Agents Scully and Mulder (Gillian Anderson, left, and David Duchovny, right) in the 'Je Souhaite' episode of 'The X-Files.'

Best TV shows that were canceled

Written by:
May 13, 2021
Fox Image Collection via Getty Images

Best TV shows that were canceled

All good things must come to an end, an expression particularly apt when it comes to television shows. Not every series can be "The Simpsons," and run from what seems like the beginning of time until, well, after we're all in the ground. The never-aging family from Springfield aside, most TV shows find themselves canceled at one point or another. Whether it be declining ratings, a story getting too hard to maintain, or off-screen unscripted drama, even the best series eventually gets the axe.

Those decisions often boil the blood of hardcore fans. Using IMDb user ratings as of April 2021—with ties being broken by total votes—Stacker set out to find the 50 best television shows ever canceled, and the reactions of the faithful mourners. Reboots are eligible, like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" that was gone for 31 hours before being revived, as are cult favorites like "Futurama," which ended when Fox stopped buying episodes. The final stipulation was that the show had to be canceled by the network, as opposed to the creators choosing to end the run. From "Orange Is the New Black" to "Firefly," read on to find out where your favorite canceled series falls in the ratings.

#50. Orange Is the New Black

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 2013–2019

A flagship series for Netflix, "Orange Is the New Black" was canceled after seven seasons and 91 episodes. The adult drama, about a group of women inside a minimum-security federal prison, was based on a memoir by Piper Kerman. Before its cancellation, which only came at creator Jenji Kohan's behest since she felt as though the series had told its story, the series won numerous Emmy Awards, Golden Globes, and even a Peabody award.

#49. American Vandal

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Years on the air: 2017–2018

"American Vandal" was a mockumentary comedy series that poked fun at true crime sagas. Each season centered around a different high school prank, with the show's stars investigating the masterminds behind the crimes. The parody earned a Peabody Award and Emmy nomination before being canceled by Netflix.

#48. Rectify

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 2013–2016

The first original series for Sundance TV, "Rectify" was a critically acclaimed show, nominated for three Critics' Choice Awards and winning a Peabody Award. The show follows the story of Daniel Holden, who is released from prison after 19 years on death row. "Rectify" was canceled in its fourth season, but the creator Ray McKinnon felt that it ended at the right time.

#47. Blue Mountain State

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 2010–2011

The Spike TV comedy "Blue Mountain State" followed three freshmen as they adjusted to college. The show enjoyed three seasons before being canceled. But this football-infused series didn't become a fan favorite until it landed on Netflix, according to star Alan Ritchson. In 2016, Ritchson launched a Kickstarter campaign to make a "Blue Mountain State" movie.

#46. Star Trek

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 1966–1969

For three years, the Starship Enterprise boldly went where no man had gone before—and then was canceled. "Star Trek" was struggling as early as 1967, until a fan letter campaign changed NBC's mind and influenced the network to keep it on the air. The series was ultimately canceled in 1969, but amazingly, "Star Trek" gained more popularity in syndication. Perhaps this was due to the fact that "Star Trek" was full of futuristic thinking, featuring a diverse cast as well as one of the first interracial kisses in television history.

#45. Sense8

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 2015–2018

A Netflix original series, "Sense8" was a show about eight strangers suddenly becoming mentally linked and navigating the responsibility of that new power. Perhaps more intricate than the plot of "Sense8" is that when the show was canceled after two seasons, the fans brought it back to life by writing passionate letters and petitions, forcing Netflix to concede and make one last two-hour finale.

#44. Homeland

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 2011–2020

An espionage thriller about a bipolar CIA officer, played by Claire Danes, and a Marine Corps sniper, played by Damian Lewis, who she believes turned while being held as a prisoner of war, "Homeland" ran on Showtime for eight seasons. At one point the most-watched series on its network, the show was ended by creator Alex Gansa who simply felt as though it was time to say goodbye. Over the course of its run, the series won a smattering of awards, including Emmys and Golden Globes, and garnered almost universal praise from critics.

#43. Police Squad!

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Year on the air: 1982

Just because a television show is canceled does not mean it dies. Enter a 1982 comedy starring Leslie Nielsen that parodied police dramas. Starting to sound familiar? "Police Squad!" earned two Emmy nominations, but was canceled after six episodes. Thankfully, the premise of the show was reincarnated into the "Naked Gun" movie franchise.

