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5 Cancelled Genre TV Shows That Were Too Ahead Of Their Time

 

 

Every once in a while a show startles its audience like Marty McFly rocking 1955 with Johnny B. Goode in Back To the Future.

These shows bring a twist so innovative that the majority of television viewers just aren’t quite sure what to make of it at the time. Small packs of devoted fans keep the show alive, with repeated viewings that launch discussions analyzing the smallest details of their beloved stories. It is only later on that these neglected concepts are vindicated by either successful future re-launches or series that, while technically unrelated, carry on the spirit of these pioneering shows.

These five series all featured innovations that were not appreciated in their own time. Only years later do fans reflect on “Why wasn’t that a hit?” because the concepts in these shows seem to be typically successful elements of a hit show. Perhaps in a different day and age they would have had many more seasons of stories added to their legacy. However, in their own era, they were too far into the future.

5. Star Trek

CBS

Star Trek is, without a doubt, the most famous failure on this list. It doesn’t have the relative obscurity of the other shows, but it was neglected in its time and abandoned just the same. Many casual TV viewers believe the series went on for a long run, but that was only the perception created by its rise in popularity through the following years of syndication. At the time it just barely avoided cancellation to last three seasons before the final ax.

The series was ahead of its time in both predicting the future’s technological capabilities and more progressive social norms. The Enterprise’s pocket-sized communicators were today’s cell phones, and their main screen viewer was capable of the original Facetime. Beyond the hardware lay a series that showed a future when bias was overcome: women and men of any background treated each other as equals, and Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura famously participated in TV’s first inter-racial kiss.

The 1960s were a time of great change and Star Trek was still just a little too far ahead of the culture curve. That would soon change in the next decade. As the more liberal seventies came and sci-fi popularity exploded into the mainstream thanks to Star Wars, the crew of the Enterprise received the enthusiastic welcome they missed over ten years earlier. The series was revived as a successful film series and became an entertainment franchise with award-winning spin-off series.

4. Generation X (1996)

FOX

In 1996 Fox Channel aired a TV movie that was the first live action adaption of the popular X-Men comics, Generation X. Based on the comic of the same name, it was the story about the latest teenage generation of mutants living at Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted. The film showed the young adults learning to develop their powers and balancing their super-powered responsibilities to a world while trying to carry on a normal life. That may sound like a very familiar premise to modern TV viewers, but at the time Generation X was on the cusp of something revolutionary. Fox just didn’t see it coming.

The movie was originally conceived as a television series pilot, but the Fox executives decided not pursue it as a series. The pilot was salvaged into a TV film. It was a cautious move that failed to foresee a burgeoning TV trend that was right around the corner. Very soon after this, TV networks would be loading up on series surrounding teenagers and young adults with unusual abilities; like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Roswell, Charmed, and Smallville to name a few. Many more successful series aimed at the burgeoning young adult sci-fi market would come over the years, including X-Men related series like The Gifted.

If Fox gave Generation X the support it would have received as an ongoing new series, more promotion and time to develop a following, the series could have rode the same wave of teen sci-fi enthusiasm that carried similar shows for long runs.

3. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles

ABC

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles debuted on ABC in 1992 featuring stories from the character’s youth as narrated by an elderly modern-day Dr. Jones. The series would earn many awards in its brief two seasons, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Series. Despite the accolades the show was cancelled in the second season because of low ratings. The public just wasn’t interested in a series without Harrison Ford, showing that they weren’t yet able to appreciate a new storytelling device that eventually would become Hollywood’s biggest franchise savior: the prequel.

The prequel has become a way for studios to hit a magic reset button when faced with an impasse with a franchise. In the cases of Batman and James Bond, the respective studios Warner Bros & MGM wiped the slate clean after both series strayed too far into camp with Batman & Robin and Die Another Day. Enter Batman Begins & Casino Royale to restore order. Sometimes the prequel is also employed when a series reaches its natural end like the Harry Potter film series. Other times it is used to put a new spin on a familiar story like Superman’s TV prequel series Smallville.

Ironically the man who had the foresight to initiate the prequel series would later divide his own fanbase with it. George Lucus’s Star Wars prequel films were met with a mixed response, but all were box-office hits. A fifth Indiana Jones film with Harrison Ford has been pushed back to 2021. Even if that film does get made and is well received, Ford will be 79 years old at that time. The Disney owned franchise is unlikely to be retired, even if Harrison Ford does. Then may finally be the time for audiences to embrace an Indiana Jones prequel.

2. Firefly

Fox

Years before The Guardians of The Galaxy were saving the universe while striking it big at the box office, there was another group of space travelling misfits. Firefly debuted in 2002 on the Fox Network, and was cancelled after 11 episodes aired. Fox didn’t even bother broadcasting the three remaining complicated episodes. While it developed a cult following, it never became the blockbuster hit that GOTG was. However they are quite similar.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a comic book unknown to general mainstream audiences. Even non-comic book readers know who Captain America is, but GOTG didn’t have any built-in recognition aside from being part of the Marvel brand. This is similar to Firefly, which was an original creation without a pre-existing network of fans, aside from those fans of the Joss Whedon “brand” consisting of his other hit shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Both teams travel around in “blue-collar” spaceships just eking by, and not above stealing and smuggling to make ends met. Both shows mixed humor and action with a leader who was a bit of a charismatic scoundrel. When the chips are down though both captains have a heart of gold, and lead their rag-tag teams to be heroes.

Firefly had the right stuff to be a hit, but unfortunately just not enough people saw it at the time. If Fox promotions for Firefly had slow-motion shots of Nathan Fillion swaggering down the hallway to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”…perhaps things would have worked out differently for the Serenity crew.

1. The Flash (1990)

CBS

CBS’s The Flash took off from the starting line on September 20th, 1990. True to his fast reputation, it took audiences years to catch up to the Fastest Man Alive. The series only lasted one season during which its time slot was changed so often even a speedster would be hard-pressed to keep up. What the mass audience missed out on in the constant shuffle was a series that was 10 years ahead of two of the biggest genre franchises of the 2000’s.

The duel identity story of Barry Allen is also a duel combination of two types of genres; super-heroes and forensic procedurals. At that time there hadn’t yet been any network drama series focused on forensics. Documentary series, like Forensic Files, weren’t even around yet. It wouldn’t be until CBS’s 2000 show C.S.I. that forensics became an audience obsession. C.S.I. would go on to become a franchise juggernaut for the next 15 years. And for the other half of The Flash’s duel genres?

While there had been super-hero box office hits like 1989’s Batman, they were far and few enough in between that superheroes were not yet a proven commodity to studios. It wouldn’t be until the next century when super-heroes really took hold of mainstream audiences in the 2000’s. Both in films and television, super-heroes have become an industry that brings in billions.

Audiences finally caught up the Scarlett Speedster in 2014 when the CW launched a new Flash series, and this time it was a hit that has run for five seasons and counting.

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