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Hollywood's Small Screen Failed Promises: 16 TV Shows That Failed to Live Up To Viewers' Expectations

Updated on February 16, 2012
Even Betty White couldn't save "Boston Legal" from cancellation.
Even Betty White couldn't save "Boston Legal" from cancellation. | Source
Dushku tried to fight off the end of the world on "Dollhouse."
Dushku tried to fight off the end of the world on "Dollhouse." | Source
O'Mara coped with a new decade and a conspiracy on "Life on Mars."
O'Mara coped with a new decade and a conspiracy on "Life on Mars." | Source
Can "Glee" fix its past mixtakes in order to keep viewers?
Can "Glee" fix its past mixtakes in order to keep viewers? | Source
The full cast of "October Road."
The full cast of "October Road." | Source
Zea schemed up a new wardrobe on "Dirty Sexy Money."
Zea schemed up a new wardrobe on "Dirty Sexy Money." | Source
Prepon and Greenberg tried to work through their differences to no avail on "October Road."
Prepon and Greenberg tried to work through their differences to no avail on "October Road." | Source
Delany moved from "Pasadena" to Wisteria Lane to "Body of Proof" within the course of a decade.
Delany moved from "Pasadena" to Wisteria Lane to "Body of Proof" within the course of a decade. | Source
O'Loughlin's first failed attempt at television stardom in "Moonlight."
O'Loughlin's first failed attempt at television stardom in "Moonlight." | Source
Valley tried to stop the violence and "Human Target" from being cancelled to no avail.
Valley tried to stop the violence and "Human Target" from being cancelled to no avail. | Source
The cast of the cancelled "Life" led one star to "Homeland."
The cast of the cancelled "Life" led one star to "Homeland." | Source
Krause and Sutherland make a new deal on "Dirty Sexy Money."
Krause and Sutherland make a new deal on "Dirty Sexy Money." | Source
The cast of "Parenthood."
The cast of "Parenthood." | Source
Dushku makes a plan on "Dollhouse."
Dushku makes a plan on "Dollhouse." | Source
O'Mara fought to save alive on "Terra Nova."
O'Mara fought to save alive on "Terra Nova." | Source
Jones comforted a contestant on "The X-Factor."
Jones comforted a contestant on "The X-Factor." | Source
O'Loughlin waded through another failed CBS show in "Three Rivers."
O'Loughlin waded through another failed CBS show in "Three Rivers." | Source
O'Loughlin practiced medicine on "Three Rivers."
O'Loughlin practiced medicine on "Three Rivers." | Source
Wolk never had a chance to shine on "Lone Star."
Wolk never had a chance to shine on "Lone Star." | Source
Palicki and Johnson scheme on "Lone Star."
Palicki and Johnson scheme on "Lone Star." | Source
Jackson and Torv solve another mystery on "Fringe."
Jackson and Torv solve another mystery on "Fringe." | Source
Danson searches for evidence on "CSI."
Danson searches for evidence on "CSI." | Source

What makes a television show worth watching? Is it stellar plot filled a years long mystery (Lost) or a nighttime soap full sex and scandal (Desperate Housewives)? Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to determine what shows will rise to the occasion (Friends, Seinfeld and CSI) and which ones will crash and burn before the end of their first season (Mr. Sunshine and Work It spring to mind). Of course, there’s also the issue of a few shows that made it past season one just to fall apart due to a creative slump (House, Weeds and Desperate Housewives) or failed attempts to upgrade an already successful formula (Harry’s Law). Quality is in the eye of the television viewer. That’s why popular hits like NCIS and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are still on the air, even if they’re long past their prime.

At the start of last fall’s TV season, a batch of shows delivered some huge promise, while others simply burned out before the first episode ended. Here is a list of sixteen shows for various reasons that either failed to deliver, had flawed premises, or never simply got their chance to shine. Read on to see if you agree or disagree with this list. See if your favorite or least favorite show is currently on there or deserves to be among them.

Sci-Fi Oddities/Duds

Dollhouse (2009-2010) - Poor Eliza Dushku. She hasn't had much luck in headlining a television show since she left her popular Buffy The Vampire Slayer character's spin-off possibility in the dust. Her first attempt Tru Calling folded after two brief seasons. Dollhouse reunited her with Buffy creator Joss Whedon as a blank slate corporate doll in Echo who was a special one that carried memories from each assignment. Conspiracies and global disaster also were covered in the show. Fox moved the show to a ratings dead zone (Friday nights) and the show's few fans were surprised that it was renewed for season two. Sadly, Fox pulled the plug just as their hopes rose for season three were raised just a little bit. Maybe next the third show will be the charm.

