It’s always depressing when you find out your favorite TV show has been cancelled. It’s even more miserable when a show gets the can at the last minute. While many TV shows get the plug pulled due to “low ratings,” there were many incredibly shocking reasons why hit shows got the axe in the 90s.
The 90’s, a whole decade before social media served as a means for fans to declare public outcry when their show was trashed. It was also a decade that pushed boundaries for what could be shown on television. Cartoons were riddled with adult humor and sitcoms depicted less than stellar family situations. While some got away with it, others sadly were tossed in the can.
It’s crazy to think that just twenty years ago TV was reluctant to air shows with diverse cast members. It’s also shocking to see what actors wanted to move from TV to film, no matter how much money was offered to them to stay on their hit show. While plenty of shows from the 90’s received happy endings and finales that appeased critics and fans alike, many weren’t so lucky. Here’s a look at 20 90’s TV Shows That Were Cancelled For Shocking Reasons.
20. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000
MST3K was an groundbreaking cult comedy that made making fun of horrible movies an art. Taking place in a galaxy far away, a group of misfits are forced to watch the worst movies of all time by a team of villains. Known for its iconic image of a man and two robots sitting in movie seats at the bottom of the screen, the show featured classic duds like Space Mutiny, Angel’s Revenge, and of course, Manos: The Hands of Fate.
MST3K became a popular cult sensation on Comedy Central, then was picked up by Syfy, but the cost of acquiring rights to even some of the worst films became too expensive. The show got cancelled, angering all the “mysties” around the world. Plus, we all know there are far too many bad movies that desperately need commentary.
19. KIDS IN THE HALL
Kids in the Hall was a hilariously strange Canadian comedy that featured sketches with alcoholic fathers, beards that had a life of their own, and anti-homophobic monologues of “Queer Nation.” Mixing sketch comedy with improv, the small cast invented hundreds of characters. Irreverent, witty, and ahead of its time, Kids in the Hall lasted five seasons garnering a dedicated audience who couldn’t wait to see more.
The talented cast was led by comedians Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson. The show could have gone on for more seasons, however the actors wanted to leave to pursuit bigger projects like movies, a move that unfortunately didn’t pan out for all. Just two years later the cast reunited for the film version of the show Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy.
18. QUANTUM LEAP
Quantum Leap was an early 90’s sci-fi hit that followed time-traveling hottie Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) as he was transported from body to body to find his way home. Mixing action, sci-fi, and comedy, Beckett would leap into different bodies, at times even crossing genders. Dean Stockwell played sidekick Admiral Al Calavicci who helps Beckett along the way, hoping that he can finally leap back home.
Quantum Leap lasted five seasons. Yes, the network was worried about low ratings for a while, however once creator/screenwriter Donald P. Bellisario presented the cliffhanging finale to the network, the cast and crew were promised there would be a sixth season. To much shock, the plug was pulled. Both Bakula and Bellisario publicly professed their upset, as did fans.
Blossom was a beloved sitcom that followed likably hip teen Blossom Russo, who was perfectly played by Mayim Bialik. Although the show focused on serious plot lines, like growing up with a mother who left the family to pursuit a career, it was a comedy that had Jenna von Oy playing Blossom’s best friend and partner in crime, Six LeMeure. And who could forget Joey Lawrence playing Blossom’s dumb jock brother Joey, occasionally spewing his famous line, “Whoa!”
The show had a successful run with four seasons, but in season five, the show drastically changed its tone to being much more serious. In an infamous episode, Blossom faced a violent attack from a boy she was dating. NBC received backlash for having “issue” based episodes, so they decided to axe the show as many fought over creative differences.
16. ALL-AMERICAN GIRL
All American Girl broke boundaries for its time featuring a nearly all Asian cast depicting a Korean-American family in 1994. The sitcom introduced the world to standup comedian Margaret Cho who played her semi-autobiographical role Margaret Kim; a Korean-American girl that juggles the culture clash between her traditionally Korean family and the very different American world she lives in.
The show was heavily criticized by audiences, critics, and Asian American viewers and, sadly, the show was canned after just 19 episodes. Margaret Cho went on to say, “When you’re the first person to cross over this racial barrier, you’re scrutinized for all these other things that have nothing to do with race, but they have everything to do with race – it’s a very strange thing.” Thankfully Cho would find much success with her stand-up tours and films.
15. STRANGERS WITH CANDY
Jerri Blank, the messy gal who ran away from home to become “a boozer, a user, and a loser” would serve as the cult defining role for Amy Sedaris. Premiering in 1999 the dark comedy followed Jerri Blank’s misadventures as a 46 ex-prostitute and former drug addict going back to high school to complete her degree after several stints in prison.
Comedy Central aired all 30 episodes and the show garnered a dedicated cult audience. The show could have easily gone on longer, but several cast members and creators wanted to do other projects. Thankfully, Amy Sedaris and company reprised their beloved roles for a 2005 film version of Strangers With Candy featuring funny cameos from Sarah Jessica Parker and a breakout performance from Chris Pratt.
