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.

Tag Cloud

Sundance Broadway Disney Channel period drama Awards Tour Tubi Tokyo Olympics Lionsgate mcc black comedy Chernobyl rt archives Valentine's Day Captain marvel Funimation Rocketman Comic-Con@Home 2021 cults Western nfl Pride Month godzilla Nat Geo movies nbcuniversal Television Academy Fox Searchlight Netflix Christmas movies TV movies harry potter Election Animation natural history tv talk MCU kids book adaptation Turner Classic Movies Opinion Super Bowl streaming Adult Swim singing competition spy thriller Esquire new york Family YouTube hist young adult unscripted Tumblr facebook dramedy Amazon Prime space ABC Fall TV Alien Comic Book USA festival strong female leads Grammys Red Carpet TNT Fantasy DC streaming service casting Interview rotten movies we love Pirates Shudder spanish language justice league Pacific Islander jurassic park TCM Avengers royal family remakes Rock biopic gangster E! free movies werewolf anime zero dark thirty Best and Worst Ovation Lucasfilm New York Comic Con Sundance Now Action DC Universe Calendar disaster pirates of the caribbean Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt best composers Star Wars TV One know your critic 4/20 Prime Video USA Network Mystery Thanksgiving Box Office Instagram Live Year in Review Music Apple TV Plus Country Rocky christmas movies VOD X-Men dragons 99% crime 79th Golden Globes Awards festivals ID based on movie Starz worst Nominations WGN screenings zombie 20th Century Fox jamie lee curtis TLC Kids & Family See It Skip It serial killer travel LGBTQ TCA 2017 parents 90s live event international Certified Fresh children's TV latino trailers 73rd Emmy Awards ITV Universal medical drama Watching Series TCA Awards DGA Academy Awards dogs suspense diversity Video Games golden globe awards Vudu Reality Competition Black Mirror Countdown mutant thriller canceled Pop Sundance TV Paramount reboot Black History Month Film Festival Song of Ice and Fire Endgame The Purge 21st Century Fox Pet Sematary Awards FOX king kong scene in color football finale comic book movie quibi 72 Emmy Awards comic book movies Turner dexter archives Premiere Dates docudrama basketball Hear Us Out indiana jones Fargo Sneak Peek toy story scorecard BAFTA sopranos Character Guide Discovery Channel Sci-Fi Walt Disney Pictures talk show australia foreign slashers Hallmark Christmas movies Winter TV animated cancelled television trophy Cosplay olympics Disney Plus police drama Comedy Creative Arts Emmys 2017 Wes Anderson TCA independent TV Land Marvel Television universal monsters concert CBS All Access Marathons black Lifetime MTV crime drama political drama ViacomCBS japan sag awards documentary spinoff psychological thriller all-time politics BBC America NYCC Superheroe 45 franchise PBS halloween razzies History renewed TV shows art house transformers NBA cartoon Comedy Central cops biography GLAAD video on demand GIFs scary Trophy Talk crossover award winner kong Legendary Photos President Mindy Kaling Toys docuseries Lifetime Christmas movies rom-coms miniseries Marvel Studios TruTV Comics on TV heist movie Women's History Month Neflix kaiju Tags: Comedy new zealand saw Tomatazos game show golden globes richard e. Grant monster movies theme song comic Sony Pictures ghosts women science fiction comic books debate 2021 teaser revenge Universal Pictures adaptation 2016 Holidays Fox News CMT witnail 2018 sitcom Amazon Studios CBS 1990s AMC Plus feel good mission: impossible emmy awards VICE Hallmark Summer Syfy marvel comics Brie Larson Binge Guide scary movies ABC Signature Warner Bros. Showtime directors Heroines Classic Film cars Television Critics Association blaxploitation TCA Winter 2020 lord of the rings Cannes comiccon FXX PaleyFest El Rey Travel Channel stand-up comedy Exclusive Video The Walking Dead San Diego Comic-Con romance cancelled TV shows IMDb TV Drama Arrowverse Ghostbusters breaking bad boxing FX on Hulu book wonder woman CW Seed Schedule spanish Bravo rt labs critics edition comedies adenture what to watch french Epix Elton John Peacock mockumentary YouTube Premium CNN Pixar Set visit anthology psycho The Academy dc GoT critics indie Amazon legend WarnerMedia comics video Disney streaming service aliens green book true crime DirecTV DC Comics 007 Superheroes elevated horror TV renewals APB superhero HBO Max canceled TV shows Apple TV+ adventure ABC Family toronto AMC dark social media spain romantic comedy Stephen King chucky LGBT ratings robots BBC One cooking movie vampires Biopics stoner television American Society of Cinematographers HFPA IFC Films RT21 spider-man Anna Paquin blockbuster sports Teen marvel cinematic universe target sequels Apple Mary Poppins Returns Mudbound king arthur cinemax Disney batman Emmys The Witch BBC Crackle critic resources action-comedy new star wars movies NBC Hulu hispanic heritage month genre HBO documentaries sequel stop motion Emmy Nominations dreamworks Winners name the review Mary Tyler Moore 2019 screen actors guild crime thriller live action Martial Arts 71st Emmy Awards cancelled TV series news First Reviews Cartoon Network deadpool hidden camera asian-american Quiz Spring TV YouTube Red RT History discovery joker Hollywood Foreign Press Association venice E3 popular Star Trek The CW spider-verse blockbusters BET Awards Disney+ Disney Plus doctor who Freeform SDCC TBS prank obituary Musicals Writers Guild of America First Look high school technology criterion VH1 Musical Crunchyroll classics Netflix Extras twilight aapi versus Ellie Kemper FX 93rd Oscars Columbia Pictures Rom-Com rt labs cats TV Horror National Geographic Dark Horse Comics rotten Pop TV 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards hollywood YA posters Acorn TV Amazon Prime Video game of thrones Christmas telelvision 24 frames Chilling Adventures of Sabrina fresh Trailer Paramount Network Polls and Games streaming movies A24 zombies Paramount Plus james bond reviews Oscars Film Spectrum Originals Spike Logo OneApp Infographic child's play PlayStation Food Network Trivia films series IFC HBO Go 2015 satire nature south america The Walt Disney Company Podcast 2020 boxoffice a nightmare on elm street SundanceTV historical drama dceu italian SXSW Marvel The Arrangement Tarantino Reality worst movies vs. halloween tv laika TIFF binge Image Comics Mary poppins Holiday mob MSNBC slasher cancelled supernatural fast and furious OWN BET ESPN japanese die hard Baby Yoda Masterpiece Britbox leaderboard superman Shondaland Nickelodeon war hispanic A&E