Total Recall

11 TV Shows Cancelled After the First Episode

With a new TV season nigh upon us, we look at some past shows that failed to make the cut.

by | September 4, 2014 | Comments

We’re entering another TV season, which means dozens of optimistic new shows are lined up to make their premieres — and unfortunately, it also means that most of those fresh additions will be gone by summer. To celebrate their stars’ and creators’ bravery in the face of all-but-insurmountable odds, we decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a selection of programs who were sacrificed to the television gods after only a single airing, and came up with an eclectic list of overnight sensations culled from across several decades of abrupt failure. Don’t change that dial — it’s time for Total Recall!

Co-Ed Fever (1979)

The first few months of 1979 saw a trio of hastily assembled, Animal House-inspired sitcoms hit the airwaves. By the summer, they’d all been cancelled, but only one of them suffered the ignominy of being yanked after a single airing: Co-Ed Fever, starring future character actor titan David Keith and future Fall Guy ingenue Heather Thomas in an alleged laffer about the hormone-addled ribaldry that erupts after an all-girls’ college starts admitting men. Although the show’s set survived as the first-year dorm for The Facts of Life, most of Co-Ed Fever‘s six-episode stockpile was never seen by American viewers, airing only on the Canadian dial.

Melba (1986)

Getting Melba Moore in front of the cameras was something of a coup for CBS in 1986: a successful recording artist since the mid-’70s, she was on a hot streak a decade later, scoring a string of R&B hits that culminated with two Number One smashes that year, “A Little Bit More” and “Falling.” Unfortunately, Moore’s sitcom (helpfully titled Melba) had the misfortune of airing its debut episode the night of the Challenger space shuttle disaster on January 28, and its ratings were subsequently so low that the network immediately pulled the show from the lineup and dumped the balance of its six-episode run off during the summer (which, during those days, was generally the rough equivalent of throwing the tape in a dumpster).

South of Sunset (1993)

Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but his platinum credentials in the music arena haven’t exactly spilled over into his acting career; the highlights of Frey’s filmography include a much-ballyhooed guest-starring appearance on Miami Vice and a role in Wiseguy, while the lowlights include the 1986 Alan Smithee film Let’s Get Harry and his short-lived CBS series South of Sunset, which managed to sully the network’s schedule for one night only on October 27, 1993. Sunset‘s immediate cancellation had to be embarrassing for Frey, but he didn’t have long to sulk — the Eagles were back together the following year, on the road for one of the most successful tours of all time. To celebrate, VH1 even aired five of the show’s seven filmed episodes.

The Great Defender (1995)

Long before he scored a gig on The Sopranos as Jackie Aprile, Sr., Michael Rispoli was the star of the 1995 freshman hopeful The Great Defender, about a Boston lawyer who works out of his apartment alongside his mother/receptionist (Who’s the Boss alum Rhoda Gemignani). The supporting cast included the Emmy-winning Richard Kiley, but none of it was enough to stem the ratings bloodshed when Defender premiered against perennial Sunday night juggernaut 60 Minutes, and after they crunched the numbers (it pulled in a dismal 6 percent of the viewing audience), Fox took it off the schedule. The network dithered over whether or where to give it a new timeslot, eventually letting the actors’ contracts expire — which worked out pretty well for Rispoli, who’d booked a handful of roles in high-profile movies (including While You Were Sleeping and The Juror).

Public Morals (1996)

The long-running ABC drama NYPD Blue was a Top 10 hit in 1996, so it’s understandable that creator Steven Bochco might contemplate a spinoff. Less understandable: Said spinoff turned out to be Public Morals, a CBS sitcom starring NYPD cast member Bill Brochtrup playing his character, administrative aide John Irvin, in the midst of a group of vice squad officers played by an ensemble cast that included Donal Logue. Optimistic CBS execs commissioned 13 episodes, but after a single airing of the new series was greeted with abysmal ratings and rotten reviews, Public Morals was no more. Fortunately for Brochtrup, his old job was still waiting for him back at NYPD Blue.

Lawless (1997)

Nearly a decade after his short-but-flamboyant NFL career ended, ex-linebacker Brian Bosworth brought his thespian muscle to bear on network TV as the star of Fox’s Lawless, a detective drama built around the Miami-set exploits of special ops vet-turned-motorbikin’ private dick John Lawless and his Jamaican helicopter pilot pal Reggie (Glenn Plummer). Immediately dismissed by critics as a crass Miami Vice clone, Lawless tumbled off the schedule after its premiere, freeing up Bosworth to continue adding to the film career he’d begun with 1991’s Stone Cold. (Recent roles include “The Friendly Pirate” in Patrick Warburton’s Rock Slyde.)

