Back in 2005, Bullz-Eye kicked off a regularly-recurring feature that’s become a staple of our site: the TV Power Rankings, which gives us a chance to offer up our opinions once every six months on the best that television has to offer. Now that we’re looking back at the entire decade in our TV in the 2000s feature, however, it gave us an opportunity to look back at all of the shows that have appeared within the Rankings over the course of its history, and when we did, it was a little eyebrow-raising to see how many of our favorite programs bit the dust almost immediately after receiving accolades from us. We’re pretty sure their cancellations weren’t our fault…or, at least, not entirely. Anyway, take a look back through the list with us, won’t you? If nothing else, it shows that we’ve got good taste, even if the average viewer doesn’t always share our opinions.
1. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003 – 2006) – “Even if this is indeed the end for one of Fox’s all time greatest shows, it is better to have loved and lost…oh, the hell with that, Fox is freaking nuts if they cancel this show.” So said David Medsker in February 2006. But did they listen to him? They did not. “We’re not ones to buy into the whole dumbing-down-of-society thing,” Medsker added, “but if this show gets canned while ‘According to Jim’ lives on, maybe there’s something to it after all.” Oh, yeah, there’s definitely something to it: “According to Jim” stayed on the air until June 2009.
2. Deadwood (HBO, 2004 – 2006) – When it was announced that Season 3 would be the last for the semi-historical look at the wild west, there was really only one name that John Paulsen could call the folks at HBO. We probably shouldn’t use it here, but if you need a hint, it starts with a “C” and rhymes with “sock pluckers.” “Everything about the show – the language, the acting, the story, the sets and the costumes – is colorful,” Paulsen observed in February 2007, “and whether or not HBO wants to admit it, they’re going to miss ‘Deadwood’ once it’s gone for good.” They must’ve been in some serious denial, then: creator David Milch reportedly agreed to do a proper wrap-up of the series through a pair of “Deadwood” movies” for the network, but things never really got beyond the discussion stage.
3. Invasion (ABC, 2005 – 2006) – The fall of 2005 was a good time in prime time for sci-fi fans, with each of the big three networks offering up an entry from the genre, but by the spring of 2006, their cheers had turned to tears. NBC’s “Surface” was permanently submerged after 15 episodes, while CBS’s “Threshold” crossed the point of no return after only nine episodes had aired. Give ABC some credit, however, for at least sticking with their entry for the full 22. “’Invasion’ started slowly, but has steadily ramped up the creepiness,” said John Paulsen in February ’06, acknowledging that, although it gave its audience lots of questions, at least it was providing them with more answers than “Lost” was. Unfortunately, there was still plenty to be answered when the show was canceled, and things got even more depressing when Tyler Labine talked to Bullz-Eye about what might’ve been. “(Creator Shaun Cassidy) had written this bible for the show, and he had written this amazing five-season arc,” said Labine. “We were just floored. Our jaws were literally on the floor after he explained it to us. We were, like, ‘Wow, we’re on for a really great ride!’” What a shame for us all that the ride ended as quickly as it did.
4. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2005 – 2006) – Well, you can’t say that we weren’t honest about offering up both the pros and the cons of Aaron Sorkin’s behind-the-scenes look into a late-night comedy series. “The show is pompous, unrealistic and ridiculously left-wing,” admitted Jason Zingale in February 2007, “but it also makes for some damn good television.” Unfortunately, with an awful lead-in – seriously, who thought that pairing the show with “Heroes” was a good idea? – “Studio 60” didn’t develop enough of a following to earn a second season.
5. Rome (HBO, 2005 – 2007) – In its first season, “Rome” turned up at #18 in the Power Rankings, but by the time Season 2 aired, it had leapt to #6. Not that such success earned the show a third season (it was apparently ridiculously expensive to produce, which you can absolutely believe if you’ve ever seen it, but at least the news of its cancellation came in time for John Paulsen to register his annoyance within the February 2007 Rankings. “As it turns out, ‘Rome’ isn’t the heir to the throne of ‘The Sopranos,’” he wrote. “Instead, sadly, it’s a bastard stepchild, just like ‘Deadwood.’” Creator Bruno Heller was probably even more pissed than Paulsen, having mapped out his vision of the series all the way through its fifth season, but as recently as December 2008, Heller was still sounding optimistic about the chances for a “Rome” movie. “I would love to round that show off,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. Hey, we’re behind you 100%, Bruno.
