Sunday, November 3, 2013

Top 25 One-Season TV Shows of All-Time

Since I'm always railing about how so many of the new TV shows I choose to start watching end up being short-lived, I figured it was high time I compile a list of my favorite shows that never made it past their initial season. Let it be said, that if you peruse professional write-ups on this topic, there are three titles that continuously pop up...Joss Whedon's sci-fi adventure, "Firefly," Claire Danes' debut project, "My So-Called Life," and the early-career Judd Apatow offering, "Freaks and Geeks." I never watched "Firefly" and only caught a handful of episodes of "Geeks." I did watch all 19 episodes of "...Life," and while I found it somewhat engaging, it didn't make my list.

Not all the entries were amazing shows. They were each memorable to me in some way, though. Many of them, it seems, had some kind of sci-fi it aliens, time travel, or whatnot. And the vast majority aired within the past 7-8 years or so...a fact that is owed mostly to the advent of one of my favorite inventions, the DVR. Why did these shows only last one season if they were so good? Conflict and turnover amongst the production staff, shoddy promotion by the networks, misguided airing schedules featuring long hiatuses between episodes, or simply lack of mass appeal, would seem to be the frequent culprits. So now, the list...

Honorable Mention: Push, Nevada (2002) - I may be one of the only people to ever have watched this. This ABC series about an FBI agent who visits the fictional small town of the title, trying to track a missing $1,000,000, was slightly ahead of its time. The gimmick of the show was that there were clues dropped each night that allowed the audience to participate in "finding" the loot. Visiting special Web sites was involved, and in the end, the winner actually won a million bucks. If this show had come out now, during the height of the social media craze, I'm sure it would have caught on much quicker. Alas, only 6 episodes were ever aired. In fact, the network had to simply reveal the remainder of the clues just so they could make good on the prize. This one didn't officially make my list, if only because I don't remember too much about how much I actually liked it. But I wanted to include it for being innovative...just a few years before it would have been cool.

25. Happy Town (2010) - Another ABC misfire...the network promoted this heavily in teaser ads, only to launch it in April, when it was guaranteed no one would watch. Should've just waited until the beginning of the '11-'12 season, in my estimation. Another mysterious small town...this one having enjoyed a 5-year respite after a past rash of child facing its first crime in a while. It had a mystical, Stephen King-like feel to it. Some good performances by Steven Weber, Sam Neill, and some other largely unknown players. I was disappointed this one only lasted 8 episodes.

24. Zero Hour (2013) - Hello again, ABC! I'm sure many of you remember the promos for this Anthony Edwards vehicle. It looked sooooo good. Then came the first two episodes...probably some of the worst television I'd seen in a while. Very disappointing. But then something funny happened. The show was yanked after the third installment, but the network did air the remaining episodes...and the show got a lot better. I think this one actually would have worked fairly well as a one-season effort, but of course the cohesiveness of the story tailed off a bit toward the end of the run because it wasn't CONCEIVED as a one-season program. Anyway, I got some enjoyment from it while it was around.

23. 666 Park Avenue (2012-2013) - I swear I didn't plan it this way, but this is the fourth straight ABC offering I'm mentioning. Also from this most recent season, this one was headed up by "Lost" alumnus, Terry O'Quinn. And let's just say, the guy can do subtle evil like few other actors. It's unreal to think how little success the "Lost" crew has had since the end of that landmark series. Only Michael Emerson ("Person of Interest") and Daniel Dae Kim ("Hawaii Five-O") have managed bona fide hits with their successive projects. This one was set in an eerie NYC apartment building...owned by a billionaire mogul played by O'Quinn, whose character was known by the audience to be either the devil, or at least one of his high-ranking soldiers. Would have been interesting to see where they went with this. They did manage to wrap it up, but again, the "we're gonna end it just to say we ended it"-type endings never prove very satisfying.

22. Mad Love (2011) - Finally, CBS adds to the futility. This was a rom-com type sitcom...basically "Friends" with four people instead of six. Those four people happened to be pretty endearing, in my mind. "American Pie" star, Jason Biggs and the very likable Sarah Chalke (ex-"Roseanne" and "Scrubs) were the leads, with Judy Greer and Tyler Labine providing lots of funny moments as the two friends who supposedly couldn't stand each other, but you knew would end up together if the series had gone on. Unfortunately, it didn't. Only 11 episodes were aired.

