Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday Tops: The Top 10 Sci Fi Shows Cancelled Before Their Time

On select Tuesdays, we’re going to have some fun with the “Tuesday Tops”, and talk about the top “things” in different categories of my choosing (hey, it’s my blog!)  I was chatting on one of my Facebook groups about old TV shows, and how there are always great shows that get cancelled before their time, especially in the sci-fi area.  So many of them were really great, and had tons of potential.  So this week, in the first edition of the “Tuesday Tops”, I bring you my list of the Top Ten Sci Fi Shows Cancelled Before Their Time!

I did have to have a couple of criteria.  First, it had to be a show I saw when it was aired.  So, shows like the original “Star Trek”, which many I’m sure would feel belong on this list, was originally aired before I was even born, so it’s out.  Second, it had to have an unsatisfying ending or obviously had more story to tell.  You’ll see several of these were cancelled after cliffhanger season finales.

#10 Invasion
Network: ABC
Seasons: 1
Years: 2005-2006

This story, which was certainly influenced by “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, took place in a small town in Florida in the aftermath of a hurricane.  People who were caught in the storm seemed to have “changed” somehow.  Other strange occurrences, including the appearance of odd glowing creatures in the water, filled the days following the devastating event.  The series finale centered around a second hurricane headed for the area and fears, among those not affected by the first, about what the second might do.

I’m not sure why this series did not take off.  William Fichtner provided a sufficient creepy factor as the town sheriff who was obviously no longer himself.  The rest of the cast was solid, and shows like this that have an air of mystery about them (What were the creatures?  Where did they come from and what did they want?) have always appealed to me.  Creator Shaun Cassidy stated that the show was originally conceived as a five-season story arc.  It could be that production costs and a dislike of the show by ABC executives, despite a strong core following and critical acclaim, led to the demise of this series.

#9 Threshold
Network: CBS
Seasons: 1
Years: 2005-2006

I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that the same year “Invasion” came to ABC, this series landed on CBS.  However, “Threshold” had a different take on the alien invasion theme.  In the pilot, a strange interdimensional probe appears near a U.S. Navy vessel.  It emits a signal that, over time, rewrites the DNA of those who are exposed to it, and turns them into super-human soldiers with the overwhelming drive to propagate the signal and eventually have the entire human race join them.  The “Threshold” team is assembled to combat this threat, led by Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey, a scientist who had written several poorly received (until this point) response plans to combat various alien invasion scenarios.

This series was cancelled after only 10 aired episodes, so it was never really given a chance to develop.  The premise was different enough where it might not have appealed to a wide audience.  It was at times a little more cerebral than your typical alien invasion action-fest.  I think if it were given a chance, the characters (especially Dr. Caffrey and team member Arthur Ramsey, played by the very good Peter Dinklage) would have had an opportunity to grow into their roles.  Brent Spiner and Charles S Dutton were also part of the above-average cast.

#8 Flashforward
Network: ABC
Seasons: 1
Years: 2009-2010

Everyone on Earth simultaneously blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, causing accidents, deaths, and mass chaos.  In the aftermath, it is discovered that for that short period of time, everyone received a glimpse of where they will be exactly six months from that point.  An FBI task force is formed to investigate how the blackout occurred and in doing so, several members are led to question what they saw … or didn’t see.

I loved this show.  It had a very “Lost” feel about it, and in fact there was some speculation on the internet that this show might eventually crossover into the story that “Lost” built, since they were both ABC series.  The show won one Emmy and was nominated for two others.  As I recall, the series finale ended with a second blackout occurring.  Honestly, ABC messed this one up by putting the show on a three-month hiatus in the middle of its first season. It could never get its traction back after that, and thus another great show got cancelled with a cliffhanger as its series finale.

One powerful event in the series centered around the fact that, of course, there were many people that saw nothing during the blackout.  The theory was that these people were to die sometime in those six months.  In order to prove that the future could be changed, one character who saw in his vision that sometime in the next six months he will have killed a mother and a child in a car accident (and it was revealed that they saw nothing in their vision), committed suicide to prevent that from happening.

#7 The 4400
Network: USA Network
Seasons: 4
Years: 2004-2007

In one eventful day, 4400 missing persons are suddenly, simultaneously returned.  None of them have aged past the day they were taken.  Each one is returned with some kind of new ability they must learn to control and decide how to use. Some just want to be left alone, some want to use their abilities to help, others want to use them just to help themselves.  A special task force is assembled to investigate what happened and to stop those who decide to use their abilities in the wrong way.

Four seasons seems like a long time, except for the fact that this was a USA Network summer series of only about 10 or 11 episodes a season, with months in between.  This show is the first on the list where the producers seemed to know the show might not be renewed, so they wrote a finale that could have continued the story but also cleared up at least some of the plot points.  Even so, this show could have gone on for quite a while.

#6 Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Network: Fox
Seasons: 2
Years: 2008-2009

Not much needs to be said about the premise for this show.  It takes place after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as Sarah and John Connor continue to fight to ensure Skynet never gets built.  Several terminators are sent back in time at various points, but their mission seems to have changed slightly.  Instead of just going after the Connors, they also appear to be trying to bring about the very events that lead to their own creation.  Summer Glau takes over as the terminator (given the name Cameron) sent back to be John’s protector – a great casting choice in my humble opinion.  I actually read that the role was created with her in mind because of her action scenes in “Serenity”.

