Monday, November 2

A Decade Of Television - Instantly Cancelled.



JULES
I think she was in a Pilot.

VINCENT
What's a Pilot?

JULES
Well, you know the shows on TV?

VINCENT
I don't watch TV.

JULES
Yes, but you're aware that there's
an invention called Television, and
on that invention they show shows?

VINCENT
Yeah.

JULES
Well, the way they pick the shows on
TV is they make one show, and that
show's called a Pilot. And they show
that one show to the people who pick
the shows, and on the strength of
that one show, they decide if they
want to make more shows. Some get
accepted and become TV programs, and
some don't, and become nothing. She
starred in one of the ones that became
nothing.

-Pulp Fiction (1994)

Television is a fickle business, controlled by fickle people. What with all the advertisers, focus groups, suits with zero artistic talent and Christian Conservatives, we should be happy that anything decent makes it to the airwaves.

Today, we spotlight 10 selected Television shows that were not only conceived and aired at some point during this decade, but were almost instantly pulled thereafter. Due to lack of ratings, a weak premise or timeslot doomed for failure, these are shows that didn't get much of a chance to succeed, but still deserve a brief remembrance before they're tossed into the dustbin of TV History.



#10
- Quarterlife (NBC)


Survived:
1 episode; not even a full season (2008)

Why It Failed:
I was the only person that watched the Pilot episode; their intended demographic does not watch television on 10pm (Eastern) on a Tuesday.

'This is going to be great,' I thought to myself as the opening titles began to roll on Quarterlife. 'It's going to be like my own personal Thirtysomething.' I should have known that it never pays to be optimistic to the point of lunacy, even if it's only once or twice a year.

To be fair, Quarterlife did attempt to focus on the trials, tribulations and foibles of creative 20-somethings trying to make it in a world that didn't understand their plight. Problem is, that everybody finds the trials, tribulations and foibles of creative 20-somethings to be ridiculously annoying, especially 20-somethings. Word around the campfire is that Quarterlife served up NBC's worst ratings in a decade; even worse than a debate taking place on their MSNBC Channel. Ouch.



#9 - Cracking Up (FOX)

Survived
: 9 episodes; not even a full season (2004)

Why It Failed:
A poor Monday timeslot combined with a lack of stand-out appeal. Molly Shannon.

The Missus wanted this comedy about a college psychiatry major sent to live with a dysfunctional upper-class family to succeed, as it starred the too-cool-for-negative-criticism Jason Schwartzman. I, on the other hand, knew that he peaked with Rushmore and that Phantom Planet was probably the most mediocre band of the entire decade, but that's a different story.

Few things stood out about this show, especially funny things. Hell, I just sat and brainstormed for a few minutes, all I could remember about the show was what the house looked like, and that it starred Molly Shannon, who didn't really have to change her character a single bit for her failed stint on Kath & Kim years later.



#8 - The Loop (FOX)

Survived
: 2 seasons, but only 17 episodes (2006-2007)

Why It Failed:
Got lost in the shuffle, made important storyline changes and FOX wanted to make way for a new Spring schedule. Sucked.

My favorite part of the loop was the role of the main character's boss, played by Philip Baker Hall, who you may remember as 'Bookman' from that incredible episode of Seinfeld. His half-improvisational delivery typically served as the curmudgeonly voice of reason, while the rest of the young, oversexed and completely unrealistic cast spouted one-liners about penises or something. I don't know if this show succeeded in making life at an Airline world headquarters seem more interesting than it actually is, or just dumber.

As you can tell, I never really got too much into this show; it just sort of filled out the evening for me; like a bottle of Miller High Life and a pants-free night of online gambling. Jackpot.



#7 - Oliver Beene (FOX)

Survived
: 2 full seasons over 24 episodes (2003-2004)

Why It Failed:
After replacing Futurama, a huge chunk of audience did not return for Season 2. Also, the delays of FOX NFL coverage always messed up their Sunday comedy block. Howie Long.

FOX's Sunday night comedy lineup has been solid for a long time, boasting both huge winners (King Of The Hill, Arrested Development, Malcolm In The Middle, Futurama), and facepalm-worthy losers (The Pitts, The War At Home, American Dad). However, one of my biggest pet peeves comes during football season, when post-game run-over tends to throw their entire Prime Time schedule out of wack. For up-and-coming shows struggling to find a devoted fanbase, a few delays and timeslot shuffles is all you need to be shown the door.

