1. Day One (NBC, 2010)
Most of the time, if a network orders a pilot to series, that show is given a chance to prove itself, even if it only gets a summer burn-off run. Every so often, however, a network orders a pilot to series, then seems to immediately lose faith in it, often for no apparent reason, leaving several episodes produced, never to be seen by audiences. A typical story is that of NBC’s Day One, a heavily hyped end-of-the-world drama wherein a group of disparate characters are forced to band together by the arrival of unlikely towering structures that appear from nowhere. The show was intended to fill the gap in NBC’s schedule that would be left by Heroes’ midseason hiatus, but once Heroes’ ratings began to decline after its fourth-season debut, NBC got cold feet. It reduced the order to just four episodes—which it said would air as a miniseries—then insisted that it would air one two-hour episode (the pilot with added material, presumably) that would have an ending that provided closure, even though the series was intended to be another Lost-like sci-fi serial. Ultimately, the network chose not to air it at all, and potential fans were left with NBC-produced trailers on YouTube.
2. Snip (NBC, 1976)
The creation of James Komack—who had a proven track record of packaging hit shows around up-and-coming stand-ups, most notably Chico And The Man and Welcome Back, Kotter—Snip starred David Brenner, then a favorite guest of Johnny Carson’s, as a hairdresser who gets a job at the same salon as his ex-wife (Lesley Ann Warren) so he can win her back. Both the title and setting were meant to remind viewers of the hit movie Shampoo, and as in Shampoo, the salon’s owner was openly, flamboyantly gay. The series received a full write-up in TV Guide’s annual fall preview, but NBC had yanked Snip off its schedule by the time the magazine hit newsstands. Brenner believes the network “got cold feet because we had a gay character on the show,” and the panicky, last-minute nature of the cancellation lends credence to that theory. The five completed episodes aired in Australia.
3. 12 Miles Of Bad Road (HBO, 2008)
Cable channels are usually so careful about the programs they pick up to series that it’s rare for a show to be abandoned. This is especially true for HBO, which has made its name around risk-taking programming. In the period between the end of Sex And The City and The Sopranos and the debut of True Blood—the period when the network didn’t have a huge hit to buoy its series—however, the “not TV” network found itself behaving like a typical broadcast channel. First, it ordered to series Linda Bloodworth-Thomson’s 12 Miles Of Bad Road, a satirical look at the Texas real-estate game with a cast that included Lily Tomlin, Mary Kay Place, Gary Cole, Kim Dickens, and an unknown Eliza Coupe. Then, after seeing some of the six produced episodes following the 2007 writers’ strike, HBO quickly un-ordered it. The show’s producers sent the finished episodes to critics, hoping to spur an unlikely resurrection, but reaction was mixed enough that the show stayed dead and buried, the rare HBO footnote.
4. The Jake Effect (NBC, 2002)
NBC’s decision to bypass putting the seven completed episodes of sitcom The Jake Effect on the air in the middle of the 2002-03 season is one that, in retrospect, warrants a round of applause: Had the series been successful enough to earn renewal, then Jason Bateman wouldn’t have been available to play Michael Bluth in Arrested Development when that series premièred in the fall of 2003. Created by Jonathan Groff (Happy Endings), The Jake Effect starred Bateman as Jake Galvin, a former lawyer pursuing a new career as a high-school English teacher, and featured Greg Grunberg as his best buddy, Nikki Cox as a fellow teacher/possible love interest, and Tenacious D’s Kyle Gass as one of the other educators. The cult success of Arrested Development inspired Bravo to rescue The Jake Effect from oblivion and screen the completed episode as part of its Brilliant But Cancelled lineup.
5. Raising Caines (NBC, 1995)
This family sitcom starring Judge Reinhold and Mel Harris (with Michelle Williams as one of their kids) was bounced from NBC’s schedule before its première, though enough episodes were completed for an overseas sale. Harris and Jere Burns starred the next year in a different family sitcom named Something So Right, and Reinhold suffered the same fate with 1997’s Secret Service Guy, which Fox scheduled and then canceled before it turned up on the air in Australia. Reinhold is either spectacularly unlucky or officially the king of ’90s TV comedies that could only be savored by American fans willing to relocate to different continents. To his credit, he went on to spoof his own TV history on Arrested Development, where he played himself, hosting a proposed new courtroom reality show called Mock Trial With J. Reinhold, which later retools, kicking Reinhold out.