21. Alien Nation (1989-1990) - A spin-off of a very good 80's invasion movie, the TV series was a little more lighthearted, although it did a good job of exploring the racism that was perpetrated on the "newcomers." A different twist on the whole alien genre. No notable actors in the television version, but I think it deserved a longer life. Unfortunately, it aired during the early days of the FOX network, and the broadcaster's financial difficulties led to the untimely demise. It did, however, live on in five TV movies aired throughout the 90's. I can't say I recall much about them though.

20. Canterbury's Law (2008) - Before "The Good Wife," there was "Canterbury's Law" on FOX; the show about a lawyer, starring Julianna Margulies. Where TGW is more of an ensemble cast with many strong and known actors other than Margulies, she was definitely the central anchor of her previous series. I thought it had an intriguing backstory, with Elizabeth Canterbury dealing with inner demons resulting from the disappearance (on her watch) of her young son. That certainly would have been a continuous thread to explore, had the series lasted. It apparently wasn't meant to be, as the show fell victim to poor ratings and poor timing (the Writer's Strike shut down production after only 6 episodes).

19. The Chicago Code (2011) - Another FOX entry, "Code" focused on Chicago's first female police superintendent, played with a tough-as-nails grit by "Flashdance" hottie, Jennifer Beals, still looking great at age 47. The interaction between Beals and Delroy Lindo, playing a corrupt and powerful local politician, made this a must-watch for me. Sorry to say, not for many others. 13 episodes aired.

18. Rubicon (2010) - The only cable offering on my list, "Rubicon" had a 13-episode run on AMC. James Badge Dale, probably best remembered for playing Kim Bauer's boyfriend, Chase on "24," starred as an analyst for a small intelligence organization based in NYC. While working on matters involving foreign terrorism and the like, Dale's character discovers that there is a secret agenda being executed by some high up in the agency. It was a fast-paced thriller that kept my attention and was at times, difficult to follow. But it was definitely engaging. It's shows like this that probably would have been even better if they had been intentionally designed as, say, a two-season production.

17. Journeyman (2007) - Kevin McKidd went on to enjoy better exposure on "Grey's Anatomy," but first, he was the lead in this short-lived time travel series. He played a newspaper reporter who suddenly started jumping back in time, apparently to be able to save various people from certain situations. It doesn't sound too enthralling, I know, and apparently, it wasn't for the majority of viewers. I enjoyed the 13 installments that made it to my TV, though.

16. Awake (2012) - This is where things really start to get interesting for me. I think this entry on my list signifies a clear jump in quality from the lower portion. Like "Journeyman," this was an NBC production. I really felt this series benefited from an original concept, and strong performances. British actor, Jason Isaacs, probably best known as Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter films, starred as a police detective who suffers through a horrific car accident with his family. The lingering effects of the crash leave the character suspended in dual realities; one in which his wife died, and the other in which that fate befell his son. It's never completely apparent if he's dreaming one or the other, both, or perhaps is dead himself. It was a head trip of a show. As with several shows on this list, 13 seems to have been the unlucky number of episodes.

15. Reunion (2005-2006) - One of a group of six high school friends is murdered on the night of their 20th reunion. This FOX show chronicles one year in the friends' lives in each episode, starting back at their graduation, and also flashes to the present day investigation surrounding the crime. Only 9 episodes ever aired here, leaving the mystery unresolved for the U.S. audience. Apparently, the remaining 4 episodes were shown abroad. It would have been curious how they would have carried the story past the debut season, but I thought it started out strong. The cast members went on to work on other hit shows like "Brothers and Sisters (Dave Annable, who was a lead in another show on my list - "666 Park Avenue"), and "Grey's Anatomy (Chyler Leigh).