For all intents and purposes, Oliver Beene should have been(e) a hit (guffawguffawguffaw). It was a solid, smart, nostalgic and well-acted combination of Malcolm In The Middle and The Wonder Years, and for the first season it held its own and put together respectable numbers, earning them an order for another season's worth of show. Then came the dreaded lead-off, post-NFL timeslot, which forced their audience to either sit through Terry Bradshaw ranting about his fourth divorce, or worse yet, having to catch the rebroadcast after the 10pm news.



#6 - The Lone Gunmen (FOX)

Survived
: 1 full season over 13 episodes (2001)

Why It Failed:
As niche as niche can be, this X-Files spin-off only attracted a devout, cult following. We know this because their Wikipedia page is entirely too comprehensive.

"The series revolved around the three characters of The Lone Gunmen; Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers and Richard Langly, a group of "geeky" investigators who ran a conspiracy theory magazine. They had often helped FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files. Unlike The X-Files, whose storylines dealt mainly with supernatural creatures and government alien conspiracies, episodes of The Lone Gunmen generally featured more "plausible" plots, such as government sponsored terrorism, the creeping government-induced police state surveillance society, cheating husbands, corporate crime, arms-dealers, and escaped Nazis. The show had a light atmosphere and focused heavily on physical comedy. The trio were often aided (and sometimes hindered) by a mysterious thief named Yves Adele Harlow (Zuleikha Robinson)."

See what I mean? Great show, though. Funny and nerdy (like The Big Bang Theory), but not contrived and trying way too hard, either (like The Big Bang Theory).



#5 - Carpoolers (ABC)

Survived
: 1 full season over 13 episodes (2007-2008)

Why It Failed:
More than likely, one of many casualties of the 2007-2008 Writers Strike. The lovable Fred Goss is apparently ratings poison.

After Fred Goss' Sons & Daughters was canceled midway through their inaugural season, I was heartbroken, but not surprised. I knew it was a niche show for only a certain group of smart sitcom lovers. So when I heard that Goss would be returning to TV and starring in Carpoolers, and that it would be produced by Kids In The Hall alumni Bruce McCulloch, I about hit the roof. Retribution! Redemption! Surely, we can still have nice things, right?

Well, sort of. The vibe of the show was Sons & Daughters-esque in nature, but they took many cues and laughs from typical sitcom fare. The cast was brilliant and they had moments of near-sublime humor, but it was still a light version of what we were all hoping for. The ratings were okay, and the network seemed to support the show more than they did with Sons & Daughters (they actually promoted Carpoolers from time to time), but when the Writers Guild strike hit later on in that year, many new shows ran out of episodes and simply were not renewed. Carpoolers was one of those shows. I can't say that, had the Strike not happened, Carpoolers would still be on the air, but I certainly wouldn't mind it one bit.



#4 - Night Stalker (ABC)
Survived: 10 episodes; not even a full season (2005-2006)
Why It Failed: Premiered against both CSI and the MLB Playoffs. Wow.

The premise was nothing new. Man loses wife in mysterious, probably-supernatural murder. Man begins investigating similar murders in the hopes that they somehow tie into his wife's. On the outside, it looked like just another ABC Prime Time drama. But slow down, doof. Night Stalker had more than a few things going for it. First off, it was incredibly violent. Secondly, the Odd Couple-esque pairing was the genuinely likable and beautiful Gabrielle Union and Stuart Townsend. Thirdly, the writing and direction was not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, as Twilight Zone and Vault Of Horror plotlines weren't too far off from some of the weekly mysteries. As this was a remake of a 1974 series, that nostalgia seemed more than coincidental.

However, ABC destined this show for failure when it was thrown up against CSI, the legit Most Popular Show On Earth. Considering fans of CSI would have probably enjoyed Night Stalker as well, giving it more of a lead-off spot in the lineup would have probably worked out better in the long run. Add this to the MLB Playoffs taking place on FOX, and there was virtually no audience demographic left for this underrated, underappreciated and not-seen-by-anyone show. No more than 6 episodes in, Night Stalker was unceremoniously pulled from the lineup. Bummer.

By the way, for just $2.99, you can purchase the episode 'Three' from the iTunes store, which is seriously one of my favorite hours of television ever produced. On par with the greatest episodes of The X-Files, Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt ever made. If you buy it and don't agree with me, let me know and I'll send you a CDP button or something.



