Beloved But Short-Lived Sci-fi Shows
Science fiction fans are known the world over for their incredible (and some might say disturbing) passion and loyalty for their genre of choice. However, all their enthusiasm is usually not enough to sway the hearts of the corporate executives responsible for producing the shows they love so much. As a result, sci-fi television has a history littered with the bodies of failed and cancelled series. A show’s short life span is no barrier to the average sci-fi fan, though, and many continue to enjoy fierce devotion despite lasting no more than a season or two…
Star Trek is one of the world’s most recognizable franchises. It has spawned hundreds of episodes across six television series, eleven movies (including a recent blockbuster by J.J. Abrams), massive fan conventions, and countless novel, video game, and comic tie-ins – not to mention a complete language: Klingon.
Given all this, it can be easy to forget that the original incarnation, a humble 60s TV series following the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise in the mid 23rd century, was far from a resounding success. It struggled badly in the ratings and rumors of cancellation began by the second season. This sparked a massive letter writing campaign headed by Bjo Trimble and her husband, John, which resulted in NBC being flooded with thousands of fan letters demanding the show continue.
Perhaps because of such fan efforts, Star Trek was granted a third season, but it continued to perform poorly in the ratings and failed to survive to a fourth. Unlike most of the other series on this list, however, Star Trek’s tale has a happy ending, as it was eventually resurrected in the form of a motion picture, which in turn spawned more films and the epic franchise we know today.
Set in the fictitious small town of Jericho, Kansas, Jericho followed a number of everyday people as they struggled to survive following a mysterious nuclear holocaust that devastates much of the continental U.S.
With its post-apocalyptic setting and heavy undertones of political intrigue, Jericho seemed to have much potential, but it failed to draw a big audience, and it was cancelled after just one season.
Sci-fi fandom once again jumped into action with a massive campaign to see it return (including sending over 20 tons of nuts to CBS). This eventually led to a short second season. However, the ratings continued to be very low, and the show ended for good after the episodes aired.
Some hope still remains for Jericho fans, though. A “third season” was released in the form of a comic book mini-series, and there are rumors of a feature film in the works.
Stargate: Universe (commonly known as “SG:U”) is the third television spin-off of the 1994 sci-fi film, Stargate—the other two being Stargate: SG-1, and Stargate: Atlantis. The series featured a group of soldiers and civilians trapped on an alien starship, called Destiny, at the far end of the universe.
SG:U attempted to differentiate itself from past Stargate incarnations by introducing a darker and more serious tone to its story-telling. This sparked much controversy among the fans; some felt it made SG:U more grown up and interesting, while others missed the more light-hearted tone of past shows.
SG:U had many things going for it—such as breath-taking special effects and a talented cast including Robert Carlyle of “Trainspotting” and “the Full Monty” fame and former ER cast member Ming Na—but struggled with low ratings and fan disinterest from the outset. Though most agree the show improved greatly after its lackluster opening episodes, it failed to recover from its weak beginning and was cancelled after just two seasons. Adding insult to injury to its fans, the rumors of an SG:U movie were soon squashed, and there are currently no official plans for a continuation.
Despite all this, SG:U fans are still devoted to their show and the unique, thoughtful take it brought to the Stargate franchise.
Created by geek icon Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame), Firefly is one of the best examples of a cult classic out there. This eccentric “space western” follows Captain Mal Reynolds, a veteran of a civil war in which his side was the loser, and a crew of misfits aboard the firefly-class ship Serenity as they struggle to evade the law and survive on the frontier of space.
Set in a unique universe that combines space flight and horseback gunfights, Firefly’s mix of action, humor, and character quickly won the undying devotion of its fans. However, not everyone was able to cope with the show’s eccentricities, such as its bizarre lingo that was a mix of folksy American west slang and Mandarin Chinese and its utterly silent space scenes, a concession to realism that nonetheless made it difficult to communicate the drama of what was taking place.
The show struggled badly in the ratings and was cancelled before they had even finished airing the first season. However, its fans (called “Browncoats,” a reference to the rebel army Mal Reynolds belonged to) rose to the challenge, and their backlash was strong enough to lead to the creation of Serenity, a feature film based on the series. Though well-received by fans, the film was not a major commercial success, and the Firefly franchise has essentially died.
There’s a nice symmetry to ending a list that began with a Star Trek show with another Star Trek show. Enterprise was the last Star Trek TV series to air, premiering in 2001 and ending in 2005. Enterprise sought to combat perceived “franchise fatigue” by providing a more realistic and well-rounded crew. Instead of depicting shiny heroes of a perfect Federation of Planets in the distant future, it featured the more to down to earth and flawed crew of Earth’s first deep space exploration ship, the NX-01 Enterprise, merely 150 years into the future. Enterprise sought so hard to distinguish itself from past Star Trek incarnations that the phrase “Star Trek” was not officially added to its title until the third season.
Enterprise is another show that sharply divided its fanbase. Its fans say that it provided a much more believable and realistic take on the Star Trek universe, that it was more relevant to the modern area—especially with its third season arc, which featured a sneak attack on Earth mirroring the events of 9/11. Its detractors argue that it focused too much on action and eye candy at the expense of plot, that its attempts to be topical were ham-fisted and transparent.
Of all the shows on this list, Enterprise lasted the longest, completing four seasons, but is still generally regarded as a failure due to the fact that its three most recent predecessors in the franchise—The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager—all lasted for seven, and because many of Enterprise’s main story arcs were left unfinished.
Like so many others on this list, Enterprise’s cancellation sparked a massive reaction by its fans. The international Save Enterprise campaign participated in numerous efforts to resurrect the series, including raising several million dollars in an attempt to finance a new season, public rallies, an appeal to Congress, several letter writing campaigns, fan productions, and a petition which garnered over 20,000 signatures. Despite all this, however, Enterprise never returned to the airwaves, and its only continuation has come in the form of a handful of novels, which have never been considered “canon” (official story) in the Star Trek universe and thus amount to little more than officially sanctioned fan fiction.