14. V (1984-1985) - It's kind of unbelievable that there were, not one, but two epic failures in trying to adapt a regular TV series from the two preceding sci-fi miniseries ("V: The Original" and "V: The Final Battle"), considering those initial outings enjoyed some of the biggest viewership numbers in television history. NBC's first attempt came right on the heels of "Final Battle," but just couldn't capitalize while the iron was hot. The oldest entry on my list, it was ridiculously expensive to produce, effectively ignored the events of the miniseries, and was also criticized for cheesy production tactics, despite its hefty price tag. I enjoyed the continuing saga of the Visitors, though, and was also starting to like the 2009-2011 reboot even more, when that one collapsed under the weight of behind the scenes tumult and sagging ratings. I didn't include the latter on this list, because it actually lasted into a second season. I really wish they would have gotten one of these two series right.

13. Deception (2013) - This was an incredibly acted and well-written series, centering around the apparent murder of a wealthy young woman, staged to look like a drug overdose. It's a classic whodunit, shifting focus from one family member to another, along with various peripheral characters entering the suspect pool as well. It was never heavily promoted by NBC, and just couldn't survive amongst all the reality shows and talent competitions. Victor Garber and Tate Donovan (currently appearing on "Hostages" - probably also doomed to end up on this list eventually) gave especially transfixing performances.

12. Kidnapped (2006-2007) - The first of three entries from what was, for me, a hugely disappointing '06-'07 television season, in terms of seeing quality shows meet untimely demises. Luckily, this particular show managed to bring everything to a somewhat satisfying conclusion within the 13 episodes that were produced. They didn't all air, however, forcing me to do something I never do - purchase a TV series on DVD. I had to see this one through, though. It's now available to view for free, in its entirety, on the site It's owned by SONY, so yes, it's a legal streaming site. I highly recommend that you partake. Jeremy Sisto, wasted on the vastly inferior current series, "Suburgatory," gave a masterful performance here, as did Timothy Hutton, Delroy Lindo (also appearing at number 19 on my list), and a host of other talented actors (including my first exposure to the beautiful Olivia Thirlby). Really wish this would have continued for at least a full 22-episode season.

11. FlashForward (2009-2010) - Ah, the "Lost" curse rears its ugly head again. First, we saw Terry O'Quinn appear at number 23, and Elizabeth Mitchell just narrowly escape inclusion by the "V" reboot managing to last into Season 2. Here, we find Sonya Walger (the former show's Penny), and Dominic Monaghan (Charlie, who suffered one of the most dramatic TV deaths ever) working together again. Everyone on Earth blacks out simultaneously for just over two minutes, causing mass chaos. During this event, everyone catches a glimpse of their lives at a juncture just over 6 months in the future, the titular FlashForward. The FBI investigates, using their own visions to piece the mystery together. It was a unique and well-executed, high-concept series, that did not deserve the fate it met.

10. Invasion (2005-2006) - Strange, water-inhabiting alien creatures appear and start taking over the bodies of local citizens. A great cast, including William Fichtner and Tyler Labine (who appeared at #22 on this list), great writing, and a captivating story arc kept me glued to ABC on Wednesday nights for 10 months. The show was created, executive produced, and co-written by Shaun Cassidy, brother and son of Partridge Family alumni David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, respectively.

9. Terra Nova (2011) - This FOX time travel epic was probably one of the most cataclysmic flops in television series history, given the level of hype that started during the '10-'11 season. Anytime Steven Spielberg attaches his name to a project, the expectations are going to be high, but here you also had Jon Cassar and Brannon Braga, who brought you the long-running hit, "24," and Alex Graves, who had worked on shows like "The West Wing" and "Fringe." A great pedigree for sure. But you could tell it was doomed before it started, when it was initially slated for a May '11 premiere and had to be pushed back to Fall due to production delays. The ratings ended up being not that terrible, but that was not enough to cut it for such an expensive venture. I always get a kick out of seeing how writers handle time travel stories, but this show didn't suffer from the usual paradox issues (if a character does such and such in the past, wouldn't that change this and that, etc.), because everyone basically was blasted back to prehistoric times where the only lives that could be affected were those of the dinosaurs. It did suffer from what I thought were unusually cheesy production and special effects, considering how much money was spent. But I found the story captivating...basically people of future Earth going back in time for a do-over, escaping the over-population and environmental problems of their time. All spearheaded by the mean guy from "Avatar" (Stephen Lang). A waste of a great idea, for which the bar was set way too high.