#3 - Andy Richter Controls The Universe (FOX)

Survived
: 2 seasons but only 19 episodes (2002-2003)

Why It Failed:
Poor ratings due to it being too amazing for its own good (See Development, Arrested).

You know, for as much as I wish that Andy Richter would be given a chance to create some awesome comedic television away from Conan O'Brien, I sometimes forget that he has already starred in three failed sitcoms (Quintuplets and Andy Barker, P.I. being the other two). Most guys don't get that many chances, so you won't hear me claim that he's been dealt a rough hand.

But I still love Andy, and his first crack at solo work, Andy Richter Controls The Universe, is still as good as it got for our cuddly sidekick. In fact, anyone that currently enjoys the ABC hit Better Off Ted has Richter to thank (it was essentially cannibalized). Even as short a time ago as 2003, there weren't a lot of shows on TV that went this route (no laugh track, blatent satire, twisted reality, etc.), and for that first wave of trendsetters, they were thrown under the bus rather quickly to make way for the new wave of classics we still watch today. Godspeed, Andy.



#2 - Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (NBC)

Survived
: 1 full season over 22 episodes (2006-2007)

Why It Failed:
Steadily declining ratings and a completely polarized set of opinions from all who watched. Canceled to bring in The Black Donnellys, which failed after 5 episodes.

There are people who like Aaron Sorkin, and those who do not. Either way, they probably also have a strongly-formed opinion as to why. 'Preachy,' 'Condescending,' 'Wordy' and 'Overwrought' are all likely (and perhaps accurate) criticisms. I came into Studio 60 an impartial viewer. Sure, I really dug Sports Night, but I hadn't watched The West Wing and only remembered A Few Good Men because of the 'You can't handle the truth!' line.

What I saw with Studio 60 was, in my humble opinion, amazing. Now, let me preface the fauning by openly admitting that this kind of show isn't for everyone (clearly), but for me, it was Heaven. From the plot (behind the scenes of a SNL-style sketch show), to the insanely-long conversations about nothing (which always seemed breathtakingly sharp and smart), to the snobby humor, to the wonderful cast (even Matthew Perry shined), to the lavish nightlife of L.A., I couldn't have enjoyed this show more had you extracted the plot directly from my Cerebral Cortex.

What I loved the most about it, even though this sounds like an insult, was that each episode felt like an hour-and-a-half due to the wordy dialogue. This was great for me, because I never really wanted the show to end. I wanted to continue indulging in this unattainable world where everyone was flawed in their brilliance and creative drive.

Now, the show did very well with dudes like me (demographic, income, race, what have you), but for almost everyone else, it started strong and got progressively worse as Joe Q. Public lost their patience, pooped into their collective mitts and smeared feces onto their Television. After long delays, scheduling issues and the pop culture press turning their backs, Studio 60 was not renewed for a second season to make way for The Black Donnellys, a Sopranos knockoff that barely lasted a month.

Now, I don't own the Season One DVD, but I'm sure that Studio 60 doesn't last the test of time. It seemed a little too current, a little too indulgent in pop culture and trends. It was a moment in time. A "You had to be there" sort of thing, maybe. Who knows. I miss the hell out of it, though.



#1 - Sons & Daughters (ABC)

Survived
: 11 episodes; not even a full season (2006)

Why It Failed:
Improvisational aspect and lack of laugh track turned off casual viewers, weak promotion, and did we mention it was aired opposite American Idol?



Fred Goss. The realest dude in sitcom history. Fred Goss. The reason Modern Family has anything even resembling a plot right now. Fred Goss. More than likely me in 10 years. I have nothing more to say about this show; I was never fully able to enjoy it because I knew that it's days were numbered from the start. And then, sure enough, one day it was quietly removed from the schedule and never discussed again, only to make way for a new batch of influenced shows three years later. Life isn't fair, and neither is the fickle world of Television.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. The Decade In Review has begun, and there more TV stuff here for you all week. Tomorrow, the Most Popular TV Shows Of The Decade.

Comments:
I haven't heard of most of these. I started out liking Studio 60 but I as ready for it to go. It grew to be very painful to watch near the end. I actually liked The Black Donnellys but I forgot to keep watching it. I thought Carpoolers sucked. I have a hateful thing about mildly attractive Irish guys like Jerry O'Connell who play hotshot man-whores, which is why I dread Tom Cavanagh.