6. Rewind (Fox, 1997)
Rewind began a long period—lasting until 2003—of Fox announcing a show at its May upfronts, then running into production problems or time-slot issues before quietly pulling the show from its schedule altogether. The show, starring Scott Baio, was planned to jump between the ’90s and the ’70s, evoking a kind of Wonder Years-like nostalgia, mixed with the edgy humor and fart jokes for which the network was then known. The series was picked up to replace the long-running hit Living Single on Thursday nights at a time when the networks were picking up more comedies than they knew what to do with. But with just two episodes produced, Fox benched the show three weeks before its première date, replacing it with… Living Single.
7. Hollyweird (Fox, 1998)
The Fox curse picked up momentum in 1998, when the network picked up this highly buzzed-about series for fall, then didn’t bother to air it. Billed as a weekly horror series set in Los Angeles, and produced when the network’s good fortunes were rising thanks to the success of The X-Files, Hollyweird hailed from executive producer Shaun Cassidy, who had previously produced one of the best X-Files clones, CBS’ one-season wonder American Gothic. Based on clips from the network’s highlight reel, many critics picked out Hollyweird as a show to look out for. (Cassidy’s involvement didn’t hurt, either.) Though Hollyweird was slated to debut in October as a big part of the network’s fall schedule, it never made it to air, and Cassidy left about six weeks before the première date with the hilariously vituperative statement, “Having spent much of the last year trying to fix something I never viewed as broken in the first place, I am withdrawing from the process of deconstructing Hollyweird.” Without Cassidy, the show quickly sank.
8. Manchester Prep (Fox, 1999)
The teen entertainment boom of the late ’90s was most prevalent at The WB, the netlet that built its name on shows aimed at the 12-to-24-year-old demographic, with hits like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Other networks hoped to get in on the fun as well, and Fox cast its bid with Manchester Prep, meant to be a TV version of a teen movie released that very year: Cruel Intentions, a somewhat amusing adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons for the Seventeen set. The film features a frank depiction of teenage sexuality, and Dawson’s swung to success with similar discussions of adolescent libidos, so it seemed like a safe bet that kids would be into the bed-hopping exploits of a comely young cast that included future Oscar nominee Amy Adams. Instead, the sexuality of the show proved too much for the network (which balked at depicting a character achieving orgasm while riding on a horse), and it was benched with only three episodes produced. Those episodes were re-edited into a direct-to-DVD sequel to the film that inspired the TV series, which is available under the name Cruel Intentions 2.
9. The Grubbs (Fox, 2002)
For this Americanized version of the British comedy The Grimleys—a nostalgic, whimsical show about a working-class family with an unemployed loafer for a dad and a son who aims to rise above his station—Fox assembled a remarkable cast, including Carol Kane, a then-unknown Michael Cera, and Randy Quaid. However, The Grubbs apparently set out to ratchet up the repulsiveness, as if someone at Fox was feeling nostalgic for the Bundys. As if to head off the comparison, executive Joshua Sternin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The joke on Married… With Children was that everybody hated everybody. We actually have people who are really committed to each other, only they’ve learned some very bad life lessons.” Trying to clarify what those life lessons might be, Sternin said of Quaid’s character, who fakes a disability to keep from working and actively discourages his son from wanting more from life, “This guy says, ‘If you give up, you can be happy.’” Fox wasn’t sure this was a lesson enough people were eager to apply to their TV viewing, and after five episodes were produced, the show was pulled from the schedule, two days before its première.
