwood is a prime example of an HBO show that bit the dust too soon, despite phenomenal ratings. Despite ending prematurely, the show is often regarded among Breaking Bad and The Wire as one of the greatest shows of all time.
The whole cast was brilliant, but Ian McShane as Al Swearengen, the morally ambiguous owner of the Gem Saloon especially stands out. Unfortunately, HBO and the actors couldn’t agree to terms before the fourth season. The show was dead in the water, leaving much unresolved. Luckily Deadwood was revived in a 2019 feature film, giving fans some much needed closure.
‘Chappelle’s Show’ (2003-2006)
This is one that puzzled fans for years. After two successful seasons of Dave Chappelle’s raunchy-but-smart sketch comedy show, audiences were eagerly anticipating the third. When it was delayed, something seemed amiss. Finally, a third season was released — but it was only three episodes and Dave was no longer hosting his own show. What happened?
Dave left his own show due to a combination of the pressure of fame and artistic disagreements with Comedy Central. His show always explored mature elements of society like race relations in a hilarious way, but he began to suspect that some of his audience were laughing for the wrong reasons.
He famously left the United States for a 2-week sabbatical in South Africa, and largely stayed out of the limelight for the next ten years. He triumphantly returned to the screen in 2016 to host Saturday Night Live and release several acclaimed Netflix stand-up comedy specials.
This spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer revolved around Buffy’s on-again-off-again vampire lover, Angel. Unlike most vampires, Angel had a human soul and therefore the desire to help mankind instead of hunt them.
The good news is we got to see plenty of Angel — five episodes and 110 episodes — but the bad news is the show ended on a terrible cliffhanger, with the fate of the tortured hero and his allies uncertain.
Unfortunately, show creator Josh Whedon and WB couldn’t come to an agreement before the sixth season was to begin filming. Several people who worked on the show blamed the cancellation on Whedon’s insistence on an early renewal, which put the network in an awkward position.
Angel raked in an impressive average of 3.97 million viewers each episode during its final season. But if you want to know how things turn out after season five, you’ll have to get the comic books.
‘Dead Like Me’ (2003-2004)
The reaper came way too early for this show. Dead Like Me had a darkly original concept — it centered around a recently deceased young woman, Georgia Lass (Ellen Muth), who was tasked with being a reaper before she could move on to the next realm, balancing her job collecting souls with her job at Happy Time Temp Agency.
The network claimed that the ratings weren’t high enough to create a third season, but there’s plenty of evidence that appears to refute this claim. Audiences were not happy with Showtime, and many unsubscribed in protest. The team tried to salvage the plot by releasing a direct-to-DVD movie but, without the whole cast onboard, the magic was lost.
It’s been nearly 20 years since this happened, and it’s still heartbreaking. Unfortunately, this clever futurist western-set-in-space performed poorly in the ratings, and Fox pulled the plug before all 14 episodes of the first season aired.
However, it developed a strong cult following shortly after cancellation, and DVD sales went through the roof. The success was enough to prompt creator Josh Whedon to write and direct Serenity, which is a feature film continuing the story.
Even with the show’s success postmortem, the cult success of the film, and Firefly’s expansion into the comic book medium, we can’t help but feel we missed something when the show went off the air.
‘Batman Beyond’ (1999-2001)
Batman Beyond started by showing an aging Batman — no longer able to physically compete with Gotham’s underworld — nearly breaking his cardinal rule and taking a life out of desperation. Disgusted with himself, Bruce Wayne hangs up his cape and cowl and recruits a young teenager Terry McGinnis to be his replacement.
Viewers were understandably uneasy about writers making radical changes to a beloved storyline and character arch, but the show rose in acclaim and gradually gained a cult following. The show featured some dark and emotional content, but remained appealing and appropriate for kids.
Sadly, it was canceled after running for a mere three seasons.
‘Freaks and Geeks’ (1999-2000)
Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel — just to name a few — all got their start on Freaks and Geeks. How could a show that only lasted 12 episodes launch the careers of so many A-list celebrities? Well, a large part has to do with good old fashioned pettiness.
First of all, NBC failed to find a good time slot for Freaks and Geeks (it competed with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire throughout most of its time on air). Secondly, creator Judd Appatow said the network kept pressuring him to make the characters “cooler,” rather than portray high school for outcasts realistically.
Appatow was so bitter about the show’s cancellation that he decided to make every actor a star. “Everything I’ve done, in a way, is revenge for the people who cancelled Freaks and Geeks.”
Moonlighting starred two A-list celebrities — Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis — and was highly influential on the “dramedy” genre of television. Running five seasons, it lived longer than many of the other entries on this list, but it still never got the proper ending it deserved.
The pair starred as Maddie Hayes and David Addison Jr., two private detectives at Blue Moon Detective Agency.
In 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike and the show halted. By the time the strike ended, Willis had moved on to bigger things (like Die Hard) and Shepherd wanted a break to raise her newborn twins.