#42. Southland

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2009–2013

Los Angeles cop drama "Southland" was actually canceled twice. NBC first aired the show, then nixed it after the initial season. TNT immediately picked up "Southland" and kept it going for four more seasons. The second cancellation was a shock to fans, some of whom considered it the greatest cop show ever.

#41. X-Men: The Animated Series

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 1992–1997

Before the "X-Men" film franchise took the world by storm, an animated "X-Men" television show aired on Fox Kids from 1992 to 1997. The mutant superheroes defeated power-hungry villains for five seasons before being canceled. That was a great run for the show considering that a marketing dispute had almost canceled "X-Men" years earlier.

#40. Utopia

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2013–2014

Though the series only lasted two seasons on the U.K's Channel 4, "Utopia" was a dark, edgy show with a cult fan following. Based on a group of strangers who meet online and uncover a graphic novel with secrets to the world, the thrill-seekers are pursued by a group known as "The Network." The series got a new life when Gillian Flynn swooped in to reboot the series on Amazon, though that version was canceled as well in 2020 after one season.

#39. Carnivàle

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2003–2005

HBO is usually a hit factory when it comes to creating television content, but "Carnivàle" eluded success, and was canceled after only two seasons. The show takes place during the Great Depression. It follows a former farmer and chain gang fugitive picked up by a traveling carnival, only to discover that he and a minister are fighting on Earth as avatars for heaven and hell. The show developed a devoted following, but never quite landed mass appeal, leaving the six seasons the show's creator originally planned for unfulfilled.

#38. Ash vs. Evil Dead

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2015–2018

A typical trajectory would see a successful television show turned into a motion picture, like "Sex and the City," or "The Simpsons." "Ash vs. Evil Dead" flipped the script, following three "Evil Dead" films. This Starz comedy-horror picked up Ash Williams' story 30 years after his last battle with the Deadite from the film franchise. The show enjoyed three seasons on Starz, but the ratings ultimately dwindled, and the show was canceled.

#37. Stargate SG-1

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 1997–2007

"Stargate SG-1" aired on Showtime for five seasons, then on the Sci Fi Channel, now Syfy, for another five. That resulted in a whopping 213 episodes and two spinoffs; "Stargate: Atlantis," and "SGU: Stargate Universe." There has been speculation that the space travel show was canceled because ratings were dropping by the 10th season. The expense of shooting science fiction television shows also may have played a role, but a decade on the tube is nothing to scoff at these days.

#36. Banshee

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2013–2016

This Cinemax thriller took place in the fictional Amish town of Banshee, Pennsylvania. An ex-con returns home, takes the identity of a murdered sheriff, and a four-season storyline follows. It was actually the executive producer who decided the fourth season would be the show's final, as he never liked when shows started generating "extra plot."

#35. Entourage

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2004–2011

HBO has a storied history of popular comedy series, and "Entourage" is near the top. Loosely based on producer Mark Wahlberg's early life in Hollywood, the eight seasons of "Entourage" centered around movie star Vincent Chase, his three childhood friends, and his agent as they navigate fame in Los Angeles. After the show was canceled, which actor Kevin Connolly made clear was not ideal, a movie was later released that picked up where the show left off. Unfortunately, the big-screen version was not well-received by critics.

#34. Person of Interest

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2011–2016

The Jonathan Nolan sci-fi thriller "Person of Interest" spent five seasons on CBS before being canceled. A programmer develops software—"the Machine"—that is able to detect crimes before they happen. The cancellation may have been due to the show's inability to fit in with CBS's slate of other procedurals. If only the Machine existed in real life to detect the show coming to an end, maybe something could have been done.

#33. Futurama

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 1999–2013

"Futurama" has the honor of being canceled and revived more than once. The show about a pizza delivery boy cryogenically frozen by accident in 1999 and waking up 1,000 years later originally ran on Fox for four seasons. Fox canceled "Futurama" in 2003, which some attribute to the network moving its time slot. Comedy Central bought four direct-to-DVD movies that were made post-cancellation and split them up to make a fifth season. The show would enjoy two more seasons on Comedy Central before being canceled one final time.

#32. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2013–2022

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine," the Andy Sandberg-led comedy that enjoyed five seasons at Fox, has an incredible cancellation story. On May 10, 2018, Fox canceled the show, which made fans lose their minds. Within 31 hours, NBC had picked up the show, which is scheduled to end after its eighth season in 2022.