10. The Ortegas (Fox, 2003)
An American remake of British hit The Kumars At No. 42, The Ortegas landed at Fox after the network lost an initial bidding war to NBC for the hot pilot script. When NBC passed, Fox picked up the show—starring Al Madrigal and featured Cheech Marin as the patriarch of an immigrant family that hosts a talk show that films out of its Van Nuys house—and gave it a plum time slot between The Simpsons and Malcolm In The Middle. Six episodes of the show were produced, and the network at first seemed reasonably happy with the show’s direction. Then The O.C. launched in the summer and proved stronger than expected. Rather than move the show from Wednesdays to a more competitive Thursday-night time slot, Fox kept the show where it was, leaving the comedy hit The Bernie Mac Show without a home. The Ortegas was bumped to make room for Bernie, and though the network insisted it would air at midseason, it never did.
11. Still Life (Fox, 2003)
The family drama Still Life, in which a dead man looked back on his family from the beyond, initially drew interest thanks to the involvement of two Joss Whedon alumnae—writer Marti Noxon and Firefly actor Morena Baccarin. Created in the wake of the hugely successful, similarly themed novel The Lovely Bones, Still Life was billed as The Lovely Bones for TV. In addition to Baccarin, it starred future Supernatural star Jensen Ackles (whose character was described in a network press release as “a 21-year-old concert of darkness and light”). The pilot won acclaim from critics, but Fox didn’t get far into production before realizing a whole show about a family coping with losing a loved one who continued to watch them from the afterlife might be just a touch depressing. Not a single one of the produced seven episodes ever aired, though a few surfaced in other countries.
12. Thick And Thin (NBC, 2006)
Almost as soon as Fox stopped canceling shows before they aired with Still Life, NBC picked up the baton for the middle section of the ’00s, beginning with this Jessica Capshaw-starring vehicle from executive producer Lorne Michaels (whose projects are often picked up by NBC as a matter of course). Created by Paula Pell, the series aimed to capitalize on the then still-new (at least to Hollywood) issue of American obesity, casting Capshaw as a woman who’d lost 60 pounds. Sharon Gless, Martin Mull, and Chris Parnell also starred in the series, and it received a midseason pickup of six episodes (with NBC, it was always six episodes) before never appearing on the schedule. The trend continued for several years and might last to this day, with NBC having picked up a six-episode order for a barely promoted, yet-to-be-scheduled comedy named Best Friends Forever.
13. The Singles Table (NBC, 2006)
NBC spent much of the 2000s trying to find a replacement for Friends, but it often went about the process by coming up with elaborate premises that would lead to a bunch of twentysomethings hanging out and sleeping with each other. Witness The Singles Table, picked up for a midseason order of six episodes in 2006, then never aired. In it, a group of friends—including John Cho and Rhea Seehorn—meet at the wedding of a mutual acquaintance when they’re all forced to sit at the titular table. NBC had enough faith in the show to recast its original lead, Pascale Hutton, with Alicia Silverstone, who was at the time seen as a big prospect for heading up a hit TV show. But even with Silverstone at the head of the table, the show never saw the light of day, even though a weird memorial to it exists to this day on the NBC website.
14. The IT Crowd (NBC, 2007)
NBC’s first attempt to turn Joel McHale into a sitcom star was this remake of the British comedy about the employees of a fictional company’s I.T. department. Original series star Richard Ayoade made the trek across the Atlantic to star in the American version, and the pilot—which has surfaced online from time to time—was received well enough for the series to get a (you guessed it) six-episode order and the suggestion that it would air in the spring of 2008. Instead, it ended up just the latest in a long line of NBC midseason sitcoms with short orders that never saw the light of day, all produced in the 2000s. The failure of this one was blamed on the new president of NBC, Ben Silverman, who had just taken over that position from Kevin Reilly. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Silverman didn’t “spark” to the comedy, so it was shelved for good.
15. Waterfront (CBS, 2006)
After playing Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos, Joe Pantoliano sought a similarly long-term gig on broadcast television, but the Nielsens were less than kind, whether he was going it alone on The Handler (2003) or playing second fiddle to Rob Lowe on Dr. Vegas (2004). Presumably believing the third time to be the charm, Pantoliano signed up for Waterfront, playing James Centrella, the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, who is battling through several political scandals while also dealing with family unrest. Five episodes of the series were filmed, with William Baldwin, Mary Stuart Masterson, Larenz Tate, and Lyndsy Fonseca filling out the cast. Before any could air, CBS pulled the plug, providing a list of reasons, including creative issues, high production costs, and limited time-slot needs. Possibly not coincidentally, Pantoliano has yet to pull another full-time series gig.