6. Four Kings (NBC, 2006) – If you don’t remember this sitcom, you’re forgiven, as it premiered in January 2006 and was gone by March. Still, it made enough of an impression to earn Honorable Mention status in the February 2006 rankings. “Four Kings” was created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the duo behind “Will and Grace,” and featured Seth Green as one of its cast members, so you might think it surprising that it was off the air within seven episodes (and with a remaining six episodes still unaired). Looking back, however, the fact that the greatest praise Jason Zingale could heap upon the show in his write-up was that “it’s a worthy quick-fix until NBC finds a better alternative” should’ve given us a clue that it wasn’t long for this world.
7. Jericho (CBS, 2006 – 2008) – It was the little show that could, our “Jericho.” It started with an awesomely dark premise – a nuclear bomb goes off in the U.S., and we view the repercussions through the eyes of a small town in Kansas – and, after figuring out its direction (the attempts to meld some “Little House on the Prairie” aspects to the show were soon phased out), the series found its footing, kicked some creative ass, and was promptly canceled. But what’s this…? The show’s diehard fanbase made enough noise (and sent enough nuts) to get the show a 7-episode second season which lived up to everyone’s expectations and then some. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the ratings, but those who actually tuned in for Season 2 know how many twists, turns, and outright shocks it included. There’s still talk of a possible “Jericho” movie. We can only hope.
8. Journeyman (NBC, 2007 – 2008) – Ross Ruediger acknowledged in November 2007 that everything from “Back to the Future” and “Quantum Leap” to “Somewhere in Time” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife” could be seen as inspirations for this series, but he assured readers that “its brilliance lies in its ability to grab from wherever and cohesively bring it all back around into a series that delivers something special every week.” Despite Ruediger’s contention that the show “continually demonstrates the potential to become a classic sci-fi/romance series for the books,” the combination of so-so ratings and the curse of being produced by another studio (20th Century Fox) resulted in NBC deciding against a second season.
9. Dirty Sexy Money (ABC, 2007 – 2009) – It could’ve been a throwback to the glory days of “Dynasty,” but with a cast including Donald Sutherland, Peter Krause, and Jill Clayburgh, the series quickly evolved into something more substantial. “At first glance, it seemed the foibles of the rich and powerful Darling family would strictly be seen through the eyes of their comparatively ‘normal’ attorney, Nick George, and we’d all have a good laugh at how out of touch they were from the real world,” I wrote in November 2007. “Gradually, however, we’re reminded that, although we’re still in the gutter, the Darlings are looking at the same stars we are.” Although the series survived the writer’s strike to return for a second season, the ratings were such that, at the end of December 2008, it was pulled from the schedule. By the time it returned, it had already been canceled, making the season / series ending cliffhanger all the more cruel.
10. Pushing Daisies (ABC, 2007 – 2009) – Anyone who can appreciate a show about a piemaker who can bring people back from the dead can surely also appreciate the irony that, with such a strange premise, its days were always going to be numbered. Indeed, John Paulsen acknowledged as much in November 2007, but he was still optimistic, praising the shows cinematography, sets, and costumes, then observing that “’Pushing Daisies’ debuted to strong ratings and seems to be doing just fine.” And so it was, right up until the writer’s strike, which derailed it and every other series that had been gathering momentum. Once it returned, things were never quite the same, which Paulsen acknowledged in November 2008, bemoaning, “It has pretty much devolved into a weekly procedural format that lacks the compelling season-long storylines that made the first season so much fun.” Why do I suspect that the changes were the result of ABC wanting the series to be more accessible? If that was indeed the case, then it sure as hell backfired.
