Dollhouse curse: 16 sci-fi TV shows killed in season 2

Contributed by

So Joss Whedon's low-rated Dollhouse bites the dust, after clinging to life for a second season. Its partisans will mourn. But the series didn't die alone. The history of sci-fi TV is littered with season-two casualties, many of which are now considered classics.

Check out which other series escaped cancellation in their first seasons only to fall to the Nielsen gods in their second.

The Outer Limits (1963) The classic anthology series managed multiple classic episodes in its brief time on-air, among them “Soldier” and “Demon With A Glass Hand (above),” the two Harlan Ellison outings that James Cameron drew from (and had to belatedly pay for) when he created The Terminator. Naughty, naughty, Mr. C. (A sequel series, which began in 1995, lasted much longer.)
The Munsters (1964): The Universal Pictures monsters completed the transformation Abbott and Costello began for them, from creatures of horror to creatures of comedy, in this lovable sitcom about the ghastly family at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The presence of a competing monster family at another network (see next entry) may have hastened the ultimate ratings demise of both.
The Addams Family (1964): The “mysterious and ooky” clan from the New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams brought their insanity to television for a short sitcom stay, prompting endless debate among the children of the time over just which monster family was “better.” If longevity is any clue, the Addamses won, but not on television, where the battle amounted to a draw. That would have to wait until they returned for a series of bigger-budget (and considerably darker) movies.
The Invaders (1967): They can travel interstellar distances. They can assume human form. They can infiltrate our society at every level. The one thing they can’t quite do is make their pinky fingers work. Everybody who extends one pinky finger while drinking tea might be one of them. Architect David Vincent discovers their evil plans to take over Earth and fights a valiant, if short-lived, one-man war against the alien dainties.
Land of the Giants (1968): A trans-Atlantic shuttle encounters an odd lightning storm in space and is transported to a strange alternate earth whose inhabitants are all the size of skyscrapers. Produced by Irwin Allen, the show was essentially a re-casting of his longer-lasting Lost In Space, right down to the irritating comic-relief character with the disconcertingly close friendship with the show’s little boy.
Space: 1999 (1975): A nuclear explosion knocks Earth’s satellite out of its orbit and leaves the hapless inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha holding on for dear life as it somehow achieves faster-than-light speed and escapes the solar system, considerately slowing down on a weekly basis whenever it nears another planet where an adventure can take place. The presence of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, both of whom starred in the much more successful series Mission: Impossible, led some people to call this, “Premise Impossible.”
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979): Props from the original Battlestar Galactica and a mid-series retooling to make the show even more like Battlestar Galactica surround the time-displaced Buck and a cast of characters that includes a robot voiced by Mel Blanc who begins almost every sentence with “biddie-biddie-biddie.” The show went biddie-biddie-biddie bye-bye in its second season.
Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories (1985): The director’s showcase anthology series featured worthwhile contributions by Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and Martin Scorcese, and writing that included contributions by the great Richard Matheson; unfortunately, anthology shows are a hard sell even at the best of times, and it didn’t help much that many of the episodes were so weak they left viewers scratching their heads.
Max Headroom (1987): An investigative reporter in the near future acquires a stuttering, jerkily-moving, computer animation of himself. The computer-generated character’s annoyance value helped the show last long enough for viewers to decide whether he qualified as interesting-annoying or was just annoying-annoying. Many viewers decided he was the first. More viewers decided he was the second.
James Cameron’s Dark Angel (2000): An escaped genetically-enhanced superwoman (Jessica Alba) attempts to make a living as a bicycle messenger in the Pacific Northwest, but somehow her past keeps coming up. The ratings, alas, do not.
Dead Like Me (2003): Bonked in the head by a toilet seat from the MIR Space Station as it plummets back to Earth—yes, really—Georgia Lass dies only to find herself returned to a life of sorts, that includes being assigned to duty as a Grim Reaper. Her new lease on existence ends when the show reverses its initial premise and goes down the toilet itself two seasons later.
Carnivale (2003): An ancient battle between good and evil rages—all too slowly—in the persons of a carnival roustabout and evangelical preacher, during the years of the Great Depression. A deeply atmospheric series that may have been one of the greatest fantasy shows in the history of television, it was planned by its creators to last five years … but the suits at HBO tired of enduring the long wait for the two principals to finally meet up and fight, and presumptively declared the story over after what was only supposed to be their first skirmish.
Jericho (2006): Prodigal son Jake Green returns to Kansas just in time to be stuck there when a massive nuclear war fragments America and leaves his home town forced to defend its fragile resources. A massive mail-in campaign by loyal viewers kept the network from canceling the show at the end of its first season, but failed to keep the struggling burg alive past the second.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008): An additional bout of time-travel both transported the Sarah Connor of the James Cameron movies to the present day, and relegated her reported death by cancer to something else she had to worry about in between fighting homicidal alien cyborgs. The series of colossal bummers life had in store for Sarah extended to shifting time slots and a death by Nielsen in her show’s second season.
Pushing Daisies (2007): Piemaker Ned can revive dead people, but the gift comes with some serious limitations. Sparkling whimsy, genuine heart, a brilliant cast, hilarious production design and occasional musical numbers didn’t save this initially high-rated show from the writer’s strike that cut its first season in half. By the time the second season rolled around, momentum was lost. The two seasons, put together, totaled only as many episodes as a single, full-length season might have. But what’s there was choice.
Eli Stone (2008): The lawyer of the title comes down with a brain aneurysm that causes him to hallucinate elaborate production numbers that amount to personal instructions from God. (He may be dying, but he’s also a “prophet.”) The people who loved the show really, really, really loved it. Alas, there just weren’t enough of them.

Related Stories