11 Greatest Gone-Too-Soon TV Shows

From a doomed horseracing drama to the best space Western ever — the small-screen classics that faded to black before their time

From sitcoms to sci-fi, 'Undeclared' to 'Firefly' – the 11 best gone-too-soon series that didn't make our '100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time' list.
11 Greatest Gone-Too-Soon TV Shows

So many shows on the Top 100 list got axed before their time, from Deadwood to My So-Called Life, from Freaks and Geeks to Party Down. These also could have been contenders, had they a little more time to find the audience. We present the best of the gone-too-soon bunch that didn't make our list.


Firefly
2002

Josh Whedon goes into outer space with the crew of the Serenity in the year 2517, starring Nathan Fillion as the rebel captain. Fifteen years after Fox cut the Serenity loose, the Firefly fanbase keeps growing; Whedon continued the story as both a film and a comic book.


Terriers
2010

This 2010 buddy-cop drama was way too ahead of its time. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James were a couple of rumpled P.I.'s on the skids in Southern California, punched in the face by life a few too many times. Terriers holds up magnificently – but in 2010 FX wasn't ready and killed it after just three months.


Luck
2011-2012

David Milch's real follow-up to Deadwood (never mind John From Cincinnati), set at the Santa Ana Racetrack, with Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte in an ensemble of gamblers, hustlers and racing freaks. Luck suffered from controversy about how often racehorses get injured and killed – a bleak theme of the story – and got axed by HBO after one great season.


When Things Were Rotten
1975

The great lost Mel Brooks comedy of the Seventies. His version of Robin Hood, with merry men like Dick Van Patten (pre-Eight Is Enough) as Friar Tuck and Bernie Koppel (pre-Love Boat) as Alan O'Dale. Typical joke: "Shhh, the walls have ears" – cut to a shot of a wall covered with ears. It's shameful this Mel masterwork only lasted 13 episodes.


Undeclared
2000-2001

Judd Apatow's follow-up to Freaks and Geeks – an ensemble comedy about college freshman, with Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Will Ferrell in a sly turn as a hipster professor.


Vengeance Unlimited
1998-1999

Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs) as a brooding vigilante who does dirty deeds dirt cheap. It was on Thursday nights up against Friends – and predictably bombed in the ratings – yet it remains a mournful landmark of 1990s noir.


Frank's Place
1987-1988

Not just years but decades ahead of its time – Tim Reid from WKRP in Cincinnati as a Brown University professor whose life changes when he inherits his dad's New Orleans restaurant. A CBS comedy with a black star, a mostly black cast, a Southern locale and no laugh track, it's still one of a kind – which is why now it's only watchable via the occasional YouTube link and bootleg VHS tapes. It's worth shelling out on eBay for this.


Kolchak: The Night Stalker
1974-1975

A bizarro thriller completely out of place on ABC in the 1970s, with a hard-boiled Chicago reporter investigating occult monsters. It became a cult legend in the video-crazed 1990s as a key inspiration for The X-Files.


Dark Angel
2000-2002

Jessica Alba as a cyborg biker outlaw named Max Guevara, a genetically engineered superhero with feline DNA, kicking ass in a post-apocalyptic Seattle. Despite its goth-pulp perviness, it never became a hit, but it remains Peak Alba.


Enlightened
2011-2013

Mike White's HBO drama starred Laura Dern as a corporate suit who bottoms out, hits rehab and tries to restart her life. Too prickly for mainstream success despite critical raves, it lasted two seasons.


Gilligan's Island
1964-1967

Wait, we never find out if they get off the island? This world is bullshit!