Ratings casualties rise again, thanks to DVDs
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By Dave McCoy
There's nothing quite like having your favorite TV show axed by callous network executives that are interested only in the bottom line. Do you feel me, fellow "Angel" fans? How about you, "Playmakers" aficionados? Both those programs were sent recently to TV heaven, leaving fans to wonder about characters and storylines they'd followed for months, if not years, all suddenly...gone. Sigh.
However, a silver lining has emerged for network cast-offs in the booming DVD market. In the past, if your favorite show was cancelled you could only hope it showed up somewhere in syndication if you wanted to see it again. Now, DVD makes the sting of cancellation a little less painful.
When the studios behind such hits as "The X-Files" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" began releasing season-length DVD boxed sets, fans snatched them up eagerly, creating a new breakout category for the format. Today, producers are mining fan loyalty for both proven hits and cult faves alike.
This isn't just great news for fans who want to own and re-watch their shows over and over, but also for folks who happened to miss a show during its initial -- and in many cases brief -- run. DVD boxes also enable viewers without premium cable to catch shows such as "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," all big hits on disc.
What follows is a remembrance of our favorite shows that were cruelly killed before their prime. The good news? All except one of these shows are available on DVD for new audiences to discover or for old fans to remember forever.
A moment of silence, please... OK. Now, let's visit the graveyard of TV's most cherished ratings casualties.
10. "The Tick" (FOX)
Premiered: November 2001
Cancelled: January 2002
The earliest trailers for FOX's outlandish live action version of Ben Edlund's comic book and animated TV series telegraphed the show's slim chances: It was too absurd, too wacky, and, yep, too friggin' funny to ever make it on network prime time. Grown men and women dressing in superhero costumes and acting like it was the most normal of acts? Sadly, America just wasn't ready for "The Tick," but that didn't stop the sitcom from winning a devoted cult audience over the course of only nine episodes. The show tells the story of The Tick (dry, stupidly hysterical Patrick Warburton, best known as Puddy from "Seinfeld"), who, equipped with a bright blue insect costume and a limited understanding of human behavior, defends The City from injustice and evil. Helping our clueless hero is his sidekick Arthur, a former accountant who deems himself The Moth. If the country wasn't ready for a tongue-in-cheek superhero comedy, it definitely wasn't prepared for the sidesplitting homoerotic undertones that fueled Arthur's relationship with The Tick. FOX was baffled too, shuffling its time slot so many times, even fans couldn't find it. Happily, all nine episodes are now available on DVD.
9. "My So-Called Life" (ABC)
Premiered: August 1994
Cancelled: January 1995
"My So-Called Life" deserved a better fate than its single season. Although it only lasted 19 episodes, the series quickly became a critical hit for its portrayal of teen angst, making stars out of 15 year-old Claire Danes (as neurotic protagonist Angela Chase) and Jared Leto (Angela's dreamy crush, Jordan Catalano). The show was helmed by "thirtysomething" creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, sustaining their reputation for non-sensational treatment of very human, ordinary situations. Unlike "Beverly Hills 90210," there were no soap opera suds covering Angela's world; instead we witnessed her frayed nerves, shy demeanor and self-deprecating wit, echoing so many of our own experiences in high school. Alas, this same lack of sensationalism arguably turned away mainstream viewers. ABC dropped "My So-Called Life" because of low ratings. The show found a cult audience, however, when MTV aired numerous marathons and now the entire series is available in one DVD collection.
8. "The Ben Stiller Show" (FOX)
Premiered: September 1992
Cancelled: January 1993
Before he became a movie star, Ben Stiller was just another comic trying to
make it. Right after FOX became the fourth major network, they gave Stiller his
own comedy show. It was years ahead of its time, very hip and often nasty,
funnier than "Saturday Night Live"... and a critical and commercial bomb. It
consistently finished last or near last in the ratings, and after 12 episodes,
FOX pulled the plug. But after he became a star, bootleggers generated tapes of
the series that attracted a new audience. Now Stiller's quirky series is on DVD,
still looking fresh and very, very funny after a decade. "BSS" arguably boasted
the best cast of any network sketch series since the early days of "SNL,"
including Andy Dick (later of "NewsRadio" ), Bob Odenkirk (later of "Mr. Show"
with Bob and David") and Janeane Garofalo, all skewering pop culture, movies,
music and history with the insane abandonment. The impressions alone make the
show worth watching, whether it's Stiller's uncanny Tom Cruise, Bruce
Springsteen or Bono (U2 pompously playing a bar mitzvah is priceless),
Garofalo's Juliette Lewis, or Odenkirk's Charles Manson.