#31. The New Batman Adventures

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 1997–1999

Running for two seasons on the Kids' WB network, "The New Batman Adventures" was a critics' favorite, earning multiple Daytime Emmys and nominations. The cartoon reimagined the relationships around Batman, including those with Batgirl, a new Robin, and the old Robin as a character now known as Nightwing. Television shows about the Dark Knight may come and go, but no one can cancel the legendary appeal of Batman.

#30. Alfred Hitchcock Presents

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 1955–1962

Alfred Hitchcock was already an esteemed filmmaker when "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" hit the small screen in 1955. The anthology told short horror stories and bounced between NBC and CBS for seven seasons and 268 episodes. Although the show was canceled in 1962, it was remounted in 1985 using colorized intros by Hitchcock from the original show. The 1985 remake enjoyed four seasons between NBC and USA Network.

#29. Kingdom

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2014–2017

"Kingdom" was a drama that ran for three seasons on the Audience Network and centered around a retired mixed martial arts fighter, his family, and his MMA gym. Considering the popularity of the sport, the show was a solid bet. However, the combination of a limited reach—Audience Network is only available to DirecTV subscribers—marketing issues, and a failure to secure any major award nominations all led to a this series tapping out.

#28. Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Year on the air: 2004

"Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" is a television show about a terribly made television show that was never seen. This 2004 British comedy is based on the pompous character Garth Marenghi, who was introduced on the stage at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show ran on the U.K.'s Channel 4 for just one season, but got a second life when the Sci Fi Channel brought it to the United States in 2006.

#27. Feud

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Year on the air: 2017

"Feud" was a television show from Ryan Murphy, the king of anthologies. The "American Horror Story" and "American Crime Story" creator introduced "Feud: Bette and Joan" in 2017, with each season covering famous feuds. The first season delved into the notorious relationship between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The second season of the show, centering around Prince Charles and Princess Diana, was canceled due to the executives feeling "they didn't have the material right."

#26. Mystery Science Theater 3000

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 1988–1999

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" ran from 1988 until its conclusion in 1999. A crowdfunding campaign brought the beloved show back in 2017. Netflix has since aired two seasons of "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return," which follows the original format of a man and his wise-cracking robot friends being forced to watch B-grade movies.

#25. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 1998–2007

The United States has a habit of swiping television shows from the U.K.—"The Office" and "House of Cards"—and "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" was no exception. Drew Carey hosted the American version of the improvised sketch comedy show "where the points don't matter." The show ran from 1998 to 2007 on ABC, and later enjoyed rerun success on ABC Family. This was another show eventually rebooted on a different network. The CW aired a new version from 2013 to 2018 with Aisha Tyler as the host.

#24. The Knick

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2014–2015

Some herald the modern era as the Golden Age of Television, and when film directors like Steven Soderbergh and mega-stars like Clive Owen take television gigs, it only lends credence to the assertion. In Cinemax's "The Knick," Owen plays a heroin-addicted doctor in early 20th century New York City. The show was gritty and dark, and the budget for fake blood must have been sky-high. The series was critically acclaimed, but failed to draw in large viewership, and was canceled after its second season.

#23. Dragon Ball

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 1986–1989

A manga-turned-anime, "Dragon Ball" follows the tale of Son Goku, a young warrior with a monkey tail. Though the original "Dragon Ball" was canceled, spin-offs "Dragon Ball Z" and "Dragon Ball Super" continued to tell Son Goku's story into adulthood. A live-action movie even hit the big screens in 2009, titled "Dragon Ball: Evolution."

#22. Louie

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2010–2015

In 2010, stand-up comedian Louis C.K.'s "Louie" hit the airwaves on FX. A show about a divorced comedian in New York City that featured stand-up routines interspersed through the show, "Louie" was lauded for being both personal and nuanced. The show was technically on an extended hiatus after the fifth season in 2015, but after allegations of sexual misconduct against C.K. were confirmed in 2017, FX dropped the comedian and all of his projects.

#21. The IT Crowd

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2006–2013

British comedy "The IT Crowd" centered on the IT team in a large corporation. Uniquely, its cancellation after four seasons was not about ratings, but simply that its creator was not "looking forward to it" the way he used to. The show's legacy was hard to subdue; NBC has attempted to develop an American version of the show three times.

