With literally hundreds of television shows premiering every year, it’s obvious that most of them will fail – even the good ones. We’ve all felt the pain of our favorite underdog show being ripped away from us before we get that closure we need about the time traveling ghost dog, or college kids who solve mysteries (or whatever). More than once, we’ve all screamed, “Why was my show canceled?!” to the heavens without hearing a response. Fear not fellow viewers, we’ve tracked down the hard answers to why popular shows get canceled and laid them out here for you. Now rip off that band-aid and read about why your favorite show got canceled.
In a surprise move, Fox abruptly canceled Brooklyn Nine-Nine after five seasons in May 2018. The network did not give a reason for the cancelation, but some outlets speculated it could have been axed to make room for another night of football programming.
Universal Television produced the series; Deadline suggested contract negotiations with the outside production company might have gone south.
Encapsulating the tragically beautiful spirit of the whole series, Penny Dreadful ended with hope, despair, and more than a little shock. During the third season finale, hearts broke over the selfless passing of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and emotions blazed when the words “The End” marked the unexpected ending to the series.
As to why exactly Penny Dreadful was canceled, series creator John Logan simply felt it was the right thing to do for the story. He explained: “To me, the show was always going to achieve closure with the death of Vanessa. And all the storylines this season were meant to be leaving characters at a place of appropriate and beautiful stasis.” With its poetic ending, Penny Dreadful fans will undoubtedly remember their favorite characters in the final moments Logan created for them.
In hindsight, it’s probably good that Firefly was canceled. After all, we got Serenity and two rad Avengers movies out of the death of the space western that could. But why was it canceled? Sadly, Joss Whedon’s one time producing partner Gail Berman had to cancel the show because of poor ratings.
“It was a numbers thing. It was a wonderful show and I loved it and I loved working with him on it but that was a big show, a very expensive show and it wasn’t delivering the numbers.”
In 2007, Veronica Mars was one of the only shows with an intelligent female protagonist, so it seems short-sighted to cancel it. It had a huge fan base that was continuing to grow, and has become something of a cult classic even today.
Series creator Rob Thomas shed some light on the early end of the series, saying that after he pitched a variation of the show, the head of CBS decided the format didn’t work and took the show off the air.
It’s an understatement to say that people loved Arrested Development. Loved it. But after three seasons the show was canceled for having very low ratings. Series creator Mitch Hurwitz had offers to take the series to Showtime, but he declined, feeling that the show had run its course.
If you’re wondering how the actors felt about the cancellation, why not let David Cross tell you?
Freaks and Geeks was in the first class of cult tv shows of the modern era to spawn a massive audience, and launched the careers of pretty much everyone involved. Garth Ancier, the exec who cancelled the beloved show, is still defending his decision.
After Seth Rogen called him out at a taping of SNL (and then tweeted about it) Ancier said, “I thought we had a very nice chat about Freaks and Geeks on Saturday night. As I said, my only note to Judd Apatow over the entire series was that either the Freaks and/or the Geeks should win the occasional victory over the cooler kids — especially since Judd Apatow has taken that note in every hit movie since.” Burn.
If you didn’t watch Togetheness (which you probably didn’t), it was a series from mumblecore daddies Jay and Mark Duplass about couples having feelings. It was pretty good, but was canceled by HBO for not having great numbers or the cultural impact of that other HBO show about feelings, Ballers Girls.
Pushing Daisies was one of many shows affected by the dreaded writer’s strike of 2007/2008. Because of the lack of scripts, the first season only had 9 episodes, and the second season went mostly unwatched. Despite the show receiving 17 Emmy nominations(!), it was unceremoniously dumped by ABC.
Better Off Ted never had a fighting chance in this world. It was too smart, too weird, and constantly throwing comedy punches at its advertisers. Despite having two truncated seasons on television, the show’s creator always kind of knew they were going to be canceled. “[The Network] liked it, but they just felt it didn’t get enough eyeballs.
To their credit, they didn’t tell them to ‘introduce a lovable neighbor’ or something.”
The saga of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien is basically like Ocean’s 11, but with comedians. The drama began before Conan even had the show, during contract negotiations in 2001, when it was revealed that Conan would take over the show when Jay Leno retired.
But things didn’t work out as planned, because NBC didn’t feel like Conan was getting the ratings they wanted, and pre-empted Conan’s show with a shorter broadcast by Jay Leno. Conan vacated his desk after only seven months.
Deadwood is from a time when HBO wasn’t yet known for fostering some of the most groundbreaking television, and even though this western has its fans, many feel that it was dumped before it was given a chance to wrap up its story.
Rather than HBO ditching the series, it seems like the show’s creator, David Milch, balked at the cable channel’s offer for a shorter final season, and decided to end the show on a cliffhanger.
The spiritual sequel to Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared was another coming-of-age Apatow show that television just didn’t seem to know what to do with. This was despite the sheer amount of star power boasted within its cast, including comedy heavyweight Seth Rogen.
One of the show’s stars, Charlie Hunnam said of the cancelation, “I think 17 episodes aired over the course of, I don’t know, 25 weeks? In three different time slots, so the goal post kept changing. And Judd, again, was very tenacious in doing exactly what he wanted to do. You know, Fox had wanted us to put a laugh track on and he said no – and that kind of led to another argument. And they couldn’t quite agree on what the show was going to be.”
One of the best television shows about making television, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had two things going against it. First, it was one of two shows premiering on NBC about making a fictitious SNL, and secondly, it was just too expensive.
This show about two down-and-out friends who start their own private detective agency is arguable one of the most underrated shows ever produced. But because it underperformed on FX (and presumably didn’t star an A-List comedian) the network ditched it.
FX President John Landgraf put the blame on the numbers, but he still sort of felt bad about it: “If I legitimately believed that the reason the show didn’t succeed on air was that we felt we failed to adequately describe to the audience what the show was about, that would have been reason alone to renew it.”
In one of the most confusing cancellations ever, Starz canceled Party Down after only two seasons because the comedy about caterers just didn’t have the numbers. Show creator (and veteran cancelee) Rob Thomas believes that the show would have been renewed had it not been for incoming President Chris Albrecht.
Of this, Thomas said: “We were heading for a third season. There’s little to no doubt that we were going to get one until Chris came in. But I do think if we had done better numbers, Chris would’ve kept us. I don’t think Chris wanted to come in and clean house. I just don’t think he had quite the emotional attachment that people who had been at Starz through the birth of the show had towards it.”
Sometimes, even though a show is created by a storytelling genius, everything that can go wrong will go wrong and send a show careening into the proverbial ground. It didn’t seem like that would be the case with Dollhouse.
However, according to Joss Whedon, Dollhouse was doomed because the executive producers “pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it.”