Fox Sci-Fi Shows Canceled Before Their Time
This year marks several anniversaries, not the least of which is the 25th anniversary of the Fox broadcasting network. Geeks among us know that Fox is both savior and devil when it comes to science fiction and niche television, having given us good stuff like The X-Files, and given us heartbreak by canceling Firefly. This is one of those television tropes, we all know it's true, but it's not until you really see the list that you begin to realize how much truth there is to the legend.
I joked with a friend once that if SyFy (the sylli spellying network) was really looking for new content, they should look no further than the refuse bin behind the Fox lot, as the network consistently develops interesting ideas for shows, gets them on the air, then aborts them before they have a chance to gestate, grow up or even gain a following. Most of them would be ripe for a relaunch.
Here are just a few...
The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. (1993) - A Western/sci-fi/comedy/action series starring Bruce Campbell and John Aston from the writers of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade?!? How could this NOT work? Oh yeah, it was on Fox. On Friday nights. (Have we learned nothing from Star Trek's cancellation? Obviously we're all at home watching TV on a Friday night, not out at the movies, or restaurants or bars or anything.)
Despite being on (and winning) TV Guide's Save Our Shows campaign that year, Brisco went the way of the dodo. Granted, the network did give it a full season, 27 episodes before pulling the plug...
Alcatraz (2012) - From Lost creator J.J. Abrams, all the prisoners and guards disappeared from Alcatraz island in 1963, and are suddenly reappearing in modern day San Francisco. Despite ten million viewers on the pilot and one of eight series to be listed "most exciting new series" by critics, Fox pulled out after only 13 episodes.
Alien Nation (1989) - Based on the film about a shipload of alien refugees who wash ashore on Earth seeking asylum, very high-minded sci-fi. Perhaps this should be listed among the successes for the network, as it had strong ratings throughout it's 22 episode run, and was only canned by execs after a financial shortage caused them to cancel ALL of their dramatic shows for the year. Five years later, Alien Nation returned in a series of TV movies to wrap up the loose ends from the cliffhanger.
Brimstone (1998) - A police detective (John Horton) goes after and kills the man who raped his wife, then gets hit by a bus. He goes to hell for the crime, but when 113 of the most depraved souls imaginable escape back to earth, the devil (fiendishly played to the hilt by John Glover) makes a deal for him to go after them. The theme song was even by Peter Gabriel, but only 13 episodes of this fantastic gritty show were made. With the current success and longevity of other similar shows like Supernatural, it's obvious there is a marked for this style of show. So why didn't Brimstone make it? Perhaps it was it's time slot: Friday, so it was doomed from the start.
Dark Angel (2000) - From James Cameron, director of TERMINATOR and ALIENS (and later TITANIC and AVATAR), Jessica Alba stars as Max, a genetically engineered soldier on the run from a shadow government in post apocalyptic America.
The show did great for its first season... and then Fox moved it to Fridays. Guess what happened? Yep, the ratings went into the toilet and the show was canceled after 43 episodes.
Dollhouse (2009) - If there's anyone that Fox clearly loves to dump on, it's Joss Whedon. Oh, maybe they'd feel differently now, canceling a show from the man who wrote and directed THE AVENGERS to over a billion dollars, but back in the day, they killed his work not once but twice.
This was the second time, when Eliza Duskhu stared as a programable human being (or doll) for an elicit organization. The first few episodes were mission of the week kind of things, till suddenly the mythology ark kicked in. 26 episodes spread over 2 seasons allowed Whedon to tell a truncated version of the story... on Friday nights before it was canceled.
Firefly (2002) - This is THE ONE, the holy grail of canceled shows. The only show to generate more hand wringing and complaints about it's demise is Star Trek itself. How is it that we are still talking about, debating and lamenting the loss of Joss Whedon's Firefly ten years later? Only 14 episodes were made, 11 of them shown (of course on Friday nights) and out of order to boot. So how did this show survive? DVD sales for one, a rabid fan base for another.
But ultimately it comes down to the fact that it is a fantastic show, with well written, well conceived characters that's fun to watch. A sci-fi/western about a ship of ner-do-wells struggling to make ends meat. I've introduced nearly everyone I know to Firefly, and not one of them have come away from the series with a sour taste. (Five years ago, it was my de facto Christmas present... for everyone on my shopping list. EVERYONE got a copy of the series, and the only one to not love it is my mother... who has yet to watch her copy. Hurry along, Mom, you're ruining my stat!)
