Fans take their favorite TV shows very seriously. They form online communities, recreate favorite scenes with live action role-playing, and fly long distances to meet each other at conferences. They live and breathe their favorite programs, often going to great lengths to convince studio big wigs to grant low-rated shows a reprieve. When CBS canceled the show "Jericho," for instance, fans rallied by sending nearly 40,000 pounds of nuts to executives in protest. (The nuts were a nod to lead character Jake Green, who replied "nuts" to a demand that he surrender in what could have been the show's final episode.) The fan campaign worked, and CBS brought the show back for a second season.
Most shows in danger of getting canceled aren't as lucky as "Jericho." Some fizzle out and are quickly forgotten. Others disburse into the collective unconscious, only to be reborn or revamped at some point in the future. Others, like the cult TV hits discussed in this article, live on long after they leave the airways. This list highlights a handful of beloved cult TV hits from each of the major television genres.
First up, we discuss two shows from the action/adventure category. "Jericho," the shows fans saved by saying "nuts" to its cancellation, is first on our list.
When 23 major U.S. cities are blasted by nuclear attacks, residents in the tiny, fictional town of Jericho, Kansas, are left to survive the aftermath. "Jericho" premiered on CBS in 2006 and aired the last of its 29 episodes in March 2008. It followed the story of prodigal son Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) and a group of Jericho townspeople through the hardships that followed in the wake of devastating nuclear attacks.
"Jericho" was one of a number of shows, such as "Flash Forward," "Heroes" and "Lost," that began with a cataclysmic event and took survivors on a roller-coaster ride of survival and subterfuge. In "Jericho," a secretive and mysterious newcomer, Robert Hawkins (Lennie James), eventually reveals that he was involved in a failed CIA mission to stop the nuclear attacks. Hawkins divulges that the attacks were masterminded not by terrorists but by a group of high-level U.S. government officials. As Hawkins' secrets come to light, a new government with dubious motives -- the Allied States of America -- imposes a police state. Throughout the second season, Green and Hawkins work to keep an undetonated nuclear device out of the hands of the ASA. As the series ends, it becomes clear a second American Civil War will be unavoidable.
Next, we travel back in time to revisit another action/adventure cult hit that lives on, despite the fact that it was canceled almost half a century ago. Read all about the 1960s secret agent drama "Danger Man" on the next page.
"My name is Drake. John Drake." Thus began the 1960s British secret agent drama "Danger Man." Drake was originally conceived as a womanizing James Bond type. However, "Danger Man" actor Patrick McGoohan rescripted his character into a more principled hero who enjoyed using his brains more than his fists.
As a secret operative for NATO, Drake worked in solitude and had few cumbersome political alliances. Drake, an international man of mystery, traveled the world capturing murderers, uncovering treason, ousting spies and unraveling conspiracies. Though the ladies swooned in his presence, Drake was unfailingly upstanding in his dealings with the fairer sex.
Some might question whether "Danger Man" belongs on a list of cult hits that flopped. While the show eventually enjoyed success, it first sputtered and nearly faded into obscurity. Following a season of nail-biting half-hour episodes that aired in both the U.S. and the U.K., a lack of funding sent "Danger Man" on indefinite hiatus in 1961. After a gap of nearly four years, studio executives gave the John Drake formula another look, rewriting "Danger Man" as an hour-long drama. Many fans feel that the second season includes some of the best shows of the series. The U.S. market also aired these episodes, but the show was renamed "Secret Agent Man." A third series followed in 1965, and "Danger Man" aired its final two episodes in 1966.
The show spawned an entire franchise of memorabilia. From comic books and pulp novels to bubblegum cards and jigsaw puzzles, "Danger Man's" John Drake still endures in the hearts of fans today.
Next, we explore a more subversive genre. First on the list is "Get a Life," a dark comedy that flopped. Read all about it after the jump.