The Event (2010-2011) - Plane crashes, aliens living on Earth and a young couple on the run filled this NBC drama that started off strong, but fell apart in the end. Event couldn't follow through with its stellar pilot and it didn't help that there was a few month hiatus between episodes that sealed its cancellation fate for good. It's a shame, because the show had such early potential that was just foolishly squandered.

Life on Mars (2008-2009) - A modern day cop (Jason O'Mara) gets hit by a car and thrown into 1973 New York. He has to pretend to fit in with the rules and regulations without giving away the truth. He had a suspicious boss (Harvey Keitel) and an ally/love interest (Gretchen Mol). This ABC remake was able to air a complete story, but it seemed wasteful to invest in a show that wasn't meant to last past one season.

Flashforward (2009-2010) - This ABC show had a unique premise of the world being impacted for two minutes and get a picture of what their future will be like six months down the line. Some were a lot happier than others. A cop (Joseph Fiennes) was among many others that were tasked with solving the mystery. The premiere episode was pitch perfect, but it was the follow-up ones that detailed the mystery that were disappointing. It also didn't help that ABC put the show on hiatus for a few months that ultimately led to its cancellation.

Early Start/Poor Finish

October Road (2007-2008) - A local boy (Bryan Greenberg) returned back to his hometown after publishing a successful book and is riding high on the success. Unfortunately, the people he left behind aren't so happy. His best friend (Geoff Stults) and ex-girlfriend (Laura Prepon) wanted nothing to do with him. His family didn't know what to make of his return. Road was initially a success in its brief first season, but it fell apart by the time season two rolled around with no real explanation. It just didn't feel the same anymore. Road had huge potential early on, but it also didn't help that the show had too much fall season competition to make it to a third season.

Dirty Sexy Money (2007-2009) - Money followed a very wealthy NY family headlined by Donald Sutherland and the late Jill Clayburgh as Mr. and Mrs. Darling, as well as the exploits of their four complicated children. The show's resident lion tamer was family lawyer Nick George (Peter Krause) as he fought to maintain some stability in his job and home lives. Unfortunately, his marriage fell apart and his feelings for his ex-flame Karen Darling (Natalie Zea) resurfaced. Due to the 2007 Writer's Strike, the first season was cut short before it could be fully developed. The 2nd season made too many changes and added cast members (Blair Underwood and Lucy Liu) when the damage was already done. Money was given the cancellation axe and its cast members moved on to better things, such as Parenthood and Justified.

Glee (2009-present)- The first season introduced audiences to a musical experience unlike any other. The show made stars out of Lea Michele and Jane Lynch. It featured songs from Journey, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Unfortunately, season two nearly fell apart under the weight of too many celebrity guest stars (Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow etc). Okay, Gwyneth's appearances were good, but the show milked it for one too many episodes. Glee's third season, on the other hand, has been wildly erratic and has strayed far from the show's roots. Let's hope that future episodes will fix this error before viewers tune out in droves.

Human Target (2010-2011)- Poor Mark Valley. He can't seem to catch a break on network television, especially Fox. His shows Keen Eddie, Pasadena and now Human Target have all folded in two seasons or less. Target followed a former hitman turned good guy in Christopher Chance (Valley) who worked with a former cop (Chi McBride) and a gun for hire (Jackie Earle Haley) to help save lives. The second season added two women to the cast to lure female viewers, but it didn't still didn't save Human Target from being cancelled.

Never Got Their Due

Pasadena (2001) - This Nighttime Fox Soap had critics loving it, but audiences shunned it. The show followed a wealthy and society prominent West Coast family that included Dana Delany, Mark Valley and Alison Lohman in its cast roster. Pasadena followed the family as their dirty secrets started to come to the surface and the lengths that they went to protect them. Sadly, Fox cancelled the show too early before everything was revealed. In a surprising turn, the network allowed the show to finish telling their story by filming the rest of the season, so that the show’s ardent fans could see the conclusion on SoapNet when they re-ran the season years after its cancellation.

Moonlight (2007-2008) - This cult-classic but cancelled CBS drama never truly had a chance to shine in its Friday night timeslot, because its fan base wasn’t usually home to watch television on Fridays. The show would’ve been better served on a cable channel than a network one. This show introduced a Vampire hero in PI Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin) who gave Edward Cullen a run for his money. Mick was a mixture of danger, intrigue and had a lethal desire for blood. His bizarre attraction to an Online Tabloid Journalist (Sophia Myles) with a connection to his past was the driving force behind the show, but that romance couldn’t sustain CBS’s rating expectations which lead to them pulling the plug after the first season finale. It’s a shame because the show had the potential to last longer than one season.

