Every decade has TV shows that were canceled or otherwise ended far too early in their run. The 1990s were especially brutal on great shows that often didn’t even get a chance to get going, even as it was one amazing decade for TV. Here are our picks for the ‘90s TV shows that ended well before they should have.
My So-Called Life (1994)
My So-Called Life just might be the most notorious of all the shows on this list. It won awards, it was praised by critics, and it generated a solid cult following as it followed the high school life of Angela Chase (Claire Danes). The fans weren't enough to keep it from being canceled by ABC after just one season. There was even an online petition to save it, which was reportedly the first of its kind, but it still got the axe and thirty years later, we’re all still a little bitter.
NewsRadio isn’t the story of a show getting canceled in the traditional sense, it’s a story about a terrible tragedy befalling one of the great comedians of the era. SNL legend Phil Hartman, who starred as Bill McNeil, was killed by his wife in a murder/suicide in 1998, and despite the show trying to continue without its star, the inevitable happened and it was canceled just one season later.
Northern Exposure (1990)
Northern Exposure is the show that never had a chance. Despite being a critical darling (it holds a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and a slew of awards, including multiple Golden Globes and Emmys, it just wasn’t respected by its network, CBS.
It was forced to change timeslots, there was discord between star Rob Morrow and the producers, and as a result, it never seemed to find an audience big enough to have it endure. While it lasted six seasons, it ended unceremoniously, despite many believing it could have gone on much longer, including its dedicated, if small, fanbase. Still, there are still occasional hopes for a revival.
Freaks And Geeks (1999)
Easily the most famous (or infamous) entry on this list is Freaks and Geeks. Still beloved today by millions, it was canceled after just 19 episodes, including three that weren’t even aired in its original run. It’s become the source of Hollywood legend, launching the careers of creator Judd Apatow (who once told Variety that everything he’s done since is inspired by its cancellation) and numerous actors including James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogan. Like Northern Exposure, it was bounced around in timeslots by the network, never finding a home, which in those days was a death knell for shows.
The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. (1993)
A show from the eventual creator of LOST (Carlton Cuse), the writer of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, (Jeffrey Boam), and starring the legendary Bruce Campbell is sure to be a hit, right? Well, not so fast. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. debuted in the summer of ‘93 on Fox and it was everything you’d expect from a trio like that. It was weird, campy, over-the-top, and really good. Critics loved it, but Fox apparently did not, and despite great reviews and a solid, dedicated (yet small) audience, the show was canceled after just one season.
Sports Night (1998)
If you don’t remember the ‘90s, you'd be forgiven for not knowing that ESPN’s Sportscenter was huge. As a result, we got the great Sports Night from writer/creator Aaron Sorkin, which was loosely based on the ESPN tag team partners of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. The show has exactly what you want from a Sorkin-led show. Snappy dialog and a bunch of very likable characters created a little fictional home for sports fans on ABC. The bad news is that the show never found a big enough audience and was canceled after just two seasons despite winning multiple Emmys. The good news is Sorkin decided to focus on The West Wing.
In The House (1995)
LL Cool J’s become most famous for his long stint on NCIS but that is far from the legendary rapper’s first foray into television. In the mid-nineties, he starred in a short-lived sitcom on NBC called In The House. LL’s magnetic personality should have been enough to sustain years of success, and the show was wholesome, family-oriented fun.
Sadly, like so many other shows on the list, it was meddled with endlessly, never really finding a focus, or a consistent audience. NBC canceled it after two seasons and the old UPN network picked it up, only to cancel it after an additional two. It aired a final season in first-run syndication but never found the audience it should have had.
The Ben Stiller Show (1992)
There might not have been a more ‘90s show than The Ben Stiller Show. The cast is filled with Gen X icons like Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, plus the namesake of the show, Ben Stiller. The writers included Odenkirk, Judd Apatow, and David Cross. It even started on MTV, which doesn’t get more ‘90s. After a quick 13-episode run on MTV, it moved to Fox, where it sadly withered on the vine and was canceled after just 12 episodes. It set the tone for Cross and Odenkirk’s success on HBO’s Mr. Show, with edgy, hilarious skits and segments, but it didn’t last as long as it should have.
