Home > The Top 10 > 10 Science Fiction Shows With Under 80 Episodes

10 Science Fiction Shows With Under 80 Episodes

Following the demise of Stargate Universe (and a rather interesting open letter to the fans from Syfy), I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at some of the great science fiction TV shows that have been shafted over the years.

The recurring theme here is ratings (or lack thereof) and the often bewilderment of networks to the genre…

10. Earth 2 (22 episodes, 1994-1995)

Created by Billy Ray (the man currently adapting The Hunger Games for the screen, not Miley’s dad), Earth 2 was an initially successful show made by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Featuring the talents of none other than Clancy Brown, the show was basically about a group of interplanetary colonists who discover that an uninhabited planet isn’t so uninhabited after all. It won an Emmy and was nominated for a Saturn award, so, of course, it lasted one season. The reason? Its ratings plummeted after a promising start.

9. Alien Nation (22 episodes, 1989-1990)

A spin-off from a much darker film, Alien Nation was the District 9 of the ’80s, . The series was developed by Kenneth Johnson, better known as the creator of both V and The Bionic Woman, and the major theme was the integration of an alien minority into the general population. It, too, won an Emmy and was cancelled after one season; however, several later telemovies tied up some of the loose ends.

8. Dark Skies (20 episodes, 1996-1997)

A kind of epic, period-piece X-Files-style sci-fi thriller, Dark Skies was intended to run for five seasons, chronicling the period 1962-2001. The show was nominated for three Saturn awards and won an Emmy; it lasted one season, however, and never left the ’60s.

7. Max Headroom (14 episodes, 1987-1988)

The coolest, hippest talking head of the ’80s (besides David Byrne), Max Headroom was a natural for a wacky, quirky TV series. Except the series (produced in Britain) was closer to Videodrome and Blade Runner than Knight Rider.  Despite winning three Emmys, the series was doomed, getting beaten in the ratings by both Dallas (in its ninth season!) and Miami Vice. Max Headroom was cancelled during its first broadcast season.

Note that the always-impressive Jeffrey Tambor was part of the cast…

6. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (37 episodes, 1979-1981)

Developed by Glen A. Larson in the wake of both Star Wars and his own Battlestar Galactica (see below), Buck Rogers is a textbook case of how to destroy a science fiction show slowly and painfully. After a slightly dystopian movie-length theatrical pilot (which cannibalised props and footage from Galactica), the show was retooled as a more positive futuristic adventure series centred on Earth for its first season. Sure, it was campy and silly, but it was good fun.

The show was again retooled for season 2: it was now Star Trek meets Battlestar Galactica, with regular characters in the first season dropped in favour of new characters. Not surprisingly, ratings dropped after the change in direction and the series was cancelled. It won one Emmy and was nominated for five.

Star Gil Gerard, who was overall unhappy with the direction of the show, is now apparently in the process of writing the further adventures of Buck, in book form.

The following video is a tribute to Erin Gray and her amazing ability to kick-start puberty in boys everywhere…

5. Battlestar Galactica (24 episodes, 1978-1979)

Larson had been developing Galactica for around 10 years when the success of Star Wars suddenly made it a viable TV series. A strange mix of space opera, Chariots of the Gods-style “ancient astronaut” blather and Mormon theology, Galactica was unlike anything else on TV. Notably, it featured design work by Star Wars‘ Ralph McQuarrie and effects work by former ILM man John Dykstra, but all the talent in the world couldn’t save it: the show was beleaguered by a lawsuit by 20th Century Fox, rushed writing, recycled effects, conflicts over casting decisions and, finally, dwindling ratings. It, too, was retooled—as Galactica: 1980—but nobody cared by that point. However, Donald Bellisario took one of the initial ideas (of time-travelling to right wrongs) from Galactica: 1980 and turned it into Quantum Leap.

What awards did it win? Two Emmys and a People’s Choice award, as well as being nominated for a Saturn, two Golden Globes and a Grammy.

Larson went on to make the aforementioned Buck Rogers before finding success in the ’80s with Knight Rider. Battlestar Galactica was, of course, rebooted last decade to great effect, with a prequel pilot currently in the works. (Caprica is another story entirely…)

4. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (27 episodes, 1993-1994)

A science fiction western comedy series starring everyone’s favourite cult B-movie actor, Bruce Campbell? And co-created by the screenwriter of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? It sounds awesome, and it was, but science fiction westerns are about as niche as you can get with modern audiences. (Wild Wild West bombed only five years later.) A big drop-off in ratings meant that the show was unsustainable—it was axed after its first season, not giving the writers notice beforehand.

This show is worth a look and still holds up 17 years later. Highly recommended.