Dot Comedy (2000)

In need of a quick addition to the lineup after cancelling The Trouble with Normal just five episodes into its run, ABC trotted out Dot Comedy, a clip show (hosted by Annabelle Gurwitch and the Sklar Brothers) cobbled together from funny stuff the staff dug up on the internet. Not the worst premise in the world (just ask Daniel Tosh), but viewers simply weren’t interested — and after looking over the debut episode’s ratings, neither were network executives. The irony here? After all that work collecting laughs, the funniest thing about Dot Comedy is that plenty of shows would dearly love to pull in the 4.1 million viewers that got it cancelled.

The Will (2005)

Plenty of reality shows have tried to use a shockingly tasteless premise to drum up ratings, and more often than not, those efforts fail — but they’ve never failed quite as spectacularly as they did with CBS’s The Will, a would-be contest in which the relatives of a multimillionaire vied for inheritance of his vast Kansas ranch. Although the balance of the show’s six episodes were eventually aired on the Fox Reality Channel (R.I.P.) and in New Zealand (we’re still waiting for a declaration of war), the CBS schedule had a Will-shaped hole after poor ratings prompted a quick plug-pulling following the first installment on January 8, 2005. (FYI: the rich guy’s wife ended up “winning” the contest.)

Emily’s Reasons Why Not (2006)

It happens a lot more often than it used to, but anytime a movie star decides to take a series gig on television, it turns into a big story — and that’s exactly what happened with the heavily hyped Emily’s Reasons Why Not, which brought Heather Graham to the ABC lineup as the center of a sitcom about a self-help author who — quelle surprise! — is cursed with a comically inept approach to her own love life. If that premise sounds tired, well, the execution wasn’t much to write home about either; the series was roundly panned by critics and ignored by viewers, and after a single airing, the network had all the reasons why not it could have asked for. Five of the six episodes that were filmed only aired far, far away from American viewers (example: Slovenia).

Quarterlife (2008)

A would-be thirtysomething for 21st-century twentysomethings, Quarterlife started out as an online-only series that posted in brief increments on MySpace, YouTube, and its official site, which doubled as a social network — and it was a raging success, racking up such gaudy traffic stats that NBC execs became convinced it might serve as a sort of dramatic bellwether for a paradigm shift for TV in the internet era. Retrofitted into six hourlong episodes, the show made its debut January 31, 2008… and was cancelled almost immediately thereafter, joining the list of creative ventures whose alliance with technology before its time helped doom them to the scrapheap.

Secret Talents of the Stars (2008)

Our widespread belief that celebrities can only be good at one thing can be almost childlike in its insistence, and downright hurtful for people whose talents really do spill over into a variety of seemingly separate disciplines. Of course, for every EGOT winner, there are probably a couple dozen people who probably shouldn’t pursue their private dreams in public — and that’s the gist of Secret Talents of the Stars, a 2008 competition series, hosted by the professionally unctuous John O’Hurley, in which famous people (like, say, Partridge Family alum Danny Bonaduce) subjected themselves to being judged on television for skills you didn’t know they had (like, say, riding a unicycle). Alas, not even the sight of George Takei singing a country song was enough to lure viewers, and after its April 8, 2008 debut, Secret Talents of the Stars was no more.

For more Total Recall lists, be sure to check out our archive.

For more TV news, visit here.

For a complete list of this Fall’s TV premiere dates, visit here.

  • David Cohen

    You forgot “Turn On”

    “Turn-On is an American sketch comedy series that aired on ABC in February 1969. Only one episode was shown leaving one episode unaired and the show is considered one of the most infamous flops in TV history.’

    “Turn-On’s sole episode was shown on Wednesday, February 5, 1969, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Among the cast were Teresa Graves (who would join the Laugh-In cast that autumn) and longtime children’s show host, character actor, and voice artist Chuck McCann. The writing staff included a young Albert Brooks. The guest host for the first episode was Tim Conway.’

    “In 2002, Turn-On was ranked number 27 on TV Guide’s 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time. What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History ranked it at number 25.’

    – Wikipedia

    • whattabunchacrap

      They also forgot W*A*L*T*E*R, Gary Burghoff’s spinoff from M*A*S*H. It aired one time in 1984 and was never seen again.

      • David Cohen

        I forgot that one too

      • Stephen Voss

        To be fair it was already known that the series was not going to be picked up they just aired it as a “special presentation”

  • Rick Clark

    I liked Emily’s Reason Why Not.

  • RandyWolf

    Turn on came to mind when I saw the category of this story. I was just a kid but my memory is that it didn’t even last a whole episode it was so terrible.

  • Glen Kiltz

    Notice the disproportionate number of these shows in the mid 1990s

    • Two Buck Chuck

      Everything is funny with Cocaine.

  • ·⋆·Ṭåηḳ✩Gïяℓ·⋆·

    South of sunset & Emilys reason why not, would be a huge hit today. Someone should totally bring those back!

  • Jovet

    They also forgot The Dana Carvey Show. Which was a shame.. it was pretty damn funny.

    • squawneye

      That was a funny show but I think it lasted several episodes.

      • Jovet

        IIRC the first episode was too controversial (specifically the multi-teat Bill Clinton scene) and further episodes that had been made never aired.

