Television's One-Season Wonders of the Decade

In the past ten years, a tragically short television life became a badge of honor for some television series; certain shows were just too smart, quirky or under-advertised to be appreciated by the mainstream. Like most rock stars whose early deaths made them icons, hasty cancellations have immortalized some of this decade's best programs. After the jump, seven series that flamed out too soon.

Your own contributions are welcome in the comments section.

[In order of premiere]


Wonderland (2000, ABC)

Peter Berg's directorial television debut -- a series showing the inner workings of a mental hospital from the doctors' and the patients' perspectives -- was as gritty and bleak as a network series has come in the past decade. Ted Levine and Martin Donovan starred as physicians within the hospital, afflicted with some of the same feelings of anger, self-loathing and fear that their patients felt. Although the writing, directing and acting were impeccable, ABC audience members were just not ready to see a vicious Times Square shooting directly after Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. ABC canceled the series after two episodes but DirecTV's Channel 101 has since aired the previously unseen episodes.


Undeclared (2001, Fox)

After Judd Apatow spent a season in high school with NBC's equally short-lived Freaks and Geeks, he moved onto college with Undeclared. About a group of freshmen including Jay Baruchel's geek, Seth Rogen's chubby Canadian and Carla Gallo's neurotic psychology major, the show followed the highs and lows of dorm life. Although the series never reached the cult-status of Freaks and Geeks, it boasted glowing reviews and a star-studded roster of visitors including Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Amy Poehler and Ben Stiller. Fox canceled the series after airing 15 of the 17 finished episodes.


Firefly (2002, Fox)

One of the most ambitious programs conceived in the 2000's, Joss Whedon's Emmy-winning "sci-fi western with existential underpinnings" won over a die hard band of fans that have kept the Firefly flame burning the past seven years. Starring Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity in the year 2517, the series centered on his renegade crew existing on the outskirts of society. Even though the series was critically appreciated as a "wonderful, imaginative mess" with unlimited potential for its rich cast of characters, Whedon-esque witty dialogue and quirk appeal, the series was canceled after eleven (out of order) episodes aired to low ratings. Details of Firefly's painstaking production, from Whedon's battle for the series to be displayed in widescreen format to the "cultural fusion" of its musical score, has been recorded as Firefly lore.

Last Ditch Fan Efforts: Firefly fans AKA Browncoats (named after the brown uniforms worn by characters on the series) raised money for an ad in Variety, launched a postcard-writing campaign to other networks and raised enough money to supply 250 U.S. Navy ships with Firefly DVD sets. Passionate fans helped convince Universal Studios to produce a feature film based on the series called Serenity and a NASA astronaut later took Firefly and Serenity DVDs with him on the Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-117 mission.

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  • Amber says:

    Moonlight was an awesome show that picked up quite a huge fanbase (still has one) and it only had one season. It's a shame really.

  • NP says:

    Much love for _The Comeback_

  • chris says:

    the best shows seem to always get cancelled; the most likely explanation... people do not want to think and most likely like watching brain-numbing reality tv thus making the country dumber which in turn makes more reality tv and so on and so on. The two best shows in the later part of this decade were Journeyman and New Amsterdam. Two excellent shows but both got cancelled after half a season, why? Yet we have constant crap like American Idol/America(has not) Got Talent (both copies of english shows) as well as the office (something original please America), and all the stupid reality shows about people we do not care about in the slightest (ie Hills, Housewives of wherever, pretty much everything on mtv, biggest loser, etc etc. It's a shame I know some names. Yet shows like Journeyman and NA are not advertised or produced well enough and are dropped. But in a country where money is king, American tv will always fail to produce quality (except HBO that is).

  • Astral Weeks says:

    The Middleman was a fine one season wonder.

  • Juancho says:

    There have always been cult shows, but this is the first decade where cancelled programs actually drove fan interest that got them widespread commercial release post-cancellation. It's only going to get more interesting as the broadcast market becomes more saturated and segmented.
    I really liked The Unusuals; I think that in a few years we might see it on a list like this. At least it gave Jeremy Renner a bigger audience.

  • brandon says:

    they left out one that I personally loved from this year. My Own Worst Enemy w/ christian slater. it aired on NBC. prime time slot, tons of promotion, great story, great visual effects, good acting, but NBC pulled it after something like 6 or 7 episodes.

  • John says:

    What ever happened to "The Class"?

  • RB says:

    What about "Keen Eddie" (2003)? Fox barely gave this awesome show a chance 🙁

  • nigel foster says:

    And whatever happened to American Gothic?

  • joe m says:

    Interesting article, but the title doesn't exactly make sense: "One-Season Wonders".
    I'm sure you got the idea from the music industry phrase, "one-hit wonders" which refers to artists who produce one memorable, widely popular and easily recognizable hit song, but then fail to produce a single follow-up to that initial success.
    In TV parlance, the phrase "one and done" would be more appropriate in the context of this discussion.

  • CS says:

    I know Pushing Daisies technically lasted 2 seasons... but ABC didn't have it's heart in the second in terms of marketing and support, so, really, it should classify as a one-season wonder.
    Amazing show.

  • major disaster says:

    Journeyman was the first thing I thought of when I saw this post. It was so good (and I usually hate science fiction, so if I liked it, that means something). I know the writers strike happened right in the middle of the season, so that helped to push it towards cancellation, but I also read that since the writers knew it was going to happen, it allowed them to actually somewhat resolve and explain things enough, so that the episodes that did air have a coherent story arc.
    I liked New Amsterdam as well, at least at the beginning, but I remember starting to get bored with the later episodes.

  • William says:

    Hey network stooges: I don't watch any so called 'reality' shows. Journeyman, Southland, Moonlight and Flashpoint were all killed off before their time. Bring back real programs, not this constant stream of drivel.

  • What a strange list...
    No Invasion? Miracles? Eyes? Freaks & Geeks? Karen Sisco?
    I actually looked three times to make sure an additional page wasn't missing.

  • The Cantankerist says:

    Freaks & Geeks was '99.