11. Reaper (The CW, 2007 – 2009) – Best pilot episode of the decade? If not, it’s certainly on the short list of contenders. A show about three slackers working as demon bounty hunters for Satan may have sounded like a dude’s version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but many nonbelievers were swayed over to the “Reaper” camp by the deliciously devilish performance of Ray Wise as Lucifer himself. The series had a few creative struggles in its first season, but Bob Westal assured readers, “There’s plenty of room here for seasons more of good-natured deviltry.” Indeed, when it returned for Season 2, he confirmed that “the travails of Sam Oliver remain a highly reliable source of big laughs and an occasional thrill,” adding that “’Reaper’ has done a fabulous job of balancing emotion with comic timing and spook-hunting slapstick.” And how was it rewarded for these successes? With cancellation, of course.
12. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox, 2007 – 2009) – A “Terminator” TV series? Surely the third movie killed the franchise dead, no? Well, you’d think so, but John Paulsen wrote of “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” in November 2007, “the series has accomplished a major feat: overcoming the skepticism of both critics and fans and being able to translate the ‘Terminator’ story to a serialized format.” It still gave people headaches with all of its back-and-forth time travel, of course, but once you put on your Suspension of Disbelief hat, you realized that show runner Josh Friedman and company had found a way to combine the necessary technological components of the ‘Terminator’ mythos with deep characterization. When Fox canceled the show at the end of Season 2, it seemed like an inexplicable move. “Why drop the show just as you’ve got a new ‘Terminator’ movie coming out?” we wondered. “Surely it can only help the series!” And then we saw the movie and understood: Poor “Sarah” never had a chance at salvation.
13. Life on Mars (ABC, 2008 – 2009) – Talk about a show that was doomed from the start…and we’re not even talking about the retooling that the series went through in its early stages, when it was originally going to be helmed by David E. Kelley. No, the problem with “Life on Mars” is that it was an American adaptation of a much beloved British series, and the majority of the fans of the original version steadfastly refused to watch the new version. The show’s premise (a cop gets knocked unconscious in 2009 and wakes up in 1973) was already going to result in an uphill ratings battle, but take those who would ordinarily be its core audience out of the picture, and…well, here we are back where we started. If there’s any good thing to be said about the cancelation of “Life on Mars,” it’s that the producers had enough advance notice about their fate to actually write an ending. Of course, half the fans hated it, but, hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?
14. Dollhouse (Fox, 2009) – Well, really, what did we expect from a show that was dogged by rumors before it even premiered that Fox had no particular love for it? Granted, after “Firefly,” we’d come to expect that sort of thing, but when “Dollhouse” came slowly out of the gate, we never expected to see a Season 2. But the show’s creative direction shaped up quickly, leading David Medsker to declared in February 2009, “With crack supporting players Harry Lennix and Olivia Williams providing ballast, some remarkable visuals, and numerous creepy/thought-provoking ideas, we think ‘Dollhouse’ has earned our support.” To our surprise, Fox actually renewed the series, but their support didn’t last long: just before we went to press with the November 2009 Power Rankings, the plug was officially pulled. In his write-up / obituary for the show, Medsker made no attempt to deny the flaws of “Dollhouse,” but he spoke for many when he said of the series, “We may not have always loved it, but that won’t stop us from watching until the very end.”
15. Kings (NBC, 2009) – NBC shot its own program in the foot when it offered a panel for “Kings” at the fall TCA tour in 2008 without having a pilot for them to screen first. If you’ve never seen the series, trust us: it’s kind of hard to explain. The scope of “Kings” was downright epic, often nearing Shakespearean proportions, but as I wrote in April 2009, “the characters had depth, and the actors portraying them – including Ian McShane, Dylan Baker, Christopher Egan, Eamonn Walker, Sebastian Stan and Susanna Thompson – offered performances which lived up to the show’s lofty goals.” If “Kings” had been on FX, it would probably still be on the air, but NBC offered the series little opportunity to build an audience, quickly moving it from Sunday night to…ugh…Saturday. This was, as I wrote at the time, “the equivalent of a doctor saying, ‘I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do,’ and removing life support.” The only credit the network deserves is for releasing the complete series on DVD, and since it was surely only done as a cost-recouping maneuver, they probably don’t even deserve that.
Tags: Arrested Development, Deadwood, Dirty Sexy Money, Dollhouse, End of Decade TV, Four Kings, Invasion, Jericho, Journeyman, Kings, Life on Mars, Pushing Daisies, Reaper, Rome, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles