‘Westworld’ and 7 other iconic TV shows that never made it past their first season
Getting a TV show on screens is a feat in itself. Since there are thousands of competing scripts out there at any one time, it takes a leap of faith – usually from a network or, in today’s market, much more likely a streaming service – to fund even a pilot ( a proof of concept in one episode). If a creative team manages to deliver said pilot, they may be lucky enough to get an order for a series.
And even then, it’s no guarantee of longevity. In some cases this means a tragically short duration, some famous examples being Firefly Where Freaks & Geeks. In others, it may mean a sudden burst of creativity that grants the show critical and commercial success, only for the good ideas to be exhausted and the quality of future seasons to noticeably drop.
“Heroes” (NBC, 2006-2009)
Arriving at just the right time in terms of the air of the times, NBC Hero was, for a while, the most anticipated and talked about show of the new TV season – and that’s back when mega-hits like HBO The Sopranos and specific to the network Lost were broadcast. The unique writing, epic visuals, and brilliant cast, combined with a superpower-centric narrative, captured the imagination of audiences and made Hero a juggernaut of ratings.
However, this love affair was short-lived. The precise reasons for this series’ rapid downfall are hard to pin down, but certainly, a significant contributing factor was the 2007 writers’ strike. This meant that the second season, in particular, suffered; while the former had such a strong sense of momentum, the latter was embarrassed and also made the inexplicable decision to split most of the cast from the first season. Despite the best efforts of some actors – including Zachary Quinto in his star turn as the unrepentant villain Sylar – the show had effectively dug its own grave. He was put out of his misery after limping through season 4.
“Westworld” (HBO, 2016 -)
The notion of AI and its relationship with humanity being somewhat strained is nothing new in the storytelling. Still, Westworld did a very good job of creating a world that its human protagonists would want to explore – and takes us as the audience along for the ride. With gripping performances and some truly jaw-dropping plot twists, the first series of the HBO sci-fi drama was a hit.
However, what was considered by some to be the successor to the network game of thrones somewhat abandoned in recent years. This may have to do with the production schedule, where there is a two-year gap between seasons, making it difficult to maintain audience interest in the current production landscape. It’s also not helped by the fact that it seems to get almost deliberately confusing as it goes on. Whatever the reason, the hype that surrounded this show’s release in 2016 has definitely died down.
‘Prison Break’ (Fox, 2005 – 2017)
After his brother is falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to death, Michael Scofield hatches an elaborate plan to get himself locked up in the same prison as his brother. He has the prison plans tattooed on his body, and using them as a guideline, the two plan and execute an escape.
What a brilliant concept, isn’t it? The problem is he doesn’t have the legs to sustain a 5 season run of a TV show. An idea that might have worked better as a 120-minute feature, a single season might have been the longest in history. After moving past its lofty concept, the series falls further and further into silly territory as the two are moved in and out of prison, mostly for plot convenience.
“The Good Place” (NBC, 2016 – 2020)
Before you pull your pitchforks and light your torches, to clarify, that’s not to say the rest of the series is bad. Far from it, as it delves into some interesting philosophical and moral issues, it’s generally on a fairly high level of comedy and features two outstanding performances from veterans Ted Danson and Kristen Bell at the center of the proceedings.
However, The right place has a first season that’s so well-written and flawlessly executed that it could well feature in future textbooks on exactly how to direct a TV series. From the very first image to the development of each of the characters to that final delightful twist, it all flows so convincingly that, despite best efforts, the rest of the series just didn’t come out on top.
“House of Cards” (Netflix, 2013 – 2018)
It’s hard to put into context in today’s world, where Netflix Originals are one of the cohesive pop culture mainstays of the modern media landscape, but there was a time when they were untested. This American remake of a short-lived British series was one of the platform’s first forays into creating its own content. And it was created to rave reviews, ratings successes and Emmy nominations, primarily due to the talent behind the camera, including the mighty director David Fincher.
While the suspension of disbelief is a tightrope, all drama series have to walk, Card castle has become a bit of a self-parody. After a somewhat believable and tightly woven first season narrative, Frank Underwood went from Machiavellian underdog to cartoonish villain – and took the show’s weak credibility with him.
‘True Detective’ (HBO, 2014-)
real detective was a smash hit for a number of reasons, from cheerfully avoiding popular serialized forms of storytelling in the genre to producing something more grounded and dramatic. With the two representations of Woody Harrelson and especially, Matthew McConaugheyreminding everyone how good he can be if he puts in the effort, the first season was lightning in a bottle, earning rave reviews and multiple Emmy nominations.
Seeing this success, HBO immediately ordered a second series made. However, despite an impressive cast and the same creatives behind the camera, once the dust settled on the show’s second season, it became a mainstay on critics’ lists of worst TV shows of the year. A third season with Mahershala Ali was seen as a step in the right direction. Yet the fact remains that this series has never been able to recapture the magic of its initial release.
‘Californication’ (Showtime, 2007 – 2014)
Although there are many advantages, including David Duchovny in the lead role, Californication never quite came together as the success it could have been. Probably the closest is the first season, which seemed to present both audiences and the showrunners themselves with two directions to take Duchovny’s Hank Moody – an alcoholic novelist and womanizer who is also trying to get a relationship with his daughter. teenager and still being painfully in love with her mother.
This could have been ripe dramatic ground for the show to explore. However, the show seemed more interested in placing Hank in storylines where goofy hijinks might ensue, including literally making him the biographer of a fictional rock star in one season. Although he had his moments, it ultimately felt like a waste of talent and energy.
Riverdale (The CW, 2017-2022)
What must have looked like a bit of a wacky concept on paper – a modern update to the Archie comics, with a more adult-oriented, soap opera-based form of storytelling – turned out incredibly well when it premiered. season. The heady combination of a high school soap opera, neon-lit neo-noir, and an old-school comic throwback had us all tuning in.
Then things got weird. Soaps have never had the most believable stories, with long-lost relatives and handy coma awakenings for the lesson. But Riverdale seemed to be almost as if the writer’s room were pushing each other to see how far they could stretch storylines. The final seasons have everything from bear attacks to cults and even a musical episode based on Steven Kingit is Carrie. It goes from a somewhat grounded narrative of a classic comic book series to a demented, insane fever dream where literally anything seems possible.
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