1. Firefly, created by Joss Whedon. Fox. Original run: September 2002 to August 2003. Number of episodes produced: 14
Joss Whedon's high-concept space western was a difficult sell to mainstream audiences, television critics and even its own network, but it inspired a group of dedicated fans (called Browncoats, after the show's rebel fighters), who are still active today (as evidenced by their booth at this year's Comic-Con). Through their active campaigning, the Browncoats got more than some fans do. The 2005 feature film Serenity brought back the characters, resolved the relationships and tied up loose narrative ends. And it continues to live on in comic books, novels and games. Still, we can only imagine where they crew would have gone, say, in season six or seven.
2. Wonderfalls, created by Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland. Fox. Original run: March 2004 to December 2004. Number of episodes produced: 14
Before Pushing Daisies on ABC, Bryan Fuller teamed up with Todd Holland (Malcolm in the Middle) and Tim Minear (Angel, Firefly) to create this quirky series, about a cynical twentysomething souvenir-store clerk (Caroline Dhavernas) in Niagara Falls. When she begins hearing the voices of talking animal figures, she finds herself forced to actually care about helping others. The show expertly blended dry wit, unpredictable plots, a sharp cast and an unsentimental approach to sentimental material. Unfortunately, it got lost in a season of shows with similar concepts (like Joan of Arcadia, which lasted one season longer). Considering the network never really had any idea what it had, let alone how to properly promote it, the writing was probably on the wall from the beginning for this lost gem.
3. Now and Again, created by Glenn Gordon Caron. CBS. Original run: September 1999 to May 2000. Number of episodes produced: 22
Why CBS chose not to renew this inventive, funny, sad, well-cast, new-fangled take on The Six Million Dollar Man is no mystery. Despite the intriguing concept of a man who is hit by a subway train and wakes up in a perfect, government-built body, the ratings for this show were not exactly stellar. Stars Eric Close (Without a Trace) and Dennis Haysbert (24) have since gone on to more high-profile gigs, but once upon a time they had great chemistry together as the restless, super-powered secret agent and his by-the-book handler.
4. Alien Nation, created by Kenneth Johnson. Fox. Original run: September 1989 to May 1990. Number of episodes: 22
The not-so-subtle pun in the title gives some indication of the allegorical themes at work in this series, based on the film of the same name. Picking up where the film left off, the show is set in a world where an alien slave ship has crashed on Earth and left its passengers stranded. Forced to assimilate into human society, they encounter the same kinds of struggles as any every other immigrant group throughout history. Except that they get drunk on sour milk and require three partners to procreate. Through the mixed-species partnership of a pair of police detectives--one human, one alien--the show explored issues of immigration, racism and cultural identity. Although canceled after one season due to budgetary pressures, Fox did bring it back in a series of five television movies.
5. Space: Above and Beyond, created by Glen Morgan and James Wong. Fox. Original run: September 1995 to June 1996. Number of episodes: 24
This futuristic war drama followed a squadron of marines known as the Wildcards aboard the USS Saratoga, the space-faring equivalent of an aircraft carrier. In addition to an alien threat and rebel AI mercenaries, the soldiers also faced conflicts closer to home, with the introduction of artificially bred humans and a potential government conspiracy. The show's dark tone, desaturated look, military backdrop and exploration of complex topics such as the moral ambiguity of war make this a predecessor of sorts to the more successful Battlestar Galactica. But back in 1995, the public wasn't quite ready for this kind of series, and the show failed to attract an audience wide enough to justify renewal.
6. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., created by Jeffrey Boam and Carlton Cuse. Fox. Original run: August 1993 to May 1994. Number of episodes: 27
Clever writing, great production values and a brilliant turn in the title role by the one and only Bruce Campbell made this genre-bending SF-western-comedy a pleasure for those who were hip to its self-referential humor, witty dialogue and memorable performances. Unfortunately, that didn't include most of the viewing audience. Fox scheduled the show on Friday nights, a timeslot notorious for low ratings, with the exception of The X-Files, which just happened to premiere the same year. Seems that the network could only afford to take a chance on one low-rated show, and we all know how that turned out, so they're probably not regretting their decision (though they may be regretting that second movie right about now).
7. American Gothic, created by Shaun Cassidy. CBS. Original run: September 1995 to July 1996. Number of episodes: 22
Moody, atmospheric and sinister, this show from creator Cassidy and executive producer Sam Raimi was the epitome of subtle, character-driven horror. Featuring career-making performances by Gary Cole and Lucas Black, the series centered on a boy (Black) whose soul is desperately sought by the competing forces of good--represented by a small-town doctor and the ghost of the boy's dead sister--and evil--represented by Cole as the demonic Sheriff Buck. Notable veterans of this promising, terminated-before-its-time show also include Battlestar Galactica's David Eick and Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic).
8. Jake 2.0, created by Silvio Horta. UPN. Original run: September 2003 to February 2003. Number of episodes produced: 16
NBC seems to have a hit on its hands with Chuck, but it's a safe bet that few of the show's viewers realize that the exact premise was already done in a little-seen show called Jake 2.0. Like its successor, Jake dealt with an affable, lovelorn geek (Ugly Betty's Christopher Gorham) who receives a computer upgrade to his brain (thanks to nanobots, in this case) and is recruited by the government as a spy. This was back in the early days of UPN, when the network was still trying to find its identity and looking for a breakout hit to complement Enterprise. This didn't turn out to be it.
9. Nowhere Man, created by Lawrence Hertzog. UPN. Original run: August 1995 to May 1996. Number of episodes: 25
One of the most frustrating things that can happen when a show is yanked before its time is a denial of answers to a big, over-arching mystery. That's what happened in the case of Nowhere Man, about a photographer (played by Bruce Greenwood), who takes a controversial picture in a South American war zone and suddenly finds his identity erased by a covert, possibly governmental, organization. Nowhere Man incorporated elements of The Fugitive and The Prisoner, but unlike those shows, it never got an epic final episode, leaving fans (dozens of them) to wonder forever (or for a few weeks at least) about the significance of that fateful photograph.
10. Eerie, Indiana, created by Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer. NBC. Original run: September 1991 to April 1992. Number of episodes: 19
Although it may not have featured big-name stars, this semi-anthology series engaged the few viewers it attracted with the story of a boy (Omri Kats) who moves to the titular town and becomes best friends with the only other normal kid on his block (Justin Shenkarow). Together, they investigate a series of strange phenomenon in their neighborhood, including a Tupperware lady who seals her kids up in large tubs every night to keep them immortal and a pack of intelligent dogs who scheme to take over the world. The show's bizarre plots and offbeat tone helped keep it in the public consciousness, inspiring the creators to continue the storyline in a series of books.