16. Mr. Dugan (CBS, 1979)
In its seventh season, Norman Lear’s Maude was scheduled to shift to a Washington D.C. setting after Maude was elected to Congress. The dream died when Bea Arthur decided she was tired of doing the show, but Lear still liked the idea of doing a show about an “outsider” learning Washington’s ropes, so he reshaped the idea into Onward And Upward, starring John Amos as a freshman congressman. Amos and Lear clashed over “creative differences,” and the role was recast with Cleavon Little, with the show re-titled Mr. Dugan. Lear showed the pilot to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who found it so insulting they threatened to lead protests against the show if it ever aired. A subsequent special screening for an all-black audience confirmed that the people Lear saw as the show’s target audience hated it. With three episodes in the can, CBS decided to cancel it and eat the million-dollar cost. Lear quickly recycled parts of the concept for a different show, Hanging In, with Maude co-star Bill Macy as a new college president who used to play pro football. It made it to air, but only lasted four episodes.
17. The Dictator (CBS, 1988)
No, it’s not a new Sacha Baron Cohen star vehicle, though it sounds like it could have been. The Dictator starred Christopher Lloyd, then at the height of his drawing power thanks to Back To The Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as a “deposed tyrant from a small Caribbean island” who’s been exiled to Queens and reduced to operating a Laundromat. (The supporting cast included Deborah Rush as Lloyd’s wife and Joe Grifasi as his majordomo.) Just imagine the possibilities for funny-accent duels between Lloyd and members of the local immigrant population, gawky-legged slapstick involving malfunctioning washing machines in rooms filling up with suds, and wistful monologues about long nights spent dancing in the moonlight while listening to the screams from the torture chambers. Those possibilities went unrealized, however, when CBS pulled the plug after a writers’ strike caused production to shut down with only three episodes in the can.
18. Misconceptions (The WB, 2006)
Most of the time abandoned shows are abandoned because they’re just not what the network was expecting. But Misconceptions was abandoned because its whole network was canceled out from under it. The merger of The WB and UPN, announced in 2005 and carried out in 2006, sent both networks scrambling, but The WB was most hurt by the merger, since it had a full slate of midseason programming that was now unlikely to turn up anywhere. The family sitcom starred Jane Leeves and French Stewart, along with a young Taylor Momsen as Leeves’ daughter, who wishes to find her biological father. A broad, multi-camera sitcom, the show was part of The WB’s late effort to make comedy work within its brand, but the network just ran out of time and space to air it, choosing instead to put its last-ditch weight behind the Rebecca Romijn vehicle Pepper Dennis.
19. Garbage Pail Kids (CBS, 1987)
By 1987, Saturday-morning TV had already debuted animated series based on Pac-Man and Rubik, the Amazing Cube, so it would have been a shock if nobody thought to base a show on a hugely popular trading card series. Unfortunately, the same gross-out humor that made Garbage Pail Kids cards such a hit with kids made them a target for pressure groups. Garbage Pail Kids came under fire from the American Family Association, which had already hassled CBS over the reboot of Mighty Mouse on the grounds that Mighty Mouse was a cokehead. (No, seriously.) CBS also drew heat from the more liberal-minded Action For Children’s Television, which was opposed to the idea of a children’s show tied to a commercial product. CBS blinked and pulled the cartoon from its schedule days before it was set to debut, but in 2006, 13 unaired episodes were released on DVD.
