So it’s official: Those stupid sons of bitches at FOX have canceled the critically acclaimed (and really sort of awesome) Lone Star after a measly two episodes. We sort of knew this was going to happen — the show’s thorny premise, about a con artist torn between his two secret wives, seemed tailor-made for cable’s short season/long hiatus cycle — but it still hurts. Lone Star had a solid cast, and unlike a lot of the crap that seems to stick around for seasons at a time, it was interesting.
Ah, but it’s dead. And in its honor, we’ve assembled a tribute of sorts. Here, dear reader, is a list of other shows that were yanked off the air almost as quickly as they entered it. Most of them didn’t seem as promising as Lone Star, but you never know what might have been…
Quarterlife (NBC, 2008) So much hype! So much buzz! Such interesting use of technology! And…such low ratings! You’d think the creators of My So-Called Life and Once and Again would get a little more leeway at the network, but then again, both of those shows were cut down in their prime. “Prime” is something Quarterlife never approached; after tons of PR about how the show’s jump from YouTube to TV represented the future of entertainment, the premiere’s low numbers convinced execs that maybe the old way of doing things wasn’t so bad after all. Interestingly, development now seems to be heading the other way — a growing number of soap exiles, for example, have abandoned traditional TV in favor of shorter, creator-owned Web series like Venice and The Bay.
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Emily’s Reasons Why Not (ABC, 2006) One of several examples of film stars flaming out on the small screen (including Hugh Jackman in the equally short-lived Viva Laughlin), this Heather Graham-led sitcom was heavily promoted by the network. But Graham was a decade removed from her rollerskate-wearing career peak, and she’d broken filmgoers’ trust with a string of shitty romantic comedies, so when Emily’s debut was greeted with a hail of critical indifference, audiences quickly found something else to do. (Except for the conservative groups who found its sexual themes offensive, that is.) Not one of the smarter pilots ever aired, Emily’s Reasons Why Not still probably could have done something with its premise and its cast, given enough time. How many seasons was According to Jim allowed to roam free?
Spy Game (ABC, 1997) Don Adams made a career out of spoofing the spy genre with Get Smart; Linden Ashby, unfortunately, only got to do it for three episodes before ABC pulled the plug on Spy Game. As secret agent Lorne Cash, Ashby got to fight the bad guys alongside his 99-ish sidekick (played by Allison Smith) while fending off his exasperated commanding officer (Bruce McCarty). Audiences expressed a profound lack of interest, but Spy Game had plenty of Sledge Hammer!-style potential; perhaps if it had aired on ABC during one of the network’s more desperate periods, it might have gotten enough of a leash to turn into a cult favorite.
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Harsh Realm (Fox, 1999) Chris Carter will forever be known as the guy who gave us The X-Files, and that’s because everything else he’s attempted has been thoroughly ignored. Example: Harsh Realm, in which a guy (played by Scott Bairston) is accidentally zapped into an Army wargames simulator that won’t let him out. He ends up spearheading a mission to take out the evil General Santiago (Terry O’Quinn!) with the help of a crew that includes D.B. Sweeney. Similarities to TRON aside, Harsh Realm had a pretty interesting premise; sadly, the network killed it after three episodes (six more aired on FX, but this was back in ’99, when FX didn’t count).
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South of Sunset (CBS, 1993) Shitty cop shows are a dime a dozen, and this single-episode phenomenon didn’t even look like it was worth a penny — but it did keep its star, Glenn Frey, out of the recording studio, and that was worth awarding it an instant twenty-season commitment.
Melba (CBS, 1986) A sort of poor person’s Donna Summer, Melba Moore scored a handful of minor dance hits during the ’70s and ’80s (and released several albums, including the awfully named Peach Melba), but she was also an actor of note, earning a Tony for her work in 1970’s Purlie. She was also a successful entrepreneur; her Hush Productions, founded with her then-husband Charles Huggins, helped make Freddie Jackson and Mel’isa Morgan household names. None of which helped her when CBS aired the debut episode of her brilliantly named sitcom — about a single mother (named Melba, natch) who runs the Manhattan Visitors Center — on the same day the Challenger space shuttle exploded. Using one tragedy to cover up another, the network hip-checked Melba off the schedule until summer.