Life (2007-2009)- This failed NBC show introduced audiences to the early acting talents of Homeland star Damien Lewis who portrayed a brilliant cop falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The first episode had him cleared of all charges and returned him to routine police work with a quirky twist. NBC and audiences didn’t know what to make of this quirky procedural show, which caused the network to cancel it. The only blessing was that it gave Lewis the opportunity to truly flex his acting muscles on Showtime’s Homeland. It was Showtime’s greatest blessing and NBC’s biggest mistake.

Boston Legal (2004-2008) - This popular spin-off of the David E. Kelly created The Practice had a five season long run, but it was never given any respect from ABC. It was shifted from Sundays to Tuesdays in favor of Grey’s Anatomy during its first season. Legal was also moved to Wednesdays and then Mondays where it finished out its run. It also didn’t help with the constant cast changes either. The only cast members that seemed to truly stand the test of time were stalwarts James Spader, William Shatner and Candace Bergen. Everyone else was expendable. Some didn’t work out (Lake Bell and Rhona Mitra) and others weren’t given their proper due (Julie Bowen and Mark Valley). Maybe, that’s why Kelley cast him as a lawyer on the second season of Harry’s Law. It’s too early to tell whether he’ll be given a pink slip on that show too with its rating in decline from its last season.

DOA/On Life Support

Three Rivers (2009-2010)- This medical drama was Alex O’Loughlin’s second failed CBS drama in a row. In Rivers, he played a Doctor who specialized in organ transplants and had a painful past to boot. Each episode had a pretty routine plot scenario that offered nothing but boredom for the audience, because there were no surprises. Everyone got the organ transplant they needed to get against all the odds. Unfortunately, the show wasn’t meant to last past its first season and was given the cancellation axe fairly early on.

Lone Star (2010)- This Foxdrama about a young con artist (James Wolk) was angling for a big payday and juggling two lives. One involved him being married to the daughter of a very wealthy businessman (Jon Voight) and the other involved him being the regular guy husband to another woman. Star’s lead-in House was still pulling in decent ratings for Fox, which meant that the show had the potential for success. It also helped that critics loved it, but the problem was that audiences didn’t. The ratings were too low for Fox to fully invest anymore time into it and cancelled after just two episodes. It’s a shame, because Lone Star never fully had a shot to unravel its complex con artist story fully. At least, Wolk has moved on to a prominent guest starring role on the hit comedy Happy Endings.

Terra Nova(2011) - Nova was sadly destined for disaster from the start. It had a decent but costly two hour pilot that had some campy special effects and a plot that reeked of Avatar with Dinosaurs. The following episodes were more Pre-Historic procedural mixed with some Sci-Fi conspiracies. Jason O’Mara portrayed a family man/former cop who sunk into Terra Nova to be with his wife and three daughters. Instead, he became the right hand man to Commander Taylor (Stephen Lange) and forced in a war that he had no control over. Nova completed its first season last fall and its hopes for a season two are unlikely. The finale wrapped up most of the remaining storylines and left a few mysteries dangling just in case, but the prognosis isn’t looking too good.

The X-Factor (2011-present) – This reality competition show had high expectations from the get-go that haven’t been met as of yet. It’s an American transplant based on the hit British version that launched Leona Lewis’ musical career. Unfortunately, the Simon Cowell headlined show hasn’t been able to generate the same musical spark in the states partly because of the lackluster list of contestants and the other being a lack of chemistry between the judges. That explained why Cowell gave pink slips to Judges Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and the host Steve Jones. The only ones that will be returning are Cowell and fellow Judge L.A. Reid. Some big names have been floated around as possible replacements. Only time will tell if the major overall will help or hinder The X-Factor from becoming the show it could be. It could also be doomed because audiences are suffering from singing competition fatigue with The Voice and American Idol clogging the airwaves as well.

In the end, not all ideas are meant to last forever. For every Everybody Loves Raymond, there’s a Men of a Certain Age right after it. It’s impossible for a popular show to sustain fans’ expectations for the entire course of its run; even Lost had a period where fans wanted to give up around seasons 2 and 3. Television writers need to come up with a concrete plan when getting a show to air and stretching its run from start to finish. Once a plan has been ironed out, fans will decided whether they want to stick around or not. A few shows are worth the extra confusion and aggravation (Fringe and CSI). As long as fans tune in, their favorite shows will stick around regardless of whether the show truly is.


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      6 years ago

      I found Glee to be way better in season 2 than in season 1, but I do agree that season 3 is really erratic and the show needs to get back to its roots before it gets really unwatchable.


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