'Get a Life'
"Get a Life" was the brainchild of "Late Night With David Letterman" writers Chris Elliot and Adam Resnick. One can picture the two funnymen sequestered over the script, chuckling at the bizarre and darkly surreal scenarios they were creating.
Elliot starred as Chris Peterson, a 30-year-old dimwit who still holds the newspaper delivery job he scored in his youth. Peterson isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. The most mundane, everyday objects baffle him, and his extreme cluelessness often leads to his demise. Thinking an airplane escape hatch is the door to the restroom, Peterson opens it and is sucked out of the plane, suffering one of the twelve physical "deaths" he endures over the course of the show. Peterson's other absurd antics include an attempt to set a world record for having the most amount of stuff piled on him. Peterson's repeated deaths, in addition to his many other darkly hilarious antics, apparently made the executives at Fox squeamish. Rumor has it that the studios felt "Get a Life" was too dark and unsettling for its prime-time audience.
If "Get a Life" put the merriment in morbidity, our next pick shows off the darker side of dark. Meet a guy who sleeps naked in a cardboard box on the next page.
These days, subversive, morally ambiguous television protagonists are fairly commonplace. Mob boss and loving family man Tony Soprano tried to smother his mother with a pillow. Dexter is a serial killer, but he only kills murderers. Maybe writers for "The Sopranos" and "Dexter" took the lessons of "Profit" to heart when they made their characters likable, despite their moral shortcomings.
Jim Profit, played by Adrian Pasdar, was not a likable guy. For instance, the fact that he gets revenge on his abusive father by setting him on fire relieves his the view of any tender feelings he or she might have hoped to feel for him.
A cold, unflinching sociopath, Profit lies, cheats, steals and manipulates others into doing despicable things in order to climb the ranks at multinational corporation Gracen & Gracen. At the end of each morally bankrupt day, Profit retreats to his bachelor pad, where he strips naked and takes refuge in a cardboard box. Writer David Greenwalt hypothesizes that "what might have turned off viewers to 'Profit' wasn't just that it was so different [from other shows of the time] but that it was such an affront to it." Fox aired only four of the show's nine planned episodes before yanking it from their lineup.
Four episodes and an out-of-print DVD release weren't enough to kindle the fires of fandom, and today, "Profit" remains largely forgotten. However, because its influence is still very much alive in dark shows like "Nurse Jacky" and "Nip/Tuck," "Profit" can still be classified as a solid cult hit.
After the break, we make the leap from sinister to science fiction as we explore a beloved creation from Joss Whedon.
When it comes to the science-fiction genre, Joss Whedon of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Dollhouse" fame is one of television's heaviest hitters. Fresh from the successes of "Buffy" and "Angel," Whedon had high hopes for his new series, "Firefly," when it launched in 2002. Sadly, those hopes were dashed when this cult hit was canceled after only 11 of a planned 14 episodes aired.
Visually innovative and masterfully cast, "Firefly" follows a band of space pirates living aboard the transport ship Serenity. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) lead a ragtag band of space desperadoes as they embark upon dangerous supply missions and defend themselves against natives. "Firefly" is set in the post-apocalyptic world of the future, where a confederation called the Alliance governs a central body of planets. Those who refuse to submit to the Alliance's authority are forced to eke out a living on the outskirts of space. In much the same way that American pioneers once traversed the Wild West, the characters of "Firefly" must survive in harsh conditions and without creature comforts.
If "Firefly" represents the "space" side of the supernatural genre, our next pick celebrates the science experiment. Meet a kid with no belly button after the jump.
From 2006 to 2008, "Kyle XY" was ABC Family's highest-rated show. It did so well, in fact, that broadcast network ABC picked it up for a time.
"Kyle XY" follows the story of a 15-year-old boy (Matt Dallas) who wakes up alone in the forest, covered in pink goo and with no knowledge, language or memories. A therapist, Nicole Trager (Marguerite MacIntyre) takes him under her wing, eventually adopting him into her own family. Kyle is pure of heart, but his mysterious intelligence and lack of a belly button are evidence of a strange past. Over the course of three short seasons, Kyle realizes he was created as a science experiment in human gestation. Latnok, the conglomerate that created him, has an evil plan to clone his DNA and create a bank of biocomputers.