What about the 8-episode glory that is Traveler? It had Ben's brother from The O.C. and some other hot dudes and explosions and conspiracy. That was a sad time for me: Jericho was going down at the same time. Also why so Firefly evasive? Et tu? For shame.
 
P.S. - Pretend I italicized The O.C.
 
I never saw a single episode of any of these programs.

Completely and totally off-topic: Any Wisconsin area CDP followers looking for a job? The AFSCME field office in Madison is hiring for an Office Assistant (posting is here - http://www.afscme.org/about/27034.cfm)

I apologize for turning this into a jobs board...we now return to your regularly scheduled discussion of obscure tv shows.
 
Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Sons & Daughters were two of my all-time favorites...sigh.

At least we now have such gems as Love Bus Toolbox Playboy Kitten Smashers to all enjoy.
 
Studio 60 was set in LA, so it was a lavish LA nightlife.

I love Sorkin, loved Sportsnight and was a big fan of the West Wing. But there was something about Studio 60 that rubbed me the wrong way. I think with West Wing it is okay to have these big moral stands because they are in politics but on Studio 60 they are people working in Hollywood which just comes off as annoying to me.

Also DL Hughley... I don't like him. He just seems to me that he is always angry and bitter, specifically when he deals with anything with race or politics. Carlin and Rock and other comedians that do a lot of political humor make it through provoking without coming off as preachy or as a douche-bag. DL Hughley doesn't pull it off. Bill Mahr (I still watch his show) and Dennis Miller have crossed into that territory as well, it isn't thought provoking as much as it is angry.

Have you looked at Stuart Townsend's IMDB profile. Except for Robot Chicken the pile of crap that guy has been in has been amazing: Queen of the Damned, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and Will and Grace.
 
KEVIN - Hey, man, I liked Will & Grace. Why so homophobic? I agree with your thoughts on D.L. Hughley. I remember on the show his character was a big advocate for civil rights and racial equality. His character refused to play roles of black stereotypes in skits on the show within the show. I remember near the end of the series he was on Leno and his entire bit was black joke after black joke after black joke. Someone tried to explain to me that this is how black people do comedy, but perhaps I'm just racist because I thought it was degrading.
 
I have a tendancy to fall for the one season shows... Although out of these Lone Gunman is the only one I really watched. Yes, I do own it on DVD. There were just so many that were actually good and failed. This is why I stopped watching TV, now I can't blamed for a shows failure because I like it.
 
CARGIRL - I'm sort of glad that a few people didn't notice the existence of some of these shows; I wanted to spotlight stuff that slipped through the cracks. And while I never watched Traveler, I gave Jericho plenty of opportunities to do its job as a captivating series. To me, they never seemed to know what was going on, and by 'they,' I mean the very writers and producers that should have a master plan before the tape rolls. It was bummer for me, because I really wanted it to be good.

And Firefly? Not really my thing. Too many folks are on Wheadon's wenis for me to hop in line.

MAUS - Thanks for the information. It's weird that you knew that.

JT - Same for me, man. You may get a kick out of tomorrow's essay.

KEVIN - Christ, why the f*** did I write 'New York City?' I knew that! I also agree on D.L. Hughley; dude has never been funny, in my humble estimation. And judging by the political show he had last year, dude can't read, either. And the difference between him and Chris Rock is that...well, you know...Chris Rock is brilliant.

ANDREA - Me and the Missus have a foolproof measuring stick for if a show will last a season or not: Whether her parents watch it. If they do, it's doomed. They seriously have a sixth sense for ratings disasters, which I find wonderfully endearing.
 
We watched Studio 60 for a while, butI think it slowly slipped into irrelevance at the end. Our house only has a few shows on its TIVO, and many times I want to start a drama series that's a serial I missed the first couple of episodes and don't want to take the time to go back. It is just tee vee, though, and there are more cerebral forms of infotainment available - like Black Flag records! (HEH!)
 
For the Pulp Fiction reference: if you listen closely to the plot of the TV show she was on the pilot for, it was eeringly familiar to what the girls did in Kill Bill.

I think you forgot Pushing Daisies and Samatha Who?. Mrs Hoss really liked the latter and we both loved the former. Neither one was given much of a chance, though they technically lasted two seasons.

I watched the first couple of eps of Studio 60 and loved it, and then it got a lot more preachy and so we stopped. But Matthew Perry was excellent.
 
