Best TV Shows: seven single-season wonders

Anyone who has watched television for any length of time has likely been enamored with a series that didn't connect with Nielsen families and was subsquently cancelled due to low ratings.  Rare is the anecedote about a TV executive believing in a series and giving it a chance to find an audience like Hill Street Blues, at the time "the lowest-rated program ever renewed for a second season," because there may not be an industry where the saying "time is money" is more relevant.  Yet, those business decisions offer little solace to fans whose viewing habits are in the minority.  This list, compiled with the help of some friends, draws attention to seven programs that ended far too soon.

Battlestar Galactica (1978) 22 Episodes - ABC, chosen by Steve Geise

battle

Yes, the reimagined 21st century version got all of the critical praise, but the cheesy original was hands-down my favorite single season series (Galactica 1980 does not count). The original soared into a primetime network landscape completely devoid of any sci fi, suffering inevitable comparisons to the Star Wars saga but completely transporting my youthful mind to another universe. I noticed but didn’t mind the recycled stock footage of the awesomely designed Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders fighting in space, because hey, they were fighting... in space! I also noticed the acting was nothing special, except for Dirk Benedict; I’ll still maintain that his Starbuck is one of the coolest characters ever. But for every lame line in the script, there were amazing events like visits by the mysterious Ship of Lights, the shocking discovery of Battlestar Pegasus, the exploration of the Egyptian-like planet Kobol, and the mystery of Count Iblis. I’d be hard pressed to name even one plot point in the following year’s Buck Rogers, but even though I haven’t watched the show since its original broadcast run over 30 years ago, these episodes and more are still vividly seared in my mind, surely a sign of some sort of greatness.

Firefly (2002) 14 Episodes - FOX, chosen by Eric - TV Geek Army's "revered leader" 
As the years go on, my belief is strengthening that Firefly is Joss Whedon’s greatest achievement to date. And that’s saying a lot given that I consider Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be one of the greatest TV series of all time. Why is this so, you ask? Clever concept (space western with a twist) meets typically sharp, witty, and quirky writing meets brilliant cast with extraordinary chemistry. All of those elements gel on a show that has a feel and a vibe and sensibility unlike no other. Even after a feature film spinoff (Serenity) that was merely very good in comparison, the loyal fans who call themselves browncoats are hungry for more. Indeed, I still get chills when I hear the first few bars of the opening theme song. Take me out to the black, Captain Mal and crew.

My So-Called Life (1994) 19 Episodes - ABC, chosen by Mat Brewster
Teenage dramas almost always fail at understanding the intricacies of teenagers.  It's like writers completely forget how full of angst, confusion, sex, hormones, ecstasy and suckitude the life of teens really is.  Instead we get the same boring tales of jocks versus nerds over and over again. My So-Called Life was one show that got it completely.  The show understood that being a teenager wasn't all about just trying to be popular, but about trying to figure out who you were, how you fit into modern life, and how to simply survive in the day to day battlefield of high school. The characters were fully fleshed out human beings, with real struggles that weren't always solved at the conclusion of each episode. I knew some of those characters. Sometimes I was them.

Unfortunately, like so many others I didn't watch the show in its original run, but rather caught it shortly after its cancellation when MTV picked it up and ran the first and only season over and over again. I immediately connected to the angst, confusion, sexuality and struggle of the characters. My So-Called Life was a wonderful show that sadly, like so many shows that deal with life honestly got canceled far too early and lives now, only in our dreams, and DVD players.

Bakersfield P.D. (1993) 17 Episodes - FOX
This comic series had a bit of a Green Acres-feel to it as FBI agent Paul Gigante (Giancarlo Esposito) tried fitting into the rural California town as a police detective when he needed to transfer across the country after discovering his fertility doctor fathered his child.  Things got off to a rough start when one of his fellow officers mistakenly arrested him when he was looking for an African American perpatrator.  Paul's partner on the squad was Wade Preston (Ron Eldard), an affable guy though a tad goofy, who wore his heart on his sleeve, which may explain how he fell in love with a burglary suspect's girlfriend.  Denny Boyer (Chris Mulkey) frequently crossed the line and would get suspended, resulting in him selling merchandise out of his car to make ends meet.  Capt. Stiles (Jack Hallett) was a bit of a bumbler, but Sgt. Hampton (Brian Doyle-Murray) ran things, bringing to mind Colonel Blake and Corporal "Radar" O'Reilly from M*A*S*H.