Fox has a history of not giving good shows a chance, and this was no exception.  It did have a couple of problems – it basically completely diverged from the Terminator 3 storyline.  Some fans were completely ok with this, I’m sure a few had a problem with it.  And the casting of Shirley Manson as a T-1000 just didn’t work for me.  But still, as a huge fan of the Terminator movies, this series greatly added to the story and deserved better than a cliffhanger ending (the series ended with teenage John sent into the apocalyptic future).  No resolution, of course.

#5 Space: Above and Beyond
Network: Fox
Seasons: 1
Years: 1995-1996

An Earth colony 16 light-years from Earth is destroyed in an alien attack, and the attackers are headed for Earth itself.  With Earth at war with an unknown enemy, the series focuses on a particular unit of Marine pilots and their struggles with the enemy and each other.

Hey, look, here’s Fox again!  This show was of course action-packed, but also dealt with the dirty side of conflict.  The good guys were not always perfect, and the bad guys weren’t always pure evil.  The revelation towards the end of the series that the Chigs (the aliens) may have actually been from Earth was a great twist.  This was the new “Battlestar Galactica” before the new “Battlestar Galactica”.  I did read that a couple of the actors might not have been happy with the show, but my bet is production costs eventually killed this one well before its time.  The effects were very good for the time on television, and the show earned two Emmy nominations.

#4 Star Trek: Enterprise
Network: UPN
Seasons: 4
Years: 2001-2005

The prequel series to the original, this series took place during the very beginnings of the Federation, following the crew of the first starship Enterprise under the command of Jonathan Archer and the first multi-species crew in Starfleet, which at the time was purely an Earth military force.

This was the only one of the new Star Trek series that lasted less than seven seasons, and it showed as the finale (which was probably always meant to be the formation of the Federation) felt very rushed.  Plus they brought in two Next Generation characters for the finale (Riker and Troi) which they probably were meaning for an episode in the middle of the series.  I felt like every Star Trek series since the original seemed to need about two seasons under its belt before it really hit its stride, and Enterprise was like this too.  Basically, it was starting to get really good when it got cancelled.  This marked the end (for now) of Star Trek on television – it remains to be seen if the J.J. Abrams reboot movies will revive this great franchise on the small screen.

I just have to say one thing – what were they thinking with that horrible opening theme song????

#3 Eureka
Network: SyFy
Seasons: 5
Years: 2006-2012

What do you get when you put a regular guy in charge of security at a town full of supergenius scientists pushing the cutting edge of technology, often at their own peril and putting the entire world at risk almost every week?  You get the town of Eureka, Oregon.  Sheriff Jack Carter, almost by accident, falls into the job of head of law enforcement in the town where the government has collected the greatest scientific minds of the time.

This quirky show is by far the best SyFy has ever produced, with action, humor, great characters, and enough continuing story arcs to keep continuity freaks like me interested.  To be honest, the show didn’t end on a big cliffhanger and the end was fairly satisfying – this show is on the list because I just didn’t want it to end.  The chemistry between the two leads was great too.

#2 Torchwood
Network: BBC/Starz
Seasons: 4
Years: 2006-2011

This spinoff of Doctor Who follows the popular character Captain Jack Harkness, who heads Torchwood Three, the last remaining operating division of Torchwood.  Their mission is to monitor a space-time rift running through Cardiff and protect humanity from all manner of extraterrestrial and extradimensional threats that are attracted to it.  Gwen Cooper is the newest member of Torchwood and almost plays Companion to Captain Jack.  The show consisted of two full seasons and was followed by what amounted to two mini-series.  The final ten-episode miniseries, “Miracle Day”, was aired by Starz and added Mekhi Phifer to the cast as a CIA agent working with Torchwood. 

Every time a season of this show ends, there is a clamoring for more, and for good reason.  Jack Harkness is probably the most popular non-companion character from the new Doctor Who series, and the platonic chemistry between he and Gwen is the heart of the show.  This is the all-grown-up, dark version of Doctor Who – Torchwood is willing to do things that the Doctor would likely never do, and are put into situations where they have little choice.  Why is this on the list?  Because I really want to know what happens to Mekhi Phifer’s character – and there are always new stories to be told about this group.  Even as I write this, there is ongoing speculation about a new season, and if anyone is willing to bring back shows after multi-year breaks, it’s the Brits.

#1 Firefly
Network: Fox
Seasons: 1
Years: 2002-2003

Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them.  Sounds simple enough right?  What that canned synopsis doesn’t tell you is how great the characters, stories, dialog, and action were in this short-lived combination of Science Fiction and Western from the genius mind of Joss Whedon.

This one makes me want to scream.  There is absolutely no reason this show should not have worked, other than gross mismanagement by the network.  Episodes were aired inconsistently and out of order.  I have to admit, I broke my own rule with this one – this is the one show on the list I did not see when it was aired.  Only later, when I got the DVD set, did I appreciate what a great series this was and had the potential to be.  The follow-on motion picture “Serenity”, although also great, only did so much to satiate the appetite for this show.  Shame on you Fox, shame!!

So, that is my list.  What about you?  Do you remember any of these shows?  Are there others you think should be on the list?

Also, what other types of “lists” do you think would be fun to come up with?


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Rudy and Trish are the main characters in our two published short stories in the "Evernight: Romance in a World of Darkness" anthologies.  You can get to know them as well as get 23 other great stories!  Here's where you can find them:

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  1. Replies
    1. *smacks forehead* Forgot about Jericho, maybe because it was cancelled not once, but TWICE! LOL. Agree, another great show.

  2. I was so mad when Firefly was cancelled. Eureka was awesome too. Terminator, 4400, Threshold, Invasion--all really good. I missed some of the other shows. Great list.


  3. As soon as I read the title of this blog, I knew Firefly had to be on here. It was a fantastic show.