8. Golden Boy (2013) - While I feel like I was the only person who ever heard of this show, much less watched it, the ratings were actually not that bad for this series about an upstart homicide detective who ends up becoming NYC's youngest police commissioner. But, the numbers couldn't live up to the watermark set by other CBS procedurals like the "CSI" and "NCIS" shows. Here, each episode has Detective Walter Clark and his partner, Don Owen, tackling tough cases and battling combative co-workers and city-wide corruption. We also see flash forwards to Clark's time as commissioner, revealing troubling details about how he got there. The real standout for me was Chi McBride as Owen. His character had been towing the company line for years, never getting his well-earned promotion, but inching towards retirement with grace. McBride really exuded the toll that it took on Owen, and the urgency with which he tried to impart his career lessons on the inexperienced Clark. An amazing performance that I feel carried the show. Not far enough, apparently. Lead actor, Theo James, appears destined for stardom, however, about to hit the limelight in the film adaptation of the massive hit novel, "Divergent."

7. The Event (2010-2011) - The series opens with a mysterious kidnapping and a plane disappearing as it's being aimed like a missile towards a gathering where the President is speaking. We go on to learn that the President was about to reveal that he recently discovered the US had been detaining a group of alien visitors in a secluded camp in Alaska ever since they had crash landed there during WWII. Others had escaped to infiltrate American society. Later in the season, we learn that the "Event" of the title refers to the transporting of the aliens' home planet into our solar system so the remainder of their kind can join them in taking over Earth, as their planet is soon to be rendered uninhabitable. A sterling cast, featuring Jason Ritter (son of John), Laura Innes (ex-"ER"), Blair Underwood as the President, and Zeljko Ivanek (ex-"Damages") made this, for me, appointment television (well, appointment with my DVR recording, anyway). It was promoted pretty well. I have no idea why this one flopped. Unfortunately, it's not Ritter's last appearance on this list, and Blair Underwood just had an even harsher fate befall his most recent outing, "Ironside," which was canned after only a couple episodes (and based on having seen the pilot, it was the right decision). This show went out with a great cliffhanger, one never to be resolved.

6. The Firm (2012) - After "The Event," NBC follows up with this continuation of the story told in the 1993 Tom Cruise hit film of the same name, itself adapted from the John Grisham novel. It could have been called "The Disaster." It started with the lowest-rated regular season debut for any dramatic television show in NBC's history, and continued as one of the worst series flops ever on any network. The incomprehensible part for me is, the show was awesome. Picking up where Tom Cruise left off can't be easy, but Josh Lucas was such a likable and compelling Mitch McDeere...he drove all the action, and there was a lot of it, with ease. A strong supporting cast included Callum Keith Rennie and Juliette Lewis as great comic relief. Is my taste in television really so bad that I saw this one so differently from everyone else? At least they aired a full season of episodes due to some cockeyed financing arrangement.

5. John Doe (2002-2003) - Before hitting it big in "Prison Break," Dominic Purcell was FOX's "John Doe" for one intriguing season. A man wakes up on an island off the coast of Seattle, with no clothes and no memory of who he is...but he seems to know everything about everything else on Earth. While he helps the Seattle police solve crimes, he's also searching for answers about his own life. I don't remember many details about this show, other than it made for great television. The season ended on a cliffhanger, but if the alleged intended story the producers had in mind is accurate, maybe it's better they quit while they were behind. Supposedly, Doe acquired all his knowledge after a near-fatal boating accident, after which he (or his soul or whatever) traveled out of body to a spiritual plane where all of the universe's questions are answered. Just no.

4. The Unusuals (2009) - Ten incredible episodes. That's all we got. I guess some things aren't meant to be. If this show had been a bigger hit, Jeremy Renner may not have become the huge movie star that he is now. Since nominated twice for Oscars ("The Hurt Locker" and "The Town"), and appearing in several Hollywood blockbusters, Renner has been a true late bloomer in the industry. But here, he appeared as a homicide detective alongside other stellar performances by Amber Tamblyn as his partner, and Harold Perrineau (there's that "Lost" jinx again) and Adam Goldberg as another pair. The latter two were absolutely hilarious...I would have loved to see a spinoff movie focusing just on the two of them. The character development on this show was off the charts. I got the sense that the audience could have really cared about these guys if the series had lasted. Oh well.