14. THE REN & STIMPY SHOW
“Happy Happy, Joy Joy!” Ah, the crazy misadventures of Ren, the emotionally unstable Chihuahua and Stimpy, the dimwitted cat. The hit Nickelodeon cartoon that followed the unlikely pair of best friends was dark and laced with adult humor, violence, subliminal messages, and sexual innuendo. Surprisingly, the trippy show lasted five seasons, even with thousands of complaint letters written from concerned parents.
It was the 90s version of Looney Tunes, but with fart jokes, sex cracks, violent outbursts, and psychedelic druggy sequences. The further the show went on, the more boundaries the makers tried to break. Episodes were heavily edited and content was censored, leading to a controversial banned episode. The creators had enough of censorship and Nickelodeon cancelled the show due to creative differences and too much controversy.
13. IN LIVING COLOR
In Living Color was the first show to showcase the brilliant comedic talents of the Wayans Brothers, as well as future Hollywood heavyweights like Jim Carrey as Fire Marshall Bill, and Jamie Foxx as Ugly Wanda. It was like Saturday Night Live but with a more diverse cast. The hilarious sketch comedy ran for five hit seasons, so why didn’t it go on for a sixth?
Fox and creator/star Keenan Ivory Wayans fought hard behind the scenes about censorship and where the show was going. Their tumoultous relationship led to volatile fights over editing certain episodes to arguments over syndication. Once Fox notified him about the series going to syndication, Wayans had enough and stepped away from the show, leading to an abrupt cancellation. While it’s sad the show ended, thankfully the cast members went on to much bigger projects.
12. LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE
Remember this competition show on Nickelodeon? The one where nobody ever won? Well, rarely that is. The show was in the same vein as Double Dare and Guts, and showed different kids competing in a series of mental and physical challenges to ultimately find a mysterious artifact in a hidden temple to win a grand prize.
The expensive show was difficult to film, and one episode was rumored to have gone overtime to an insane 18 hour shoot, exhausting the child contestants and adult crew. In fact, the show was so expensive to run, the producers were only allowed to award a handful of contestants. Does this mean the show was rigged?! It’s no wonder people tuned out, as next to nobody ever won the damn thing.
11. ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE
It’s pretty surprising that Rocko’s Modern Life ran for three successful seasons on Nickelodeon, a station that ran a relatively wholesome brand for kid’s television. The wacky animated series followed the Australian wallaby Rocko and his friends as they moved from Australia to America, finding themselves in the most bizarre situations.
The show was saturated with adult and potty humor, ultimately facing controversy with censorship. Joe Murray, the creator, fought with Nickelodeon over what could and couldn’t make it on the show. Though faced with strict pullback from the Network, Murray would secretly insert little subliminal “F Yous”, like a live action segment “Wacky Delly” that aired in the third and final season. Though the plug was finally pulled, the show heavily influenced Nickelodeon’s huge phenomenon SpongeBob SquarePants.
10. MARRIED WITH CHILDREN
Arguably one of the most iconic TV shows of the 90’s, Married With Children broke the rules for sitcoms, depicting the miserable, dysfunctional family of the Bundys living a less than satisfying life in suburban America. Ed O’Neill angered many for his portrayal of misanthrope Al Bundy, and Katey Sagal played his lazy, nagging wife Peggy, while breakout star Christina Applegate played their promiscuous, and not very bright daughter Kelly.
While very controversial, the show was a hit, playing for eleven seasons. Ratings weren’t as high as they were in the beginning, but the show was still a success and could have gone on for longer. The network axed the show during the last season, a shock for the cast and crew as well as the fans. Star Dave Faustino admits, “The fans are really the ones that got kind of screwed over. They didn’t get any resolution or end or something cool as a last episode.”
9. CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL
Clarissa Explains It All was that mega Nickelodeon hit show that starred Melissa Joan Hart as Clarissa Darling, cool high school gal that talks to the camera and tells the world all about her life. With her denim skirt, neon colored print shirts, and ponytail tied in a scrunchy, Clarissa was the “It Girl” of Nickelodeon. Her friends would come in and out through her window, and she would discuss friends, boys, pimples, and her mischievous little brother Ferguson. The ratings were through the roof kids all around the world couldn’t wait to see what Clarissa had to say.
So why didn’t this show last longer? Nickelodeon felt that Hart, who was 17 in the final season, was too old to continue her role as Clarissa.
8. THE BEN STILLER SHOW
Ben Stiller took sketch comedy to a whole new level with The Ben Stiller Show. It’s shocking looking back at this comedy as it was aired on MTV, a station that in the 90’s was known for mainly showing music videos. In fact, many people questioned why the network was showing a comedy show when they should be showing music videos, a far cry from all the reality shows that air today (seriously, does MTV even play music videos anymore?). The Ben Stiller Show featured no live audiences or laugh tracks, but also set the bar for mockumentary style comedy.
The cast included Janeane Garafolo, Andy Dick, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Judd Apatow. The show had a successful run on MTV but was then picked up by Fox, who had creative differences with the makers and ended the show after just 13 episodes.