3. Firefly (14 episodes, 2002-2002)

Firefly is infamous, standing as the prime example of how a lack of confidence by a network can seal the fate of a series before it’s even out of the gate. The fans loved it, but Fox didn’t even try, airing episodes out of order and cancelling the show after only 11 episodes. Ratings were… not great, but what do you expect when an audience isn’t even shown the pilot until the end? It won an Emmy and was nominated for two Hugos (with the DVD set picking up a Saturn), so of course it had to die.

Oh, and it’s a science fiction western. ‘Nuff said.

As a sign that sometimes the fans do win, a feature film, Serenity, was released in 2005; however, it underperformed, only making back its budget after its release on DVD. The franchise instead continued as a series of comic books, the last of which was released late last year.

2. Crusade (13 episodes, 1999-1999)

Crusade was a spinoff from Babylon 5 with great potential. But speaking of executives not knowing what to do with a show…

TNT, who had picked up Babylon 5 for its fifth (and final) season, found that there was very little overlap between B5 and its traditional viewership. With Crusade now in production, they were stuck with a show with no larger benefits to other programming. Disaster! What to do? Sabotage via executive meddling, obviously!

Like B5, Crusade had a five-year story arc planned where episode order was essential. TNT demanded changes to the episode order, added notes for more fist-fights, and just generally made it impossible for the series to work. TNT halted production before the first episode even went to air.

1. Star Trek (79 episodes, 1966-1969)

This may seem like the least deserving entry, given that the franchise now has five live-action series, an animated series and 11 films under its belt (with another film planned and talk of another animated series to boot, not to mention books, comics, etc.). However, back in the ’60s, Star Trek looked just as in danger of disappearing as anything else on this list.

Trek was initially not a ratings success, and it was almost cancelled after its first season. (Sound familiar?) After the second season, it again faced cancellation, but fan lobbying ensured a third season was produced, only with a lower budget and a bad timeslot. (Sound familiar?) After the third season, the show was cancelled.

Star Trek is the prototypical television science fiction series, not only because of its format but also because of its broadcast history. It demonstrates how clueless executives are often determined to kill science fiction series despite great promise and an underlying concept that could be worth millions (or even billions). And, sometimes, the fans get lucky and a franchise lives on after a death and resurrection.

It may have had its ups and downs, but Star Trek eventually managed to live long and prosper…

Did I miss something that should have been on the list? Comment below…

  1. May 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Jericho: “The show ran on CBS from September 20, 2006, through March 25, 2008. It was initially canceled after its first full season because of poor ratings. While a fan campaign was able to convince the network to bring the show back for a seven-episode second season, it was canceled for a second time after that run.” (from wikipedia). This show didn’t last long enough to see if it was going to crossover into sci-fi the way X-files often did.

    Surface: “The program aired fifteen episodes before going on hiatus on February 6, 2006 due to NBC’s coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics. On May 15, 2006, NBC officially announced the series’ cancellation, leaving the outcome of the show’s plot unresolved.” (from wikipedia). This show had sci-fi crossover and conspiracy elements with apparent time travel and genetic manipulation.

    The 4400: “Writer and co-creator Scott Peters announced on December 18, 2007 that due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, budgetary problems, and lower-than-anticipated ratings, The 4400 had been cancelled and would not be returning for a fifth season, despite the fourth season’s cliff-hanger.[3] Fans of the show mounted an unsuccessful campaign to resurrect the series” (from wikpedia) This show was straight sci-fi/conspiracy and had 44 episodes in total.

    V 1984 series: Ended on a cliffhanger after 19 episodes.

    V 2009 series: “In September 2009, it was announced that four episodes of V would air in November 2009, and that the series would resume its 12-episode season in March 2010 after the 2010 Winter Olympics. ABC entertainment president Steve McPherson said, “We always intended to break the show up into ‘pods’ to make it more of an event.” As production of the fourth episode of V wrapped, it was announced on November 3, 2009, that Scott Rosenbaum had been named executive producer and showrunner of the series, with Peters and Hall remaining as executive producers. Production of the remaining eight episodes resumed in January 2010 with new episodes returning March 30, 2010. On May 13, 2010, ABC renewed V for a second season. The second season premiered January 4, 2011, but the original order of 13 episodes was reduced to 10.

    On May 13 2011, ABC announced that V was cancelled.” from wikipedia. V was of course straight sci-fi.

    Space 1999: “While the third season of Space: 1999 never actually entered production, the producers and studio had originally intended continuing the show. As filming on Year Two came to its conclusion, it became apparent that this was simply not going to happen and the series ended with the episode “The Dorcons”. (from wikipedia) Space 1999 was straight sci-fi.

    Planet of the Apes: “The series ran from September 13, 1974 to December 20, 1974. Although fourteen episodes were produced, only 13 were originally networked; the 14th episode (shown in some markets, but pre-empted in others) was included in the DVD box set which is now available. Fox had promised to include promotional materials and trailers for the episodes with the DVD set, but no such footage was included.