In between unlocking the secrets of Latnok, Kyle falls in love, starts school, becomes a part of his adopted family and enjoys his high school prom. With a strong cast and an action-packed story line, there's nothing not to love about "Kyle XY," yet the show was abruptly canceled after a third season cliffhanger, leaving many story lines unresolved. Kyle lives on in the hearts of his fans, however. Kyle's S.O.S. (Save Our Show) campaign is still in full swing, with new updates to the forums at kylexy.net every day.
It's not too much of a jump from teenage sci-fi to teenage drama. We take a look at one of the all-time most beloved teen dramas of cult television in the next section.
'My So-Called Life'
Rarely has a show garnered as much grassroots enthusiasm as ABC's beloved, mid-90s flop, "My So-Called Life." Starring Claire Danes as 15-year-old Angela Chase, "My So-Called Life" features all the typical elements of teen drama: the awakening heroine, the gawky boy-next-door, the sexy and slightly dangerous love interest, the complicated best friend, and the sidekick with a secret. In spite of its tried-and-true formula, "My So-Called Life" was nothing short of magical.
The fact that the show escaped cliché is largely due to its excellent scripting. A lot of credit, too, goes to the young and largely undiscovered cast. From its hand-lettered opening credits to Jordan Catalano's throat-hugging leather neckband, "My So-Called Life" had that indefinable chemistry that many shows attempt but fail to realize.
The show was also groundbreaking. Ricky Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) was one of teen television's first complex gay characters. In fact, each of "My So-Called Life's" characters is rich and dimensional. Love interest Jordan Catalano struggles with dyslexia. Best friend Rayann Graffe is wild and free-spirited, but suffers from drug addiction and neglect. Even Angela's parents struggle with issues regarding the balance of power in marriage.
Find out more about another smart teen drama/comedy after the jump.
'Freaks and Geeks'
Angela Chase and the rest of her "My So-Called Life" friends may have felt out of step with their peers, but their alienation was nothing compared to the misfits of McKinley High. Set in a fictional Detroit suburb, the kids of "Freaks and Geeks" occupy the margins of high school society. On one side are the freaks, including bad boy Daniel, bad girl Kim, stoner Nick and underachiever Ken. On the other side are the geeks: the ever entrepreneurial Neal and the dorky Bill Haverchuck.
The show revolves around siblings, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam (John Francis Daley) Weir, as they navigate the worlds of freaks and geeks. Once a mathelete and rule-abiding young lady, Lindsay defiantly trades her sweater sets for an oversize army jacket, to the general bewilderment of her loving but sometimes clueless parents. Sam, on the other hand, doesn't choose geek status. Small and skinny for his age, Sam is the kind of sweet, smart kid who may make a great man someday -- if he can survive his adolescence.
"Freaks and Geeks" nailed that rare combination of funny, awkward and sweet. It was nominated for several Emmy awards and won "Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series." Though the show was canceled after only one season, it launched the careers of several series regulars, including James Franco and Seth Rogen.
Our next pick was also a career-making vehicle for one of its stars. We meet 46-year-old high school freshman Jerri Blank in the next section.
'Strangers with Candy'
The last genre we'll explore is comedy, and the first of our two sitcom picks is Comedy Central's cult hit "Strangers with Candy." Like "Freaks and Geeks," "Strangers with Candy" is set in the wide world of high school. Few parents, however, would want their kids practicing the warped moral lessons "Strangers" preached.
The show's protagonist, a runaway named Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), spent years as a boozer, a user and a loser before returning to Flatpoint High as a 46-year-old freshman. Jerri goes on to learn many dubiously valuable lessons in the show's all-too-brief three-season run. Even though the show didn't go on, Jerri did. She appeared in the "Strangers with Candy" movie, scripted as a prequel to the television series.