20. Welcome To The Neighborhood (ABC, 2005)
The failed reality-competition series Welcome To The Neighborhood centered on seven families competing for a 3,300-square-foot, four-bedroom “dream home” in Austin, Texas, by battling to be the last family booted from consideration by three white, well-to-do families who already live in the neighborhood. The prospective new neighbors included a black family; a Hispanic family; a Korean family; a gay, white couple with an adopted black son; and a “white trash” family with a mother who works as a stripper. The whole gimmick was predicated on the idea that the “judges” would be uncomfortable with people unlike themselves, and the judges went right to work saying things on-camera that gave weight to that idea. The show drew perhaps its strongest criticism from the conservative Family Research Council, which charged that, by showing upper-class, conservative, white Texans boasting about their bigotry on camera, the network was conspiring to give people the idea that upper-class, conservative, white Texans are sometimes capable of bigotry. In the end, ABC president Steve McPherson opted not to air the completed, six-episode series. When approached about allowing it to be shown on the Fox Reality Channel, he turned down the request, preferring to keep it buried under a rock.
21. When Women Rule The World (Fox, 2007)
When Women Rule The World sounds as if it might have been inspired by the 1967 Hammer film Prehistoric Women. A cast of 12 men, chosen for their “chauvinistic” tendencies, and 12 women were shipped off to a distant location, where the men were obliged to be “subservient” to the women. Each week, the women would vote off the man who had done the poorest job of being subservient to their satisfaction. The last man standing would receive a cash prize of $250,000, which he was then free to spend on either hookers or therapy, presumably. Fox executives announced plans to air the completed series in the spring of 2007, then pushed it back more than a year, then finally permitted it to be run in Finland and Belgium, after confirming that their mothers wouldn’t be vacationing there at the time. Britain’s Channel 4, whose executives are made of sterner stuff, nicked the concept and made its own version, which ran in the fall of 2008.
22. Our Little Genius (Fox, 2010)
Finding a series to follow in the footsteps of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader? was no easy task, but Fox thought it had found an heir apparent in Our Little Genius. Produced by Mark Burnett, Our Little Genius featured Kevin Pollak asking trivia questions of precocious youngsters, giving them the opportunity to win money for their families. A week before the series was set to première, an antsy Burnett asked Fox to postpone the debut, citing concerns that information might have been imparted to the contestants prior to filming. Although the original plan had been to re-shoot the episodes to remove any concerns of impropriety, The New York Times soon reported on the cheating allegations, the FCC opened an inquiry, and Fox—wisely sensing that the time was right to get out of the Our Little Genius business—cut its losses and dropped the series altogether.
23. Who’s Your Daddy? (Fox, 2005)
Sometimes a series abruptly becomes a special when its first episode is received poorly by viewers… or, as in the case of the Fox reality show Who’s Your Daddy?, when it’s received poorly by pretty much everyone ever. Hosted by Finola Hughes (General Hospital), the show took adults who had been adopted as infants, put them in a room with 25 men, and had them try to guess which one was their biological father, with those who guessed correctly winning $100,000. If the contestants guessed the wrong person, then the money would go to that person instead. Five episodes were finished beyond the pilot, but when the inaugural appearance of Who’s Your Daddy? ended up fourth in the ratings and earned scorn from adoption-rights organizations, Fox decided to cut its losses. (In the end, the remaining episodes found their way to the airwaves via Fox Reality.)
24. The Runner (ABC, 2002)
World events occasionally waylay a seemingly sure thing. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s multimedia company, LivePlanet, conceived of this reality-competition show in the heady days when the writer-stars of Good Will Hunting routinely entertained interviewers and their own press spokesmen with their plans to reinvent the whole creative process with shows such as Project Greenlight. As Entertainment Weekly explained at the time, “A ‘runner’ competes for a $1 million-plus prize by completing a series of ‘missions’ across the country, while three ‘agents’ try to ‘capture’ him.” But that wasn’t the half of it. In order to make the show spanking new, an effort was made to incorporate the Internet: “Not only can potential contestants apply to be runners or agents online, but viewers can win a share of the pot by digging up and sharing clues about the runner’s whereabouts on the Web.” LivePlanet spent the better part of a year trying to get the bugs worked out before the series was scheduled to debut in January 2002, but September 11, 2001, put a stake through its heart. Suddenly, the thought of keeping tabs on a mysterious figure trying to skulk undetected past airport security on a series of shadowy missions took on an unexpectedly sinister cast, and ABC took the financial loss and canceled the show without filming a single episode.