7 of the most painful, drawn-out cancellations in TV history

“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” This quote from the John Cleese comedy Clockwise could perfectly describe the experience of being a telly fan in the modern age.

Not only do we have to cope with our favourite shows being cancelled, we’ve got to deal with the long periods afterwards, where it looks like fan campaigns might save them.

Sometimes those campaigns work, sometimes they don’t. Mostly they don’t.

And even if they do, often they still don’t.

Allow us to explain.

1. Jericho (2006 – 2008)

Okay, this one’s nuts. Literally.

After post-apocalyptic drama Jericho was cancelled following an underwhelming (in terms of audience numbers) first season, fans took to the internet and organised one of the weirdest resurrection campaigns ever. They teamed up and sent over 8 million peanuts to CBS in an effort to… provide bar snacks? We’re not sure. Still, it worked.

“Wow!” said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler in a letter to the fans. “You got our attention.”

Tassler promised seven new episodes, with more to follow if ratings grew.

“We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks,” said Tassler. “PS. Please stop sending us nuts.”

Sadly, ratings didn’t grow. The show was cancelled for a second time after the extra episodes aired.

2. Angel (1999 – 2004)

The shadow of cancellation was constantly hanging over Angel, with The WB leaving it late before renewing each new season.

After season four’s low numbers, Joss Whedon and his team tried some pretty desperate measures to keep the show going, including creating an unofficial soft-reboot and drafting in one of Buffy‘s most popular characters, Spike.

Despite the changes apparently having an immediate impact, The WB once again left the show’s renewal decision until the last possible moment. However, Joss Whedon had other ideas.

“The only reason that Angel didn’t come back,” producer David Fury said, “is a very simple thing. Because our ratings were up, because of our critical attention, Joss specifically asked Jordan Levin, who was the head of The WB at the time, to give us an early pick-up because every year they [would] wait so long to give Angel a pick-up [and] a lot of us [would] turn down jobs hoping that Angel will continue – he didn’t want that to happen.”

“So, he was feeling very confident and he just asked Jordan, “Like, make your decision now whether you’re going to pick us up or not,” and Jordan, sort of with his hands tied, with his back up against the wall, called him the next day and said, ‘Okay, we’re canceling you.’

“Jordan’s no longer there and The WB has since recognised…I believe Garth Ancier at The WB said that it was a big mistake to cancel Angel. There was a power play that happened that just didn’t fall out the way they wanted it to. We wanted to get an early pick-up, we didn’t. In fact we forced them to make a decision, and with his hand forced he made the decision to cancel us.”


3. Southland (2009 – 2013)

Critically acclaimed gritty cop show Southland was cancelled after one season by NBC, even though it had already completed six second-season episodes. Sniffing a chance for some kudos, TNT bought the first season, those extra episodes and the right to make more.

But Southland‘s continuation turned out to be a mere stay of execution – four years later it was taken out the back and shot (metaphorically speaking).

Fans were teased with the suggestion of a movie or a mini-series to wrap up various storylines, but we’re still waiting for those.

4. NewsRadio (1995 – 1999)

Like Angel, NewsRadio was basically constantly on the brink of cancellation. Unlike Angel, they wove shade about their situation into the show. Whether it was plotlines revolving around the fictional station at the centre of the show’s low ratings and lower budgets, or season finales that felt more like the set-up for disaster movies than the resolution of a sitcom, it was clear the showrunners knew exactly the precarious predicament they were in.

The stress eventually got to creator Paul Simms, who, assuming cancellation was around the corner, gave a brutally honest interview to Rolling Stone. “It’s not looking good. … I’ve got a lot of f**kin’ theories but no explanations as to why this show we’re all so proud of is in the f**kin’ toilet. I don’t even mind being in the toilet, but I do mind not being appreciated by NBC.”

The show was cancelled briefly following the interview, before being brought back for a fifth season. Then tragedy struck: key cast member Phil Hartman was fatally shot by his wife, and everyone assumed the season wouldn’t go ahead after all.

“We thought we were going to be canceled every season,” writer Joe Furey said. “At the end of every season we thought, “We’re probably not going to come back.” And then that happened and I had the feeling, and others did as well, now they’re totally going to cancel us. Without a doubt. It’s over. Then they picked it up. They decided that they wanted to do more of them. So we did. Which was really difficult and it never gelled very well with the cast.”

5. The Killing (2011 – 2014)

After a positive reception to its early episodes, critics quickly turned on The Killing after an unsatisfying resolution (actually, it had zero resolution) to its first season. That led to a fairly major ratings drop in season two, and a cancellation followed.

However, the brand was still strong enough to sell, and producers Fox Television Studios teamed up with Netflix and AMC to create a third season.

This had even lower ratings than season two, and the show was cancelled again – only to be resurrected for a final six episodes exclusively on Netflix, to tie up the multiple cliffhangers that had been left dangling.

6. Roswell (1999 – 2002)

Roswell‘s ratings never justified the cost of the expensive sci-fi show – which was essentially Dawson’s Creek but with aliens, and it was cancelled after the second season by WB.

However, thanks to a dedicated fanbase, producers managed to sell the brand to UPN. Sadly, it did even worse there – despite a fantastic time slot, following Buffy – and it was cancelled again after the season-three finale.

7. Dollhouse (2009 – 2010)

Whedon fans were so used to his shows being cancelled by the time his new one rolled around, they’d already set up ‘Save Dollhouse‘ websites before the first episode had even aired.

And it probably would have been cancelled, thanks to bad ratings, critical indifference and a premise Fox didn’t seem entirely comfortable with. When they chose not to air the season finale, sticking it on a DVD instead, the writing seemed to be on the wall.

“Basically, the show didn’t really get off the ground because the network pretty much wanted to back away from the concept five minutes after they bought it,” Whedon said. “And then ultimately, the show itself is also kind of odd and difficult to market.”

But, potentially fearful of yet another fan backlash, Fox gave it one more season before shutting down Dollhouse for good.

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