#20. Community

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2009–2015

The show "Community" has cancellation footnotes galore. Die-hard fans of the show, about an ex-lawyer and his life at a community college, developed the mantra "six seasons and a movie." NBC ignored the quota, and canceled the show after season five due to poor ratings. Yahoo! picked up the show for a sixth season, but there is no word on a movie.

#19. Spartacus

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2010–2013

The classic warrior was reimagined in the Starz series "Spartacus." The show performed well ratings-wise for three seasons, then was abruptly canceled by the choice of creative executives. Showrunner Steven DeKnight said they wanted to end the show to avoid a "limp to the finish line."

#18. Hannibal

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2013–2015

This dark drama enjoyed three seasons on NBC before being canceled. "Hannibal" explores the relationship of a gifted, empathetic FBI agent and his psychiatrist, the infamous Hannibal Lecter. The show developed devoted fans, but these self-proclaimed "Fannibals" were no match for the unpopular time slots NBC gave the show, and "Hannibal" was canceled due to poor overall viewership.

#17. Homicide: Life on the Street

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 1993–1999

Before "The Wire" set the template for detailed crime dramas, there was another show by David Simon about police in Baltimore. "Homicide: Life on the Street" aired on NBC for seven seasons before being canceled. Just like "The Wire," Simon's first creation was a critics' darling with six Emmy nominations and two wins, but "Homicide" was ultimately canceled because it lost 2% of its viewership in its final season, and ranked 60th among all prime time network shows in 1999.

#16. The Bugs Bunny Show

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 1960–1975

Though his show may have been canceled, Bugs Bunny remains an American mainstay. "The Bugs Bunny Show" premiered in prime time on ABC in 1960, but hopped back and forth between morning and prime time slots on CBS and ABC until its cancellation in 1975. Don't weep for the rascally rabbit—Bugs has since gone on to star in other formats across multiple platforms.

#15. Adventure Time

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 2010–2018

In the mythical Land of Ooo, young Finn navigates a post-apocalyptic world with his talking dog Jake. Cartoon Network's long-running, wildly popular cartoon "Adventure Time" was canceled in 2016, two years before the final episode would air. Ten years and 264 episodes later, devoted fans of all ages continue to watch this surreal, poignant story.

#14. Deadwood

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 2004–2006

Once "Oz" broke the television mold for HBO, gritty, violent dramas became the network's hallmark. David Milch's "Deadwood" spent three seasons in the saloons, streets, and brothels of Deadwood, South Dakota, during the late 19th century. The show was critically acclaimed and nominated for 28 Emmys. When the plug was suddenly pulled in 2006, fans and creators alike were stunned.

#13. The X-Files

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 1993–2018

"The X-Files" is another show so nice it was canceled twice. The groundbreaking drama, about FBI agents Mulder and Scully investigating conspiracy theories and the supernatural, aired on Fox from 1993 to 2002. According to creator Chris Carter, the show originally ended in its ninth season because the team had lost its steam. The show, with rampant fans known as "X-philes," returned to Fox for a limited 10th season run in 2016. Based on its success, the show came back for an 11th season through 2018. Alas, the truth is out there that the show is once again canceled.

#12. Daredevil

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 2015–2018

Netflix and Marvel teamed up to create "Daredevil" on the streaming giant. The show that centered around blind lawyer-turned-vigilante Matt Murdock ran for three seasons, and was canceled in late 2018. Though the show was a critic's favorite, garnered five Emmy nominations, and seemingly was loved by fans, speculation that it held a future at Disney's upcoming streaming platform may be the reason behind the cancellation. Outraged fans unleashed their displeasure on Twitter.

#11. Mind Your Language

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 1977–1986

By today's standards, British sitcom "Mind Your Language" was racially insensitive and xenophobic. However, in 1977, when this show about a night school teacher and his unruly students hit ITV, it proved a comedy that would do well enough to have a four-season run. Its American counterpart, "What a Country," survived only two seasons.

You may also like: The best streaming services for sports in 2021

#10. Oz

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 1997–2003

Before "Prison Break" and "Orange Is the New Black," HBO's "Oz" captured audiences' attention as a powerful, gritty prison drama. This show about the inhabitants of maximum security Oswald State Penitentiary was HBO's first hour-long scripted drama. It ran for six seasons beginning in 1997, and put stars like Edie Falco, J.K. Simmons, and Christopher Meloni on the map. Fans and critics alike bemoan the final episode as a less-than-fitting send-off.