Our last cult hit comedy may also receive the film treatment, if the proposed movie's development isn't arrested. Find out more after the jump.
Perhaps one of the most critically-acclaimed sitcoms of the early 21st century, Fox's "Arrested Development" starred Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, the only sane member of a decidedly unstable clan. When the show's patriarch, George Bluth, Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is hauled to jail on fraud charges in the show's pilot episode, the rest of the Bluth family is completely unfazed. Only when everyone realizes that George's assets will be frozen, leaving them all penniless, do they swing into action, hiring Michael to manage the family business.
Shot in the style of documentaries and reality television, "Arrested Development" is the kind of quirky, oddball comedy that only comes along once in a while. The show's writers mined taboo themes like incest for humorous potential. Jibes at the wealthy and wacky pastimes of the various Bluths also provided a rich source of material. Entertainment Weekly writer Gillian Flynn compared "Arrested Development" to another offbeat and short-lived cult hit, saying "the writing reminds me of 'Police Squad!', which was also packed with raunchy, goofy wordplay" [source: Flynn].
The carefully selected cast included Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Will Arnett and even Liza Minnelli. Despite winning six Emmy Awards, the show met its demise after only three short seasons. Thanks in part to a dedicated fan campaign and the tireless efforts of the show's creator Mitchell Hurwitz, the script for an "Arrested Development" film is currently underway. Odds are we may see more of the Bluth family in the near future.
Learn more about cult television after the jump. Didn't find your favorite show on this list? Tell us about it in the comments.
Susan Bennett never knew she would become one of the world's most famous voices until Siri debuted on iPhones in 2011. HowStuffWorks tells her story.
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More Great Links
- "Danger Man." danger-man.com. November 29, 2009. (04.09.11)http://www.danger-man.co.uk/
- Dehnart, Andy. "Geek Love." Salon.com. April 20, 2000. (04.09.11)http://www.salon.com/entertainment/log/2000/04/20/geeks/index.html
- Flynn, Gillian. "Arrested Development." Entertainment Weekly. December 20, 2004. (04.09.11)http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1008472,00.html
- "Get A Life." Internet Movie Database. No date listed. (04.09.11)http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098802/
- Goodman, Tim. "Die-hard 'Arrested Development' fans already feeling sting of loss." San Francisco Gate. November 14, 2005. (04.09.11)http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-11-14/entertainment/17399371_1_network-cuts-fox-arrested
- Greenwalt, David. "Profit -- TV Series -- Salon.com Review." Wheadon.info. March 18, 2008. (04.09.11)http://www.whedon.info/David-Greenwalt-Profit-Tv-Series,26429.html
- Haberman, Lia. "Fox Squashes 'Firefly.'" EOnline.com. December 13, 2002. (04.09.11)http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/b44314_fox_squashes_firefly.html
- "Jericho Continues As A Comic." Total SciFi Online. March 10, 2009. (04.09.11)http://totalscifionline.com/news/3211-jericho-continues-as-comic
- Mayerowitz, Scott. "Nutty 'Jerico' Fans Make CBS Reconsider Cancelling Show." Abcnews.com. June 6, 2007. (04.09.11)http://abcnews.go.com/Business/FunMoney/story?id=3214156&page=1
- "My So-Called Life." Internet Movie Database. No date listed. (04.09.11)http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108872/
- "The New Classics: TV." Entertainment Weekly. June 18, 2007. (04.09.11)http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20207339,00.html
- Wilson, Tracy. "The FanStuff Guide to Fan Etiquette." HowStuffWorks.com. April 1, 2011. (04.09.11)https://blogs.howstuffworks.com/tag/fanstuff-guide-to-fan-etiquette/
- Zuel, Bernard. "Not So Shiny: Plenty of Drama for Buffy Creator Joss Whedon." Sydney Morning Herald. August 25, 2010. (04.09.11)http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/not-so-shiny-plenty-of-drama-for-buffy-creator-joss-whedon-20100825-13r81.html