Friends, Game of Thrones, Jeopardy, Star Trek; there are some shows that are so popular that they become of part of our day-to-day language. You don't even need to have actually seen the shows, you still probably know the Jeopardy music or the Vulcan hand salute from Star Trek. Of course, not every show can be so lucky. In fact, more shows are going to fail than are going to succeed. Every year, TV networks put out a slew of new shows, fully prepared to pull the plug on many of them if they can't attract an audience. Sometimes these short-lived shows receive critical acclaim or small but loyal fanbases but can't quite rack up the ratings and sometimes they're just straight-up bad.
This quiz does say "failed" TV shows, yes. But they are different degrees of failure on TV. Some of these were expected to be overnight hits and couldn't justify their enormous budgets, others were cancelled largely because of behind-the-scenes difficulties instead of ratings and others, and others just have premises so goofy I couldn't not talk about them. I tried to focus on shows that were more interesting failures, shows that made some kind of impression in their short times on the air. How well do you remember these would-be hits?
Not an Independence Day spinoff
Josh Gad may be a big name now, but this show has nothing to do with that. Gad, after finishing his run in the acclaimed Broadway play The Book of Mormon, created and starred in this domestic sitcom set in the White House. Gad plays the clumsy and perpetually embarrassing adult son of the president (played by Bill Pullman, no relation to the president he played in Independence Day) who has moved back in with his family after being kicked out of college. The show lasted only 13 episodes.
Wigs and heels are funny, right?
This show has the dubious honor of being cancelled faster than any other on this list. An attempt to recapture the success of the 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies, this series focused on its two male leads pretending to be women in order to get jobs did not fare nearly as well. Before its premiere, the show had engendered much criticism for its behind-the-times premise and broad humor. Though it premiered to respectable ratings, its massive drop the next week combined with its controversy led ABC to cancel it after only two episodes .
A DC comics adaptation which didn't make the impression of its peers on the CW including Arrow and The Flash, this occult drama lasted only one season on NBC. The title character played by Matt Ryan is a world-weary British magician who reluctantly does battle with various demons and other supernatural foes. The comic had previously been adapted into a 2005 film of the same title starring Keanu Reeves. Since the show's cancellation, Ryan has reprised his role for a guest appearance on Arrow.
Tails never fail?
There's an old showbiz expression which says that you should never work with children or animals. This show set in veterinary clinic certainly helped to reinforce that. While it starred actors Justin Kirk of Weeds fame and Bobby Lee, known for his long run on MadTV, the most heavily promoted performer in this show was Crystal, the Capuchin monkey. Crystal is known for her role as the monkey in Night at the Museum series and as the monkey (shocking, I know) in the Hangover Part II. It lasted only six episodes.
Andy Richter goes solo
Andy Richter is best-known for being the longtime sidekick of late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien. However, between 2000 and 2009, he left the podium to focus on his acting career. During this time, he starred in several short-lived shows, of which this one was the most critically acclaimed. Much of the show's humour comes from its main character's bizarre and imaginative daydreams. Victor Fresco, the show's creator would later go on to create Better Off Ted, a tonally similar show also cancelled despite widespread critical acclaim.
They can't all be winners
This is the only HBO show in this quiz, which makes sense considering the premium cable channel prides itself on high-quality programs and its lack of commercial breaks makes ratings a less pressing concern than traditional television networks. Still, if they think a show isn't doing well enough to justify the money they put into it they won't keep airing it. Created by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger among others, this show delved into the sleazy world of the music business in the early 70s. It was cancelled after one season despite a second season being initially announced.
Culture clash comedy
This somewhat controversial show aired briefly on NBC as part of its Thursday night comedy lineup. It found an American man moving to India to manage a call center. The show drew much criticism for its reliance on Indian stereotypes and caricatures. Although its ratings started strong, they declined steadily over its 22 episode run. Its premise and characters were based on the 2006 independent romantic comedy film of the same title and was developed by John Jeffcoat, the film's director.