7. SALUTE YOUR SHORTS
Any Nickelodeon fan of the 90’s remembers the theme song to this kid’s classic show about Camp Anawanna, the beloved summer camp that we hold in our hearts, but when we think about it, it “makes us wanna fart!” Salute Your Shorts was the number two kid’s show on TV with two successful seasons following a group of camp counselors replete with neon shorts, fanny packs, and mullets, finding themselves in the most ridiculous situations as they harass the adult Camp Leader Kevin “Ug” Lee.
So why was this hit show cancelled? Nickelodeon built a brand new studio in Orlando, Florida, and the majority of the cast didn’t want to relocate. The show was quickly canned, and the cast lived comfortably in Los Angeles, California.
Profit was one of those shows that was just too much for its time. The protagonist, Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar), played the company bad guy who would do literally anything to get the job done, from resorting to blackmail, bribery, bullying, and even murder.
A show that preceded works with unlikeable characters to come like The Sopranos, Dexter, House of Cards, or even Oscar favorite Wolf of Wall Street, Profit was cancelled in the middle of its first season. Fox received endless phone calls and letters complaining about the immorality from its leading character. Funny enough, the show was critically acclaimed, while the show that preceded Profit was Melrose Place, a massive hit that featured a large cast of immoral characters who cheat, lie, and murder as much as they breathe air.
5. GRACE UNDER FIRE
Grace Under Fire was a hugely successful sitcom that depicted the single parent household in the 90s. Brett Butler played Grace Kelly, a recovering alcoholic struggling to raise three kids on her own in this comedy. Sadly, the character was a little too close to home for Butler, as she was struggling with her own addiction in real life.
Butler infamously caused massive fires behind the scenes. She showed up to set hours late, costing the network thousands of dollars, and demanded ABC pay for her own chartered jet. Her drunken antics finally reached an all-time low when she was rumored to have flashed herself to actor Jon Paul Steuer who was only 12 at the time. It’s no wonder the crew were given “I Survived Brett” T-shirts after the show was canned.
4. FREAKS AND GEEKS
Premiering in 1999, Freaks and Geeks only lasted one season. Taking place in a 1980’s high school, the hilarious show featured the new talents of James Franco, Seth Rogan, and Busy Philipps. Created by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad) and Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), the show has become a cult sensation that still leaves fans scratching their head as to why it was canned so soon.
NBC placed Freaks and Geeks in a horrible time slot, airing at 8pm on Saturdays, leading to not so great ratings. But then there were major fights between the makers and NBC leading to creative differences. The network wanted the characters to have “more victories” and even wanted Franco to be more handsome, show his thick spiky hair, rather than wear a beanie all the time. The writing team even gave Ken (Rogan) a storyline about his girlfriend having “ambiguous genitalia.” In 2013, Apatow admitted that it was essentially a middle finger to NBC. Thankfully, the cast and crew have gone on to do bigger things.
3. HOME IMPROVEMENT
One of the staples of 90’s family sitcom gold, Home Improvement was everybody’s favorite comedy following Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, played by Tim Allen. The eight season mega-hit featured a cast of recognizable faces like Richard Karn, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Patricia Richardson, and Pamela Anderson as the supporting hottie character “The Tool Time Girl.”
Jonathan Taylor Thomas left the show during the final season to further his education, a decision that surprised most cast members and crew. What makes Home Improvement’s end the most shocking was the fact that, rumor has it, Richardson was offered nearly $25 million to do a ninth season and Tim Allen was offered a staggering $50 million. Both actors declined the very generous offers to pursuit movie projects, and the show was cancelled.
Way before the world would know her as America’s favorite talk show host, Ellen had her own hit sitcom in the 90’s. In the fourth season, Ellen had a largely publicized and talked about “coming out” episode where she, as character Ellen Morgan, and as as person, Ellen DeGeneres, came out as an open and happy lesbian.
Sadly, the show suffered major backlash. Conservatives trashed her and magazines scrutinized her decision to come out so loudly. The next season, the show was cancelled and Ellen’s career was deemed “over.” In hindsight, Ellen’s decision would be celebrated as groundbreaking and thankfully her career has only flourished since, with her critically acclaimed voice-over work in Finding Nemo, to her iconic talk show Ellen that premiered in 2001 and still runs strong.
1. MY SO-CALLED LIFE
For a show that only had one season, My So-Called Life is a 90’s phenomenon. The 19 episode season starred Claire Danes and Jared Leto as teens in high school. With exceptional writing, direction, and acting, the show was known for its authenticity, portraying angsty teenagers facing realistic struggles unlike overly dramatic fare like 90210 airing at the same time.
My So-Called Life struck such a huge nerve with audiences in 1995. In fact, when the show was threatened with low-ratings, fans resorted to creating “Operation Life Support,” a fan club that wrote thousands of letters and made T-shirts to save the show. Surprisingly, Claire Danes was reluctant to reprise her role as she wanted to do films. Just one year later, she would star in her infamous role as Juliet opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.