3. Commander-in-Chief (2005-2006) - Geena Davis, an ingenious casting choice, rightfully won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actress for her role as the first woman President of the United States. Those were about the only good things that happened surrounding this series. In one of the biggest head scratchers of all time, ABC completely botched the launch of this show. It started out looking like a huge hit, but turmoil behind the scenes (creator Rod Lurie was ousted early in the season), and one of those ridiculous hiatuses that the networks always insist on these days, doomed this show to collapse. An incredible supporting cast, headed by Donald Sutherland and Harry Lennix (currently of "The Blacklist") and great writing weren't enough. This would have been ten times better than "The West Wing" ever was.

2. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007) - Speaking of "The West Wing," how do you get a show created and written by one of the most revered TV and film writers of recent years, throw in Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Timothy Busfield, Steven Weber, Sarah Paulson, and many more talented actors, and manage to only last one season? So, there were actually TWO NBC shows about the production of a fictional sketch comedy show that debuted in this fateful season. One had all of the above, the other had Tracy Morgan. One was awesome, the other had Tracy Morgan. One was canceled after one season, the other had Tracy Morgan. One had higher ratings, the other had Tracy Morgan. I watched exactly one episode of "30 Rock" and it was a steaming it had Tracy Morgan. I will forever hold that show in contempt because it got picked up, whereas this indelible Aaron Sorkin-created series was unceremoniously dropped like a bad habit, again, despite having better ratings. "Studio 60" was funny, dramatic, heartwarming, engaging, name it. A stroke of mastery by everyone involved. The pedigree was so good, I'm stunned to this day that they couldn't make it work.

1. The Class (2006-2007) - As I indicated previously, the '06-'07 season was the most heartbreaking ever for me as a fan of great television. Three of my Top 12 shows on this list, including the #1 and #2 entries, were from that year. This slot, for me, represents the single biggest catastrophe in television history. Created by David Crane, the mastermind behind "Friends," one would have thought this show had the potential to be hilarious. One would have been right. "The Class" was the single funniest show I've ever watched, and one of only two sitcoms to appear on my list. Careers were launched here...particularly those of Jesse Tyler Ferguson (now Mitchell on "Modern Family"), Jon Bernthal (ex-Shane on "The Walking Dead" and starring in the upcoming "Mob City), and Lizzy Caplan ("Cloverfield" and "True Blood"). Eight elementary school classmates become friends again after Ethan (hi again, Jason Ritter) arranges for a reunion-type party to celebrate 20 years since meeting his which said fiancee promptly dumps him. That's how the series starts...and it only got crazily more funny from there. The chemistry amongst the characters was flawless (particularly Ritter and Caplan). Throw in some incredible supporting characters (the interaction between Ferguson's Richie Velch and his cold fish wife, played pitch perfectly by Sara Gilbert - and a standout performance by former Star Search champ, Sam Harris, as the overwhelmingly gay but married to a woman and defiantly identifying as straight, Perry Pearl)...and this was one CLASS act. CBS missed a big opportunity here as they simply refused to promote the show. No appearances by the cast on any talk show in existence, no press coverage whatsoever, and the most glaring - a teaser for practically every OTHER show on the network (including pile of crap, "The Ghost Whisperer") during that year's broadcast of the Grammy Awards. Yet no mention of "The Class" anywhere. A colossal failure on the part of the network, and a colossal disappointment for, the announcement of the cancellation happened to fall on my birthday...yay. Perhaps the most confounding aspect of the failure is that the show was pulled in favor of "Rules of Engagement," which astoundingly lasted for seven seasons. That's right...the talentless gnome known as David Spade now has TWO seven-year sitcoms under his belt, and "The Class" failed. Incomprehensible. You can still find many, if not all, of the episodes on Youtube...some guy posted them, splitting each episode into three parts. I strongly recommend you treat yourself.