Conan announced that he refuses be pushed back to the 12:05 slot, essentially ending his tenure at NBC. He cited NBC not giving his show the chance to grow. Which got us thinking, what other shows were prematurely snuffed out?
It takes time to build an audience. First, they have to find the show. It needs to consistently air on the same night at the same time for the viewer to remember to tune in. After they find it, it must gain traction by allowing the audience to be acquainted with its style, characters and writing. Prematurely pulling the plug on a show without giving it a chance to hit its stride not only crushes whatever fans it has, but leaves them wondering "what if?"
Seinfeld was nearly canceled multiple times throughout its infancy and at one point it was almost sold to Fox. But with a strong lead-in (Cheers), and patience on the network's part to give it time and nurturing to find a consistent audience, it blew-up and became the definitive show of the 90's. Here are six shows that might have been the next Seinfeld if the network execs didn't prematurely pull the plug. Let's call the unfortunate premature fates of these shows The Inverted Seinfeld Theory.
Andy Richter Controls the Universe
Lifespan: Two seasons (19 episodes)
Worse show that ran for longer: The Drew Carey Show
Why it could have been great: This could really just be devoted to Andy Richter. The man is cursed. He's had three failed shows (not including The Tonight Show), Andy Richter Controls the Universe being the best of the bunch. He played an aspiring writer that had to work an office job. his imagination got him through the day. It wasn't the best, but it was still better than anything The George Lopez Show pooped out over six seasons.
My So-Called Life
I can't pretend that I watched this show (I know, I know, shut up), so I'll turn to Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum—a rabid fan of this show—for this one.
Lifespan: One season.
Worse show that ran for longer: Saved By the Bell
Why it could have been great: "My So-Called Life" told the story of Angela Chase, an introspective Pittsburgh teenager coping with all the struggles of growing up: changing friendships, budding sexuality, and battles with parents. In addition to offering a fresh, unique perspective to the primetime line up; MSCL boldly refused to shy away from controversial topics like gay teenagers, violence in schools, and, of course, sex.
Why it was canceled: Low ratings combined with ABC's difficulties in promoting the show.
The Knights of Prosperity
Lifespan: 11 episodes
Worse show that ran for longer: According to Jim
Why it could have been great: It was the only funny ABC comedy at the time. In a world of According to Jim's, Knights of Prosperity actually thought outside the box. It revolved around a bunch of misfits who tried to rob celebrities like Ray Romano and Kelly Ripa. Including a multi-episode plan to rob Mick Jagger. The show was quick-witted, irreverent (for ABC), filled with clever A-list cameos, and had endless potential.
Why it was canceled: They shot a full season, only aired 11 episodes, then put the rest online afte it was canceled, only to take them down. This was a microcosm of why this show never became successful: Network indecision. Low initial ratings led to panicked executives constantly shuffling around what day it aired. Also, they could never come up with a good name for the show. (It was initially called Let's Rob Jeff Goldblum. Ungh.)
Freaks and Geeks
I'll turn this one over to another superfan, our own Matt Cherette.
Lifespan: 18 Episodes
Worse show that ran for longer: The OC
Why It Could Have Been Great: Freaks and Geeks made it cool to be uncool, made the journey of self-discovery—and that of self-disappointment—something to be celebrated instead of feared, made the very real ups and downs of life as a high school student palpable for all the very, very real kids watching it at home (myself included). The Judd Apatow-produced NBC dramedy (for want of a better term), which premiered in 1999, told the story of a group of early-1980s students from a fictional town in suburban Michigan and centered around two social groups: the "freaks" and the "geeks." But the freaks weren't always so freaky, the geeks weren't always so geeky, and—in the end—everybody started to learn to take a piece or two from one another while staying true to themselves. Pair the relatable (without being kitschy) storyline with an across-the-board stellar cast, and NBC had the formula for both a critical and popular hit.
Why It Was Canceled: Despite gaining a cult following after only a few episodes, NBC canceled Freaks and Geeks because of ratings issues after only 12 episodes (18 had been shot). A post-cancellation, fan-propelled campaign forced NBC's hand, however, and the network broadcast six previously unaired episodes in the summer of 2000. Six extra episodes is better than none, but Freaks and Geeks is truly a show that should have been given six extra seasons. For shame.
Lifespan: 3 seasons
Worse show that ran for longer: Modern Family (I know, it's only in its first season. But it will run longer, and is way worse than Arrested Development.)
Why it could have been great It goes without saying. The most forward thinking, intelligent, left-of-center American show since The Simpsons. The humor was unapologetically cerebral, the acting was deadpan and brilliant, and the characters were unique and easy to love, even though they were terrible people. A near-perfect show.
Why it was canceled Never found a wide enough audience. While it had a rabid cult following, it could never cross over to the mainstream. And one must applaud Fox for giving it the opportunity to gain traction, unlike the rest of the shows on this list.
Lifespan: One season
Worse show that ran for longer: Family Guy
Why it could have been great: A smart, well written, and especially crude show that parodied "teachable" high school dramadies. It focused on a high school populated by historical figures like Joan of Arc, Gandhi, JFK, and Abe Lincoln. Each with a personality that contradicts what the historical figure stood for. Like Gandhi recording a hip hop song entitled "G-Spot."
Why it was canceled: Officially, it's on hiatus....since 2003. So it's essentially canceled. Why it was canceled is kind of a mystery. It didn't have the rating demands that usually plague network shows, and it had a built-in MTV audience. Maybe it simply wasn't long for this world.
We look back at these shows as canceled before they were given a chance to shine, but that's partially why we love them so much. They were never even given the opportunity to jump the shark, so people only look back at them with the fondest of memories. The ideas were fresh, and the best possible product was displayed during the show's lifetime. Lightning in a bottle. This can also be applied to music. Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Hendrix, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, the dude from Drowning Pool. No one ever doubted their genius because they were never given the chance to sell out. Take Paul McCartney, who went on to seriously outlive Lennon. So much so that he is still living. He has made some terrible songs—some even worse albums—and in no way will he achieve the legendary status of a Lennon, Morrison, or Redding. So while short-lived, we shouldn't look for what could have been, but for what was, and appreciate these shows in their brief, but brilliant runs on the television landscape.
Other shows that were canceled prematurely:
Greg the Bunny
Dead Like Me