The State (1994)
Another MTV sketch comedy show that didn’t last as long as it should have is The State. Born from the New York improv group of the same name, The State aired 25 episodes over four brief seasons on MTV in 1994 and 1995. Due to various reasons, including the cast turning down the option to take the show to CBS, it ended and many in the cast went on to other projects, including, most notably, Reno 911! Sketch and improv comedy was at its apex and The State was one of the best, but the cast had bigger plans, it seems, and the show didn’t get the run it could have had.
The Critic (1994)
It actually didn’t feel like The Critic got canceled too soon because reruns ran on Comedy Central forever, but if you are a fan of the show, you know all too well how short its run was. Jon Lovitz starred as Jay Sherman, the snobbiest of movie critics. He hated basically everything, and it was glorious. Sadly, it never really got any respect from its initial network, ABC, and probably should have run on Comedy Central from the beginning. Alas, it last just two seasons and 23 snarky episodes.
The NBC show Sliders was like Quantum Leap and the Marvel Multiverse had a baby (yeah, yeah...years before the MCU introduced its multiverse). Jerry O’Connell led the cast through different alternate universes using his “sliding” technology. There were literally endless possibilities for the show, but Fox never respected it. Moving episodes into a different order, causing continuity errors, and even refusing to allow it to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of Season 2. It lasted just three seasons on Fox, before moving to Sci Fi for two more, but it never really had a chance and should have gone on for much longer.
The Adventures Of Pete & Pete (1991)
The Adventures of Pete & Pete sits right alongside Pee Wee’s Playhouse as the coolest, and strangest kids' show ever produced. It was surrealist, it was funny, and somehow they managed to pull some of the most amazing cameos from stars like Michael Stipe, Alicia Keyes, Selma Blair, and so many more. Who knows why it was canceled, as even before it went into endless reruns, it had quite the cult following, but the creators did confirm that Nickelodeon did indeed cancel after just three whacky and wonderful seasons.
Two Guys And A Girl (1998)
Before Ryan Reynolds became one of the biggest stars in the MCU, before he made millions from cell phones and liquor, and before he bought a soccer team in Wales, he starred in a very cute, very fun sitcom on ABC. Originally called Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, the title dropped the last bit after Season 3. Despite the charm of the cast, which also included Monk star Traylor Howard and Richard Ruccolo, the network messed with the show constantly. It moved the show to Friday nights (from Wednesdays) before Season 4 and the ratings tanked, never regaining its previous numbers, and it was sadly canceled after the season.
Eerie, Indiana (1991)
Oh, what could it have been for Eerie, Indiana? A fine example of a show that struggled to find its voice, but had so much promise. Looking back, it feels almost like Stranger Things for Boomers but set in current times. The writers probably bit off more than they could chew, but you have to admire their vision of a kids-oriented horror show, set in the '90s, full of inside jokes about 1950s movie stars and Boomer nostalgia. It’s a show that was really well done, and smart, but possibly too smart, as it didn’t even last a full season before getting dumped by NBC.
The X-Files was one of the biggest early hits for the then-fledgling Fox network, so it makes sense that a spinoff would be created. Millennium debuted in the fall of 1996 with a lot of hype. The network stuck with it for a while, but it never gained much traction with fans of the original. While X-Files has endured, Millennium is in danger of becoming merely a footnote. The show ended so abruptly that, for all intents and purposes, the defacto series finale ended up as an episode of The X-Files.
Living Single (1993)
Queen Latifah is an icon in music and on screen, and a major part of her legacy is Living Single. It was called groundbreaking in its honest, and positive portrayal of African-American women, but tragically never gained a large enough audience for Fox to give it its proper due. If you need any proof that it should have gone on longer, just know that it’s essentially never not been shown somewhere on cable in syndication since it first debuted 30 years ago. It has a huge, dedicated audience that would love a revival, but that hasn't happened yet.
Freakazoid!, produced by Warner Bros. and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, was meant to be another hit on the heels of another cartoon from the same team, Animaniacs. It wasn’t all that different in tone, but due to a number of issues, it never grabbed the same kids that Animaniacs did. It was moved around constantly into different timeslots and never found a home long enough to develop an audience. It made just 24 episodes before getting the axe from Kids WB, but showed how successful it could have been when those episodes did find a home in syndication on the Cartoon Network, where it developed a strong cult following.
There are a lot of reasons shows don’t take off, even when they have all the ingredients of a hit. Every one on this list could’ve been all-time great television and many are cult hits, but for one reason or another (or many) never were, and we’ll never know just how celebrated they could have been.