    The show was cancelled after half a season because of low ratings, due to direct competition by NBC’s Top 10 hits Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man. However, it was very successful in Britain for ITV; the entire series was later repeated on Channel 4 in 1994.” (from wikipedia) a classic sci-fi survival series.

    These are just off the top of my head, I’m sure there were plenty more. Note how two of these shows were screwed over by the Winter Olympics proving once again that sports are our enemy.

    • May 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Jericho I had on my list of contenders, as well as the original V. (The new V was axed this morning as I finished the article.) Space: Above and Beyond is another one as well.

      I don’t know about you, but I’ve become numb over the years to the number of sci-fi shows axed while they were in the early stages of the series. You learn to live with it, unfortunately.

      And yet The Footy Show survives.

      • May 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm

        Yes I agree, you become numb to the almost guaranteed failure of a new show with sci-fi themes. Fans write their own fiction to finish off a series or find some poignancy in not knowing what will happen to the characters, the poignancy of the open end. I remember watching the 4400 and as it became clear this was definitely sci fi thinking “well so much for THIS show”.

        Enterprise almost makes this list though it has about 100 eps. Cancelled after the 4th season despite improved ratings, great reviews, a complete change of direction and producer and a huge 5th season in the planning. What’s disturbing is this tidbit: “The website IGN Filmforce, reporting on rumors Paramount had actually decided to cancel Enterprise after its fourth season as early as midway through the second year, quoted an unidentified “executive involved with Enterprise” as saying this scenario was “very likely”.” (wikipedia) Facts are that how good a series is has little to do with the plans for its life a lot of the time.

  2. May 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    And how could I forget! One of my favorite shows..

    Dark Angel: “Dark Angel is an American biopunk/cyberpunk science fiction television series created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee. The show premiered in the United States on the Fox network on October 3, 2000, and was canceled after two seasons.”

    “After the end of the show’s second season, a third season appeared to be close to getting the green light, but Fox instead canceled the show at the last minute in order to make room for Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon’s new science fiction series Firefly on the network’s schedule. Incidentally, Firefly suffered the same fate as Dark Angel and was subsequently canceled the following season as well.”

    Hard to believe a James Cameron series with Jessica Alba (mega star), John Savage (mega actor), Nana Visitor (Star Trek alumni) and Michael Weatherly (NCIS) ended up in the toilet.

    • May 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      Oh yes, had that on my list as well.

    • May 14, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      The Firefly bit is particularly ironic.

  3. May 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Well I bet they actually plan to release short lived series BOOM BOOM just grab a bunch of viewers and get what you can and then onto the next one. Treat sci fi like a pop song that has it’s season in the sun and then has to get out of the way for the next flash in a pan.

    • May 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Well, if they planned six-episode stand-alone sci-fi series, that’d be fine for that purpose, but epic story arcs (which is usually the hook) create broken promises to viewers when a show is cancelled only a season in.

  4. May 14, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    What is frustrating is that while some of the series on this list were not epically fantastic tv is full of repetitive dribble of the non sci fi variety that goes on for series after series. Would I rather watch 10 seasons of Friends or 10 seasons of Crusade? Hmm.. whatever shall I choose.. oh wait I don’t have a choice.

    • May 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Well, look at the fact that the ninth season of Dallas was beating Max Headroom. E.R. went on forever, too. IMHO, most execs see sci-fi as weird niche programming that is filling timeslots that could be used for reality TV.

  5. PrincessButtermug
    May 16, 2011 at 6:25 am

    This made for really painful reading – so many great shows. I’ve never forgiven Fox for what they did to Firefly. That sort of blundering idiocy burns like an indecent betrayal. I loved Earth 2 and Alien Nation, as well. And V (new) JUST GOT CANCELLED?! Wow, I was trying to keep my weekend upbeat since I was dreading Monday so much. Mission: Impossible. 😦

    • May 16, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      It never ends, seriously.

  6. Wiredwizard
    May 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Space: Above & Beyond

    • May 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      I never caught Threshold. Is it worth tracking down?

  7. AdeptSoul
    October 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Stargate Universe

  8. del
    May 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    anyone remember a show back in the 80’s called The Misfits of Science? only remember a very few episodes.

  9. teacake
    May 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Oh and Caprica which this blog post mentions as being “in the works” has since lasted one series and been cancelled!

    Terra Nova, also one season and cancelled.

    I’m currently watching Defiance which I expect to be cancelled too.

  10. August 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic however
    , I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa?

    My blog covers a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe
    we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested
    feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
    Terrific blog by the way!

  1. May 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm
  2. May 17, 2011 at 4:23 am
  3. May 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm
  4. February 11, 2013 at 12:23 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: