Do you have a favorite show that you are sure was cancelled too soon? Most of us do. We all know that cancellations are a cold-blooded numbers thing. Not enough people watch a show, it goes away. Right? Well, sometimes the reasoning behind a show’s abrupt end is way weirder than “All you other jerks have terrible taste.”
Invader Zim Failed Because Nickelodeon Had No Idea Where To Put It
Invader Zim got a made-for-Netflix movie, one of those consolation prizes they give out to beloved shows that got cut down before their time. The cartoon only got two seasons and 27 episodes before Nickelodeon pulled the plug, and it’s a case study in how networks often do not know what they actually want.
Nickelodeon, whose normal demographic consisted of kids between ages 6 and 10, had been looking for “edgy” shows to compete with Cartoon Network (whose normal demographic was 11-15). So they greenlit Invader Zim, which fit the bill perfectly. The goal, they told the creators of the show, was to create a more mature block of programming for older kids. The problem was that they forgot to find any other shows for that demographic, so when it premiered in 2001, it was sandwiched between The Fairly OddParents and Rocket Power, both shows loved by that younger age group.
This then turned every Zim episode into an unwelcome obstacle between shows that younger viewers liked. So Zim was inconveniently moved around irregularly, seemingly on the fly, since the channel suddenly had this thing that didn’t fit. This is as good a lesson as you’ll get from the cancellation of a cartoon. The writers, animators and actors all did exactly what they were asked to do, and did it well, but none of that mattered because of strategy decisions that didn’t even make sense to the people in charge.
The HBO Drama That Couldn’t Stop Killing Horses
With an all-star cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, and Michael Gambon, HBO’s Luck seemed destined for success. The first season aired to a positive reception, which was expected for something from David Milch, the creator of Deadwood. So why did it only run that one season? Here’s a hint: The show’s official animal trainer said, “of the 50 horses, I’d say 45 of them have adapted to it really well.” That reads completely different when you find out that two of those horses had died during production. The story was first broken by PETA in an article titled “Nothing But Bad Luck for Horses in ‘Luck,’” which reported that a horse had died during the filming of the pilot, and another during filming of a later episode. The irony of this revelation about a show about horse races was not lost on people. But it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention to the fine print.
There was a seal of approval in the credits from the American Humane Association. It usually says, “American Humane Association Monitored the animal action. No animals were harmed.” This version doesn’t include that very important second part. The pilot featured a horse that breaks its leg and has to be euthanized, which is exactly how the horse which died filming the episode went out.
Miraculously, the show managed to push past this controversy and was renewed for a second season. That was going well … until it was reported that a third horse had died during production. Apparently it had to be put down following a traumatic head injury. Production was suspended pending investigation, and then the horse show was canceled for killing too many horses.
The Suits Insisted On Adding A Third, Ill-Fitting Character To Pinky And The Brain
Animaniacs recurring duo Pinky and the Brain were so popular that they got their own spinoff. Things were going well, with the show getting both great reviews and ratings. But then the governing structure at Warner Bros. changed, and they wanted to take things in a different direction.
First they asked the writers to have Brain abandon his goal of world domination, which anyone familiar with the show may note was, like, its entire point. They also put pressure on the creators to add more characters, claiming a larger cast would automatically be better. In reality, this was likely motivated by a desire to add more toys to the show’s merchandising, a la Animaniacs.
In response, the episode “Pinky & The Brain … And Larry” was produced. It featured a new character named Larry, who was shoe-horned in precisely the way the executives wanted, complete with his slipshod incorporation into the opening title sequence. It was intended to show how a new regular would make things worse, and that Pinky and the Brain worked best as a duo.
For a while there, it seemed to work. But the executive requests returned and ultimately ended with Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain. Instead of a brand-new character, the show added Elmyra Duff from Tiny Toon Adventures, nobody’s favorite anything.
The writers weren’t happy about this, and said as much right in the new opening theme, with new lyrics singing “Pinky and the Brain share a new domain. It’s what the network wants, why bother to complain?” This plays over a clip of the duo getting booted from Warner Bros. Studios.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is sound financial advice … which was ignored here, resulting in the show being canceled after one season, due to terrible ratings.
Networks Have A Personal Problem With Judd Apatow
Today, Freaks And Geeks is known as a cult classic that launched some influential Hollywood careers. But when it first aired, things weren’t so great. The network president at the time went from boarding school straight to Princeton, so he didn’t quite understand what the writers were going for with this more realistic portrayal of the average high school experience. This led to arguments over a “lack of victories” in the show, and the characters not being “cool.” On top of that, the episodes were aired out of order over an erratic schedule.
When the ratings eventually began to take a hit, the creators created a website to promote the series online. NBC refused to share the URL because, according to creator Judd Apatow, “they didn’t want people to know the internet existed. They were worried about losing viewers to it.” Needless to say, it was canned, and TV eventually did indeed lose viewers to the internet.
Apatow’s next project, Undeclared (this time on Fox), had pretty much the same issues as its predecessor. The network wanted to include a laugh track, “because otherwise, how will the audience know where the jokes are?” They would regularly give notes such as “We want it to be more like Road Trip.”
When it became clear that Fox didn’t have faith in the show as it was, they just dipped into NBC’s bag and started airing the episodes out of order. Once again, the ratings suffered, and it was canceled after the first season. This is why we can’t have nice things: The people in charge are both wildly out of touch and underwear-on-the-outside loony (see: “more like Road Trip”).
Disney Used To Cancel All Shows After 65 Episodes, Period
Late 1990s and early 2000s Disney shows had one surprising thing in common: They were usually canceled right when they hit 65 episodes. It took a while for audiences to pick up on the pattern, but it became clear as day when mega-popular series like Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens were axed, sending shock waves through MSN chatrooms worldwide. Fans came to know it as the 65th Episode Rule.
Was this connected to Walt Disney’s death at age 65? Actually, it was just a ruthless business decision (albeit one which left who knows how many tweens in tears). The Disney Channel president at the time implemented the rule for two reasons: A) humans have an age at which they abruptly stop being cute and must be ushered out of the studio under a tarp, and B) 65 episodes make for good schedule programming. They could air five episodes, one for each weekday, every week for 13 weeks. This fills up three months, or a quarter of a year, which is a good time to rotate programming. That way they’d only have to do four new shows a year, and fill up the rest of the time with syndication and reruns.
Viewers noticed this trend right as it was on the verge of winding down, with shows such as Kim Possible and That’s So Raven crossing the mark. Interestingly enough, the former did have to go through an intensive fan campaign to revive it when it was initially canceled after – you guessed it – 65 episodes.