        • squawneye

          Hmm Maybe it made such an impression on me that it seemed like more. i do remember it being really funny.

  • MrBeam

    Should have happened with Super Girl. I tried it for 2-3 episodes hoping it would get better. Finally just deleted it from my weekly recordings and never went back.

    • G Rios

      You only tried to watch cus she’s hot.

  • Ann LaMattina

    New show “Second Chance” should be cancelled. Awful. No second chance for you!!

  • Joseph

    The Great Defender actually aired 5 episodes. It was put on hold after the first episode (March 1995), but was brought back in July 1995 for another 4 episodes. So, it wasn’t actually cancelled after only one episode… and where is the most famous 1-episode program — “Turn On?”

  • LOL, i guess they don’t cancel shows like they used too. Those shows had to be pretty bad to get canned after a single episode.

Tag Cloud

crime drama batman Acorn TV anime SXSW dragons slashers Vudu Mindy Kaling Nominations Binge Guide cults Film First Look Star Trek BBC America RT History police drama Rocky cooking Warner Bros. psychological thriller Spike crime thriller PaleyFest space strong female leads VH1 Marvel Horror renewed TV shows composers unscripted YA tv talk MTV Toys 007 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 71st Emmy Awards zero dark thirty Animation President Hulu IFC MCU Action WarnerMedia Stephen King Spring TV Musical Family Musicals YouTube Premium binge LGBTQ CMT Television Academy Masterpiece cinemax Syfy 2019 teaser ESPN MSNBC Grammys Best and Worst Character Guide Countdown Disney streaming service blaxploitation canceled TV shows CBS All Access SundanceTV Disney Channel IFC Films Esquire Netflix FX Shudder what to watch Winners Kids & Family First Reviews Ovation politics festivals cops Lionsgate Ghostbusters Video Games psycho series Sci-Fi zombie Anna Paquin 2016 spanish language DC Comics Fall TV dc Interview political drama X-Men dceu animated HBO Max GoT Music GIFs discovery doctor who Western Set visit hist Summer CBS Mary Poppins Returns The Walking Dead revenge toy story witnail latino Mudbound El Rey Pop adaptation Food Network Extras mockumentary Apple E3 Writers Guild of America Pirates 24 frames technology TCA Photos TV renewals USA Network Trailer GLAAD miniseries Apple TV+ Lifetime Ellie Kemper TIFF Film Festival Trophy Talk travel medical drama singing competition San Diego Comic-Con History CW Seed Super Bowl OWN Sony Pictures game of thrones spider-man Polls and Games Lucasfilm The Arrangement Sundance Now green book joker harry potter aliens RT21 Comics on TV Marathons streaming Cosplay spain Columbia Pictures breaking bad Drama Comedy Central robots cancelled television comiccon New York Comic Con historical drama science fiction Premiere Dates 2018 foreign CNN Mary Tyler Moore Reality Competition comic BBC social media Rock Pixar Showtime TNT DirecTV Pride Month The Witch A&E Fox News natural history Spectrum Originals Epix National Geographic anthology Superheroes disaster See It Skip It WGN TBS 45 Election TV book Fantasy based on movie Paramount Network FOX Podcast game show 2017 finale spy thriller DC streaming service war Box Office sequel Dark Horse Comics Disney Trivia VICE ITV Nat Geo ABC Family halloween 20th Century Fox vampires golden globes 21st Century Fox Opinion cancelled TV shows Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sitcom Nickelodeon NBC Certified Fresh DC Universe DGA Pet Sematary Emmy Nominations Rom-Com Adult Swim Universal Mystery transformers PBS Sneak Peek Schedule Shondaland serial killer Crackle justice league Martial Arts TCM south america movies diversity Awards Tarantino Rocketman Comic Book Cannes Quiz Bravo American Society of Cinematographers Brie Larson USA Infographic stand-up comedy ghosts YouTube Red Peacock Biopics children's TV TruTV sports dramedy Star Wars Captain marvel thriller Awards Tour Sundance casting Emmys Tomatazos Year in Review The Purge Disney Plus ratings talk show NYCC 2015 Holidays richard e. Grant Tumblr true crime crime boxoffice Paramount docudrama romantic comedy Country Superheroe FXX Reality facebook Thanksgiving cancelled Women's History Month romance AMC Cartoon Network BET Amazon Prime Watching Series ABC Red Carpet supernatural Black Mirror LGBT Amazon Prime Video Chernobyl Comedy Heroines period drama YouTube Teen cars Arrowverse Valentine's Day Britbox free movies biography Logo Mary poppins Walt Disney Pictures Song of Ice and Fire quibi cats TV Land cancelled TV series crossover Amazon TCA 2017 Starz spinoff HBO award winner mutant Oscars Christmas jamie lee curtis video Creative Arts Emmys E! kids Freeform television APB nature theme song Elton John The CW Calendar TLC canceled zombies adventure hispanic Winter TV elevated horror SDCC