TeeVee Awards '03: Most Unjust Cancellations
The TeeVee Award for Most Unjust Cancellation is not a valedictory for a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which pretty much went out on its own terms, if possibly a year or two too late. The key word is unjust. Our award is a final, wistful send-off -- or depending on our mood, a rage-filled diatribe -- for a show that died too soon, whether it was in its first year or its fifth.
This year, we had a large selection of choices. There was more than enough injustice to go around, and the grim reaper took several great shows before their time. When we tallied our votes, we found two lamented series tied in the voting, with a third series having plenty of strong support as an honorable mention.
So let us speak once more, admirably, about our beloved dead.
First up is a series we can only muster an honorable mention for, mostly due to the fact that it was cancelled a year ago, but only this summer bled off its final, brilliant episodes. It's Futurama, which has won our Best Half-Hour Show title not once but twice. Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's brilliant sci-fi comedy has managed to outdo The Simpsons since its inception, and it's a crying shame that its brilliant staff of writers didn't get a chance to continue churning out comedy until the year 3000.
At least with Futurama there's some hope. It's more likely that an animated series -- with no sets to build, no cast members to age inappropriately or leave for new job opportunities -- could be revived than your usual sitcom. The show's ratings on Cartoon Network are good. Hope springs eternal.
In fact, there's hope for our two Most Unjust Cancellation winners as well. Why, in a year or two we may look back on these awards with amazement at how, Lazarus-like, they returned to life when we thought all was lost.
First there's Sci-Fi's former flagship series Farscape, shitcanned by Sci-Fi even though it had previously been given a two-year contract extension. Instead of heading into a fifth season this fall, the series got yanked off the air unceremoniously, complete with a "To Be Continued" cliffhanger that served as a final screw-you gesture to the network executives who ordered the show cancelled after they couldn't come to terms with Farscape's owners.
As you might expect from a series about space puppets, Farscape was produced by the Jim Henson Company. Henson was owned by a company of cruel German overlords named EM.TV, who have since have sold the company back to the Henson family. Family leader Brian Henson was a Farscape executive producer and a big booster of the series -- so it's entirely possible that Henson will work hard to get Farscape back in some form someday.
But in the meantime, it's hard to say goodbye to this literate, intelligently plotted, and stylistically daring series. After a shaky beginning to its final season, it really picked up steam, having the guts to take the series' complement of aliens to Earth... and deal with the consequences of that visit. That the series was forced to end just as it was regaining its bearings is a crying shame.
Salvation is closer at hand for the series that shares the Most Unjust Cancellation title with Farscape. Joss Whedon's 13-episodes-and-out series Firefly is about to be released on DVD, and just last week Universal announced that it's proceeding with plans to shoot a "Firefly" movie, written and directed by Whedon.
But we still must wail against the cancellation of Firefly. Granted, the show's first aired episodes were a bit shaky. But those who saw the final part of its run (as well as the pilot episode Fox refused to air until it was far too late) saw the strength of its writing, its premise, and its fantastic cast.
A sci-fi western, Firefly really began to work when it more deftly mixed genres, shifting from western to action to techno-sci-fi with ruthless efficiency. It was uncompromising in its quirks -- all the outer space scenes were silent, since there's no air (and therefore no sound) in space -- and that idiosyncracy probably didn't help it with your average TV viewer.
But people who say Firefly was a flop probably didn't watch more than one episode. And many uneducated folks simply look at its sudden cancellation and jump to a bad conclusion: that after his success with Angel and Buffy, Whedon couldn't reach his built-in audience with Firefly. The problem with that reasoning is, more people watched Firefly than either of Whedon's other two creations last year. It's just that the ratings bar is set a bit higher on Fox than it is on UPN and The WB.
Could Firefly have worked as a long-running series? Undoubtedly. Airing it on Fox was clearly a mistake, as the network's rejection of the series' brilliant pilot episode immediately demonstrated. And isn't it telling that the "Firefly" movie is being developed at Universal, and not Twentieth Century Fox?
So once again, Fox has cancelled one of the best new shows on TV before it could even reach a second season. In the past three years, Fox has cancelled more young quality shows than UPN and The WB have aired in their combined existences. That Firefly, The Tick, Undeclared, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and numerous other series have met their doom at Fox proves two points: First, Fox is really good at developing new series. Second, it's unable to make those shows succeed.
Or, to put it more succinctly: Joe Millionaire 2, coming this fall to Fox. Enjoy, suckers!
Additional contributions to this article by: Jason Snell.
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