#9. BoJack Horseman

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 2014–2020

Will Arnet, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul all lent their voices to this adult animated series about an anthropomorphic horse. The horse, the titular BoJack Horseman, is a washed-up TV star who now struggles with addiction and depression, but still feverishly plots a comeback. According to creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, it was Netflix's decision to cancel the show. Thankfully, the streaming service gave the team enough warning that it was able to craft a thoughtful and satisfying conclusion to the series.

#8. Arrested Development

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 2003–2019

When Fox debuted the bold niche comedy "Arrested Development" in 2003, it found an Emmy-winning cult favorite on its hands that would never find a large enough audience. The series centered on the dysfunctional, wealthy Bluth family who loses everything when its patriarch is imprisoned for white-collar crimes. To die-hard fans, the show was about chicken dances, banana stands, and a never-ending supply of other running jokes. Amid low ratings, Fox canceled "Arrested Development in 2006 after its third season. Then, in 2013, Netflix resuscitated it for a fourth, and later fifth season.

#7. The West Wing

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1999–2006

Great IMDb score aside, the legend of "The West Wing" can also be measured by the barrage of awards the Aaron Sorkin original series was nominated for and received over seven years on NBC. The cancellation was not a surprise, as various factors seemed to be working against the show. Sorkin left after season four, ratings dropped when the show moved to Sunday night, and the sudden death of one of the lead actors, John Spencer, all contributed to the show's ultimate demise.

#6. Monty Python's Flying Circus

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1969–1974

The name "Monty Python" has become synonymous with groundbreaking British humor. Before the comedy group made the popular films "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian," it made four seasons of the sketch series "Monty Python's Flying Circus." John Cleese left after the third season, and after the fourth, everyone else called it quits as well. Even though four seasons seems too short for such a legendary show, it was an amazing feat considering the BBC wanted to cancel it almost immediately.

#5. Freaks and Geeks

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1999–2000

Though hard to imagine, there was a time when Judd Apatow was not one of the most famous comedic minds in the film industry, James Franco was not an Oscar-nominated actor, Seth Rogen was not the poster boy of stoner comedies, and Jason Segel did not yet know how his character's father met his mother. These cast members, among other notable faces on "Freaks and Geeks," starred in the NBC comedy about high school awkwardness that never saw a sophomore season. Though the careers of those involved only seemed to bloom after the show's cancellation, Seth Rogen himself has called out the man who canceled it.

#4. Twin Peaks

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1990–1991

"Diane, the pie is fantastic"—and to many fans, so was this show. In 1990, David Lynch's strange crime melodrama "Twin Peaks" hit the airwaves on ABC. The series follows quirky FBI Agent Dale Cooper as he tries to figure out who killed popular high school student Laura Palmer. The show would have been a bold move for any network, containing bizarre elements such as a woman who talks to a log, a real-life giant, and a strange hallucinatory red room. Lynch has gone on the record to say that he had very little to do with the second season, and in fact didn't enjoy it. Showtime did revive the show in 2017 for one follow-up season.

#3. The Twilight Zone

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Years on the air: 1959–1964

When it comes to the fantasy and science fiction genres, "The Twilight Zone" is a behemoth of the landscape. Airing on CBS for five seasons, the anthology tackled supernatural stories from another dimension. As is common with the shows on this list, "The Twilight Zone" won awards and the hearts of viewers, but its viewership numbers were never stellar. It was canceled twice, but brought back to life over the course of its five seasons. The show's final cancellation came in 1964, and not even paranormal forces could resurrect it again.

#2. Batman: The Animated Series

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Years on the air: 1992–1995

Not to be confused with "The New Batman Adventures," also on this list, "Batman: The Animated Series," ran for four seasons on Fox Kids. In an interview in 2018, Kevin Conroy, who voiced Batman, revealed that the series was canceled because the creators "ran out of ideas for stories."

#1. Firefly

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Years on the air: 2002–2003

Joss Whedon's "Firefly" was canceled by Fox after one season due to poor ratings. Yet this show, which follows space cowboys in the future, has been credited with changing the way fans can affect a show's history. "Firefly" fans, self-dubbed "Browncoats" in reference to the show's freedom fighters, bought out the "Firefly" DVD box sets when they were released by Fox. Based on those sales alone, Universal hired Whedon to create a feature film, "Serenity," based on the show and released in 2005. Power to the Browncoats.

Trending Now