Football + pro wrestling
This one is unique because it wasn't just a TV show, but an entire football league that was created from the ground up and lasted only one season. It was jointly created by the WWF (now the WWE) and NBC. Vince McMahon, the face of the WWF was very prominently positioned in promotional materials. In addition to wrestling personalities being featured as commentators, the rules of football were altered to encourage more sensational and theatrical play. After a season, the project was considered a massive disappointment and the league was dissolved.
The other Westworld show
Westworld, have you heard of it? It's this little known show on cable about cowboy robots or something. Oh you have heard of it? I thought so, it's one of the most popular shows on TV. You've probably also heard of the 1973 movie it was based on, or even its sequel. What you might not have heard of was this very short-lived show of which only three episodes were aired on CBS. It told the story of the Westworld androids being used in a plot to conquer the Earth.
Change couldn't save this show
This show isn't particularly noteworthy for something that it did, instead it's interesting for something that it almost did. The show's premise was that of a couple Chris and Reagan (Will Arnett and Christina Applegate) managing their relationship and careers as they raise their new baby and Reagan's eccentric television personality boss (played by Maya Rudolph). The show ran for a season and half before it was announced that its format would be changed from its single-camera mockumentary style to a traditional multi-camera sitcom. These plans never materialized, but this would have been an extremely strange move.
Will Arnett Again!
Will Arnett has found his footing in recent years with voice roles like Lego Batman and Bojack Horseman and his live-action leading role in the show Flaked. But a few years ago he was leaping from sitcom to sitcom without any seeming to stick. This show, starring Arnett as a rich and spoiled man-child, and Keri Russell as his environmentalist ex-girlfriend was one of those false starts. It saw Arnett collaborating once again with producer Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development. Its run ended after only nine episodes.
Richard Branson's failed reality show
In the wake of The Apprentice's massive success, garish billionaire Richard Branson (founder of Virgin) sought to get it on the "billionaire firing and hiring employees" reality show genre. The twist with this show, was that instead of the challenges being purely business-based, they played on Branson's thrill-seeking. Much like the show Fear Factor, contestants took on bizarre and frightening challenges such as climbing to the top of a hot air balloon to meet Branson for tea mid-flight. The show ran for only twelve episodes on Fox.
Yes, it's a real poster
This show is perhaps best remembered for its eye-catchingly ridiculous poster campaign. As you can see, it shows a man wearing scrubs partially hiding his face with his hands and a more sinister image of his face crudely inserted on top of his hands. And there were even several different versions of this poster using this ill-conceived concept. The show is an adaptation of the Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde set in a modern hospital and made less fantastical. It aired its one season in 2013.
The most recent show in this quiz, this sitcom aired its only season in 2017. In TV and movie landscape filled with superheroes, this show took a different approach to the subject matter. Its characters are ordinary people working at Wayne Security (a subsidiary of Wayne Tech) who develop technology to protect themselves from the super-powered battles that go on on a daily basis. The show is inspired by the DC Universe and features humorous references to superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and many others.
This show is yet another NBC sitcom scheduled alongside the network's late 2000s heavy-hitters like The Office and My Name is Earl. An adaptation of an immensely popular Australian sitcom of the same name, the show's concept didn't translate to American TV quite as easily as the Office did. It starred Molly Shannon and Selma Blair as a dysfunctional mother-daughter duo living together after the daughter's botched engagement. The show was criticized for ditching much of the satirical edge of the original. It aired 17 episodes from 2008 to 2009.
The title of the show doesn't say very much
Matthew Perry is hardly the only actor whose been typecast after an extremely famous role early in his career, but it seems like there's something about the image of him as Chandler that's particularly hard to shake. Still, you can build a lot of shows around bitter and sarcastic lead characters, so it's not the worst character type to be nailed down to. This show aired briefly on ABC in 2011 and saw Perry playing an operations manager for a struggling arena in San Diego.