HOSS - I always thought that the Fox Force Five was the inspiration for the Spice Girls a couple of years later, too. Pushing Daisies was a bummer of a cancellation, I hear you.

SMED - TV PARTY TONIGHT!

I see that the preachiness of Studio 60 really was its eventual downfall. Some people dug it, but I think the nays really had it towards the end.
 
CDP - I'm sure I will.
 
I could get on my high horse and be all "Oh snap I never watched any of these!" (which is true) but really, I'm just lazy when it comes to TV. If something doesn't hook me from the get-go--or heck, from the commercials--then I typically don't seek it out unless a very reliable source practically forces me to.

If I had to pick my favorite shows that only saw a few episodes or one season, I'd definitely have to go with Firefly (cliche though that apparently is), My So Called Life (I was young and impressionable!), Jericho (I actually got the impression that they did have a master plan, but maybe I was projecting), and Kings (though it may yet get picked up by another network).
 
I loved The Lone Gunmen. Studio 60 as well, but I have a soft spot for Bradley Whitford. I wish they had made the Black Donnellys into a movie rather than a television show, I think it would have done better.

I wish I could remember better the short lived shows I loved, but they tend to leave my head once they leave the airways. Still missing Pushing Daises though.
 
FIONA - Don't worry about not remembering. The networks do a good job of making you forget. Once a show is no longer making them money, they have absolutely no intention of keeping the memory around. I remember watching the last episode of Night Stalker, and noticing during the credits that there was no 'Next Week On Night Stalker...' preview. That was the last second it was ever mentioned again.

EMILY - I tend to hold a grudge when it comes to stuff like this. I'll be comparing every ABC sitcom to Sons & Daughters for the next 10 years, probably.
 
Speaking of which, I just watched that Sons & Daughters clip, and...you should check it out.
 
Actual Conversation Between Me And The Missus In A Taco Bell Drive-Thru At 11pm Last Night:

ME - "Would you get a Life Insurance payout if I committed suicide?"
MISSUS - "Um...I don't know. I can look into it."
ME - "Could you?"
 
Another that slipped through the cracks due to my viewership: Keen Eddie. But I loved it because I love Julian Rhind-Tutt and it was one of the few roles that he isn't a total tool. As to Firefly, I was introduced to it when it was on DVD.
 
Actually, in my term life policy, you don't get a payout for suicide. But if you eat enough Taco Bell, you're well on your way!

Not that I should talk with my road food habits. Right next to the Fairfield Inn here in Scranton is a Perkins. You know what that means? Post Monday Night Football omelets!
 
I actually saw the one and only episode of Quarterlife too. I found it annoyingly whiny as well, but I was surprised that it got yanked because I find a lot of seemingly popular shows whiny and annoying.

I loved Andy Richter, liked The Loop, was disappointed with The Lone Gunmen and was surprised by my revulsion to Studio 60 given my prior love of all things Sorkin.

I often say that I don't watch much TV, which in and of itself is true, but somehow I'm managed to follow quite a few shows given too early an axe, including a couple not mentioned: Life, Undeclared, Space: Above And Beyond, Pushing Daisies, the obligatory Firefly and the even more obligatory A.D. I also really got into Dead Like Me after seeing a few episodes in syndication. I also know that I've never watched any of these in their entirety until long after they were gone. I only saw a couple Firefly episodes during its original run, yet it was my favorite show at the time. I think with a really great show you can see one or two episodes and really fall into it, whereas no matter the number of times I watch a show like C.S.I. Miami I don't care for the plot or the characters and forget about everything I'd just seen ten minutes after it's over.
 
CARGIRL- I despise will and Grace because it was a show, like Friends, that completely turned into stunt casting to give it any meaning.

Of course if the show was about two lesbians and a dude I would SO have been into it.
 
See, my problems with Will & Grace were the characters of Will and Grace. Whereas Karen and Jack were openly and hilariously despicable and knew it (and therefor quite entertaining), Will and Grace were both Seinfeld-esque self-absorbed twats who thought they shat rainbows. I can't stand that type of character for very long. It's why I could never get into Seinfeld, and why so many Woody Allen movies drive me up the walls.
 
SMED - I've eaten at Perkins at least a thousand times, and it's always been between the hours of midnight and 6am.

WALLROCK - Another Quarterlife viewer!
 
I heart Emily for calling Will & Grace "twats".
 

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