Buddy Faro (1998) 13 Episodes - CBS
Created by Mark Frost of Twin Peaks fame, Buddy Faro (Dennis Farina) was a swingin' dick who would have been at home in the Rat Pack.  He disappeared in 1978 into a bottle after the murder of a woman he loved and then P.I. Bob Jones (Frank Whaley) was hired to find him in the late '90s.  They were worked well together as Jones helped fish-out-of-water Faro assimilate with the times.  They were the funniest TV detective team since Maddie and David.

Gideon's Crossing (2000) 20 episodes - ABC
Inspired by the book "The Measure of Our Days" by Dr Jerome Groupman, Andre Braugher played Dr. Ben Gideon.  The character's intelligence and gruffness should be recogniazable to fans of the popular Dr. Gregory House, and the two are connected by the husband and wife team of Paul Attanasio and Kati Jacobs, who executive produced both series.  Gideon's Crossing was a very smart show that focused on solving medicial mysteries as opposed to the soap opera of the characters' lives.

TriBeCa (1993) 7 Episodes - FOX
Created by David J. Burke, creator of Wiseguy, and with Robert DeNiro serving as an executive producer, this series was a throwback to an earlier era.  It was an anthology show that offered different stories every week connected by all being set in TriBeCa and featuring recurring characters Harry Arsharsky (Philip Bosco) and Officer Carleton Thomas (Joe Morton).  An impressive roster of actors appeared, including Laurence Fishburne who won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in his appearance.  A series like this would probably work today on a cable channel where it wouldn't need to draw a big audience.

How'd we do?  If we left off your favorite, feel free to mention it in the comments below.

By Gordon S. Miller

About the author

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003.  Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher.  Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as Blogcritics, FilmRadar, and High Def Digest.  He became the Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Sentries upon its inception in 2011.

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8 Comments
On: Friday, March 11, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Great list but I would definitely include Wonderfalls ! 

Also I have a feeling we'll hear from the Terriers contingent...

On: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Gordon S. Miller said:

I expect the Freak & Geeks to be the most disappointed

On: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Todd Karella said:

I have a few others that I liked

Space Above and Beyond

Voyagers!

The Night Stalker

The last two I remembered from when I was a kid.

On: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Oh man, can't believe I forgot Freaks & Geeks... that show helped to spawn the career of a great many stars. And I realized only recently that the brilliant Martin Starr (Adventureland, Party Down) is an alum as well. 

omg todd.... Voyagers! I loved that show when I was a kid. Was it really only one season and done? The lead actor accidentally killed himself if I'm not mistaken some years later, very tragic. 

On: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Todd Karella said:

I could have sworn Voyagers! was on for a lot longer than that as well. I have the series on DVD and it's only one season. But I thought the same with Battlestar Galactica as well.

From what I remember hearing at the time, Jon-Erik Hexum was playing around with a gun that shot blanks. He put it to his temple, pulled the trigger, and the wadding inside hit him in the head and killed him.

Now let's see what Wikipedia says:

"On October 12, 1984, the cast and crew of Cover Up were filming the seventh episode of the series, "Golden Opportunity," on Stage 17 of the 20th Century Fox lot. One of the scenes filmed that day called for Hexum's character to load blanks into a .44 Magnum handgun. When the scene did not play as the director wanted it to play in the master shot, there was a delay in filming. Hexum became restless and impatient during the delay and began playing around to lighten the mood. Apparently, he had unloaded all but one (blank) round, spun it, and in what would appear to be a game of Russian roulette, at 5:15 p.m., he put the revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger.[6]

Hexum was apparently unaware that blanks use paper or plastic wadding to seal gun powder into the shell, and that this wadding is propelled from the barrel of the gun with enough force to cause severe injury or death if the weapon is fired within a few inches of the body, especially if pointed at a particularly vulnerable spot, such as the temple or the eye. Although the paper wadding in the blank that Hexum discharged did not penetrate his skull, the wad struck him in the temple with enough blunt force trauma to shatter a quarter-sized piece of his skull and propel the pieces into his brain, causing massive hemorrhaging."

 

Wow, that was only 2 years later and he was only 27 years old.

On: Saturday, March 12, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Todd -- I remember hearing that story too, just crazy and tragic (and the guy was a promising young actor to boot). 

On: Sunday, March 13, 2011
Mat Brewster said:

I almost picked Freaks and Geeks, but My So Called Life came first and so I went with it.

On: Thursday, March 17, 2011
Mike Proper said:

I've been MIA for awhile, but yeah, WHERE'S TERRIERS????

 

Also, I'm in the minority, but I really liked a lot about John From Cincinnati.

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