Alternate title: women dressed in black
Another DC comics show! This one aired on the WB during the 2002-2003 season. The WB was encouraged by the enormous success of their Superman-based series Smallville and tried to develop a second DC series. It tells the story of a Gotham where Batman has disappeared, leaving former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, to team up with metahumans (this show's preferred term for superpowered people) the Huntress and Dinah, the daughter of former superhero Black Canary in order to defend the city against the evil Harley Quinn.
This one went off the rails
The Love Boat was a frothy show from the late 70s and presented the light-hearted and romantic adventures of a series of passengers (the show had a mostly different main cast every week) on a cruise ship. This show sought to translate that formula of into a tense adventure show, except instead of being set on a ship, it was set on a state-of-the-art nuclear-powered train. It didn't make the same impression, and the massive costs and difficulties of building the model train helped make this ambitious show one of the biggest TV flops of its day.
No children were harmed
Here's a thought most people don't have while reading The Lord of the Flies: "Gee, this would make a great reality show!" However, it seems at least one TV producer did have that thought. This show had children ages 8-15 competing in a Survivor-esque competition in an abandoned town. They were encouraged to simultaneously work as a single group and to compete for individual cash prizes, referred to as "gold stars". The show predictably aroused quite a bit of controversy for its possibly exploitative premise. Is watching kids cry really as fun as watching adults cry?
Matthew Perry, we meet again
This show is perhaps best known for its relationship to another show that premiered the same season on the same network, namely 30 Rock. Both shows deal with the fictionalized behind-the-scenes lives of people working on a Saturday Night Live-esque sketch show. This one was the less comedic of the two, focusing on the stresses of working in television of the personality conflicts that can arise. It was created by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame and starred Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Unlike 30 Rock, it didn't last longer than a season.
This sci-fi police drama is set over 30 years in the future, where human cops are required to have android partners. It aired on Fox in 2013. It starred Karl Urban (know for playing another futuristic cop in Dredd and Dr. McCoy in the recent Star Trek films) as a human cop with a troubled and mysterious past and a deep mistrust of androids. Many critics were intrigued by the premise and appreciated the relative novelty of seeing a fully realized sci-fi setting on a network show, but it couldn't last longer than 13 episodes.
Spielberg does TV!
It's another ambitious science-fiction show on Fox that didn't last! And this one had everything; dinosaurs, time travel and Steven Spielberg, only as an executive producer but that didn't stop them from using his name in all the commercials. It tells the story of a group of people from the future going back in time to the prehistoric age and creating a permanent human colony. It debuted to considerable hype and strong ratings, but it couldn't justify its massive budget and was cancelled after one season.
Another superhero show
This spoof of the superhero genre starred Patrick Warburton (known for Rules of Engagement and Seinfeld) in the title role of an oblivious and oafish superhero in an impractical-looking blue costume sworn to defend The City (yes, that's what his city is called). It aired on Fox during the 2001-2002 season to much praise from critics and fans alike. The show is based on the comic of the same name which has also been adapted into an animated series and an upcoming live-action Amazon Prime series starring Peter Serafinowicz in the main role.
NBC sitcoms strike again
This show focused on three thirty-something couples, all of whom have their own quirks and hurdles in their relationships. The three couples are all friends and meet up regularly, allowing these differences to come to the fore. It starred Olivia Munn and Mary Elizabeth Ellis (best known for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Like many of the shows in this quiz it aired in NBC's Thursday night comedy programming block. It was cancelled after 11 episodes in 2011 and was replaced by the even shorter-lived Paul Reiser Show.
Don't hassle the Hoff!
I've saved the best for last with this one. Not only is it a Baywatch spinoff starring David Hasselhoff, it's a Baywatch spinoff about David Hasselhoff investigating X-Files-like sci-fi mysteries. Admittedly, this wasn't originally the show's premise. Its first season was a more straightforward mystery show featuring certain Baywatch characters leaving the beach and running a detective agency. However, in the face of low ratings someone asked "Hey, what if we put things like human/fish hybrids, time travel and magic in the second season?"And they actually did it! It was still cancelled after season 2 though.