When it came to adventurous dramas, the FX series The Americans, which ran from 2013-2018 had it all, except an audience to watch it. Which is a darn shame, since it was one of the best-written and best-acted shows with a premise that went against the grain of what U.S. programmers were delivering to their audiences. It was a sterling example of how a producer can take a risk on a viewership willing to sample something totally out of the box and off the beaten path of what competitors were offering anxious eyeballs.

Sometimes it works, as was the case for the mockumentary-style shooting of Modern Family or the more character-driven Star Trek: Picard, which strayed from the laser-driven space saga by focusing on a disenfranchised individual convinced he can still make a difference. But even with the dawning of a new golden age of television, thousands of inventive shows simply didn’t get the desired attention, simply because they were far too ahead of their time or had a premise too uncomfortable for people to watch.

Chosen at random and in no particular order (except the top entry), are 10 shows that didn’t cut it the forum of public opinion.

9 The Americans: 2013-2018 (FX)

For six seasons, a small audience watched the Jennings, a family that doubled as KGB operatives, engage in murder, smuggling and other espionage antics only to ditch the country in a series finale nobody saw coming. More of a slow-burn drama than an action outing and produced by a former CIA agent, The Americans at least managed to snare four Emmys. This show was so well-written and acted, with incredible attention to detail, it is absolutely worth a look.

8 Rome: 2005-2007 (HBO)

This look at Rome morphing from a republic to an empire during Julius Caesar’s reign didn’t focus much on the empower. Rather, the series focused on the lives of Titus and Lucius, two soldiers who had a front seat to the historical changes taking place around them. It also offered a street-level view of Rome during the time, from the telltale graffiti to the hustlers and criminals hanging out.

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The show was originally set to run four seasons, but mounting production expenses countervailed the small audience that caught the program. HBO axed it after only two seasons, although a movie followup is apparently in the cards.


7 The Equalizer: 1985-1989 (CBS)

Elder Brits normally don’t do well in Primetime USA and this spy drama is no exception. Edward Woodward played Robert McCall, a retired spy who develops a conscience for all his past dirty and uses his talents to help those in need free of charge. These were big-time deeds from victims threatened by higher powers to families terrorized by thugs.

Despite crisp writing and a killer soundtrack from Police drummer Stewart Copeland, The Equalizer didn’t exactly get much of an audience expecting the lead to be more along the lines of a dashing young James Bond type. Although it lasted four seasons, The Equalizer legacy was kept alive by two movies that starred Denzel Washington.

6 Preacher: 2016-2019 (AMC)

A brilliant series that combined the supernatural with Western influences and gallows humor, Preacher centered on the exploits of a small-town Texas preacher who’s about to renounce his faith until he acquires a superpower that makes him omnipotent. Believing the power to be a gift from God, he teams up with his kick-ass ex-girlfriend and a drug-addicted vampire to search for the Holy Father as he battled Satanic forces standing in his way.

While the interplay between the three characters could sometimes be hilarious, battle scenes were typically quite gory. But the show didn’t do well, particularly among rabid fans of the DC Vertigo comic book version. And AMC was juggling with adding more resources to push its flagship series The Walking Dead, leaving Preacher in the dust after four seasons.

5 Freaks and Geeks: 1999-2000 (NBC)

Long before The Big Bang Theory made nerds cool, Freaks and Geeks operated on the same premise, turning the lens on a gaggle of misfits trying to survive high school life. During its brief time on the air, the show took a comedic angle in tackling bullying, vandalism, weekend partying and exam cheating.

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Reportedly 18 episodes were in the can, although the network axed the show after only a dozen hit the screen and whatever following Freaks generated didn’t create an outcry loud enough to revive it. But it’s historic in that the series was a good training ground for the likes of Judd Apatow, James Franco and Seth Rogan.

4 The Prisoner: 1967-1968 (CBS)

Show creator and star Patrick McGoohan designed this British spy drama as an Orwellian take on life. Playing an operative who’s abducted and relocated to an undisclosed island, his name is changed to Number Six and is ordered to follow several strict lifestyle rules, all the time under surveillance by unseen forces. Much of the show focused on Number Six’s insubordinate behavior and determination to escape.

McGoohan designed to run The Prisoner as a mini-series, unheard of at the time. CBS demanded 36 episodes, but McGoohan created 17 instead. Still, the network censored a few episodes involving anti-war sentiments and the use of drugs. It was hardly a ratings success, although it ranks among TV pundits as one of the most popular cult shows of all time.

Night Gallery: 1970-1973 (NBC)

After the success of the Twilight Zone, writer and producer Rod Serling issued another suspense series that would start each episode in an art gallery after hours. A painting would serve as the premise for each episode, most of them ending with a shocking twist.

The show received more promotion as NBC and Universal Studios hated the anthology format, believing a program’s success depended on a consistent cast throughout the series. They cut the hour-long show down to a half-hour in its third season, before slashing the show altogether.

3 Between: 2015-2016 (Netflix)

Set in the fictional confines of Pretty Lake, this Canadian offering chronicles the fate of youths who survive a mysterious virus that kills everyone older than 21. As a result, the military quarantines the perimeters, leaving the survivors on their own. Struggle was the central theme, focusing on those wanting to escape despite the risk of infecting the outside world, some seeking to dominate the quarantined folks, and others simply yearning to survive.

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The show lasted only two seasons, each with a six-episode run. And while it tackled subject matter from anarchy to the pursuit of truth, it lacked the high-intensity drama viewers wanted and was cancelled in 2016. Interestingly, the show has since found new life on Netflix, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

2 Firefly: 2002-2003 (Fox)

Imagine a sci-fi series with no aliens and a spaceship captain who uses a six-shooter. Voila, you have a celestial version of the Old West from the mind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. The show marked the television debut of Nathan Fillion, who helmed a ship called Serenity manned by defeated survivors of a civil war back on Earth. They’re forced to forage in a new solar system of planets being colonized by fellow earthlings.

This unique version of space as a final frontier didn’t sit too well with audiences looking for more extraterrestrial fare and the show was canceled after 11 episodes. Three which didn’t air surfaced in a subsequent DVD.

1 Police Squad!: 1982 (ABC)

Probably the greatest television injustice in terms of cancellations was this cop comedy that starred Leslie Neilsen as bumbling detective Frank Drebin. The plots didn’t matter so much as how each show skewered the sitcom format from bumping off guest stars in the opening credits to faking freeze-frames at the end.

Sight gags that didn’t gel with any story arc came fast and furious while an understated delivery of the humor bewildered audiences to the point where the show lasted only six episodes. But a small fan base made so much noise, the show returned in the form of three successful Naked Gun movies.

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