Bottom line, everyone universally loves it. Except for Fox. Eventually Universal stepped in to make the movie SERENITY, which provided an end to the series, (and in a recent poll, Firefly was voted best science fiction show of ALL TIME, and SERENITY was voted best movie.) but Browncoats still aren't satisfied, and talk is afoot over at Netflix and Space Network about reviving the show. Even more impressive is that if asked today, ten years later, every single one of the cast has said they would return.
Futurama (1999) - When Fox approached Matt Groening about creating a second television show a-la The Simpsons, he conceived of this brainy counterpart, featuring a pizza delivery boy unwittingly frozen who awakens in the year 3000. With jokes aimed at nerds including decipherable alien languages written on black boards and graffiti, as well as smart, funny scripts, Futurama was immediately in danger of cancellation by Fox, who just didn't get it. The show was envisioned by it creators to run with The Simpsons, but the network bounced it around the schedule, preempted it for sporting events and in general made it impossible to find. Somewhat surprisingly it did last four seasons, and technically was never canceled, Fox just stopped ordering episodes.
A silver lining though, as Cartoon Network acquired the rights to the shows reruns, and built up the fan base (as happened with the similar Fox show Family Guy). Four movies were commissioned, and then the rights moved to Comedy Central, who (in conjunction with Fox) produced additional new episodes, currently running season 7. Fox has commented that they may consider returning Futurama to the network line up if the good ratings continue.
Harsh Realm (1999) - Chris Carter followed up his success with The X-Files with not one, not two but three shows on this list that Fox canned. This is the third, (and arguably weakest) about humans trapped inside a virtual reality simulation.
Nine episodes were created, only three aired. On Fridays. The show did air it's remaining episodes... On another network.
The Lone Gunmen (2001) - Chris Carter struck again with this spin off from The X-Files about three conspiracy theorists battling government cover ups. The Lone Gunmen were very popular characters, so it only made sense to let them have their own show... on Friday nights.
[Raises hand] "Um, excuse me, Fox execs? Shouldn't you have put this series on Sunday night as a lead in to The X-Files? Oh wait, Futurama/The Simpsons, same mistake." 12 episodes and done, the 13th and final episode of the show was reworked and actually aired as an episode of The X-Files to provide closure.
Millennium (1996) - Chris Carter's non-X-Files shows had rocky relationships with Fox, but this one, about ex FBI agent Frank Black working for the shadowy Millennium group as we approached the year 2000 may have been the best. It was dark, REALLY DARK for television, but it worked well, despite being on you guessed it) Friday nights. Viewership declined over it's three year 67 episode run until it was canned, and a separate post-show episode that was part of... (you guessed it) The X-Files ended the series.
Space: Above and Beyond (1995) - Before a re-imagined and relaunched Battlestar Galactica made it cool, X-Files scribes Glen Morgan and James Wong brought us this show about an interstellar war with an alien race told from the point of view of one squadron of US Marines.
Despite bold and intriguing storytelling, being nominated for two Emmys and a Saturn Award, along with portraying a realistic future, the show was poorly scheduled (Sundays this time out, but opposite 60 Minutes), one season of 24 episodes is all we got.
Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles (2008) - An interesting add on to the TERMINATOR franchise, this continued the story of Sarah Conner (Lena Headey, now enjoying success on HBO's Game Of Thrones) as she tries to prevent Judgment Day from happening along with her son John and Cameron, a female terminator (Firefly's Summer Glau).
Fox strung us along for 31 episodes over two seasons, just enough to allow the writers to start a massive story arc... and then announced the show would not be back for season three. SyFy has the rights to reruns, no word yet on if it may actually be returning.
Terra Nova (2011) - A Steven Spielberg produced show about humanity time traveling back to pre-historic Earth to start civilization over. Oh, and did we mention dinosaurs? Again this sounds fantastic on paper. Fox thought so to, or they wouldn't have green lit the show. But the reality is dollars, and with a cost of $4 million per episode, Fox decided not to renew the show for a second season after airing all 11 episodes. Netflix is rumored to be interested in resurrecting it.
There of course are others. Tru Calling, Werewolf, M.A.N.T.I.S (although the benefits of that show are questionable)hell, even Fringe could be included in this group despite it's fifth season.
There are more and will be more. Fox is the bane of Sci-Fi. And even if SyFy isn't interested, maybe someone else could bring some of these shows back from the ether... <>