You know how sometimes you go to Chipotle and you’re midway through having the guy build your burrito—then you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake? Maybe you should have gone for the chicken instead of the beef, or a wheat tortilla instead of white, or perhaps you finally decide you don’t even like Chipotle in the first place. This also happens to TV executives when ordering shows.
Sometimes, even after slogging through months of development, script revisions, a pilot order, a series order, and even announcing a premiere date, executives will still stop and go: Wait, we don’t really want to air that, do we? Except instead of regretting an $8 burrito, such reversals cost millions, hugely affect the careers of dozens of people, and deny viewers a project they were publicly led to believe they’d eventually get to watch.
That’s what happened yesterday, when Fox axed its Egyptian drama series Hieroglyph (which had been scheduled to premiere at midseason). In honor of those dead pharaohs, below we present Hieroglyph and six more examples of promising-sounding shows that were officially greenlit but axed before they premiered (not to be confused with mere pilots that are routinely not ordered to series). We’re not saying these shows would have been good — most likely they were executed poorly and tested terribly, or they almost certainly would have made it onto the air. (After all, enough truly bad shows get on the schedule.) Yet on paper, at least, each could have been something great:
1. Day One (NBC, 2010):
Ordered as a series, then scaled back to a miniseries, then never aired. This alien invasion title might have had better luck if developed after AMC’s The Walking Dead became a mega-hit that made every network want apocalypse now. Day One also had the sort of premise that broadcast networks have a tough time sustaining week after week, as NBC discovered after moving forward with the vaguely similar Revolution. Still, this trailer is way, way better than the ones for most new shows (the pilot was directed by Alex Graves, now known for his work on HBO’s Game of Thrones):
2. Hieroglyph (Fox, 2014): Sex and pyramids! Fox’s Ancient Egypt drama looked like a hot mess in the desert, one that oddly stars a white guy—but we’d have checked this out. Sources say the show wasn’t coming together creatively and, as with Day One, these type of big swings are tough to pull off on broadcast. (Fox’s programming chief exiting the network also didn’t help its fate.)
3. Fearless (The WB, 2003):
This is probably the most surprising fail in the bunch. Fearless starred Rachel Leigh Cook (She’s All That), Bianca Lawson (Pretty Little Liars), Eric Balfour (Haven), and Ian Somerhalder (The Vampire Diaries). It was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman (who are behind a ton of hit crime shows). It had a TV-friendly crime drama hook (female FBI agent who cannot feel fear). It was based on a series of YA novels by Francine Pascal. Yet even with all that and a series order, it still didn’t air! On The WB, no less! What could have possibly gone wrong? Well, it was apparently terrible—and during production things weren’t getting any better. So a little show called One Tree Hill took its planned time slot, and that one did pretty well.
4. The IT Crowd (NBC, 2008):
Before there was Community, there was The IT Crowd, which starred Joel McHale and Jessica St. Clair and was an adaptation of a British comedy favorite (or as they say, favourite). It didn’t even make it to one aired episode, let alone six seasons and a movie. It was about the staffers in a company’s tech support department. Could this show have been NBC’s Big Bang Theory? Probably not. NBC kept pushing around the premiere date, then put McHale in Community. There’s seemingly not a trailer available, but here’s one clip featuring McHale.
5. Manchester Prep (Fox, 1999):
Did you know that there was a TV series prequel to the film Cruel Intentions? And that it starred Amy Adams in the Sarah Michelle Gellar role? Yup: This was Manchester Prep, a series following the sexually-charged shenanigans at an elite New York private school. The pilot infamously opened with a teen girl gawking at her stepbrother while he’s taking a shower and commenting on his endowment. Two episodes were filmed, then used for a direct-to-DVD movie titled Cruel Intentions 2 (woe to the weak-minded seeking titillation at Blockbuster Video). Here’s the trailer, which contains gems like Adams telling her middle-age professor, “Worship works best on your knees”:
6. Arranged Marriage (CBS, 2010): A head-turning reality idea that’s exactly what it sounds like. Arranged Marriage was to follow four adults who allow their friends and family to choose a spouse for them. Basically: Let’s watch strangers be prodded into marrying each other, then having sex. Trashy? Sure—but reality TV is all about social experiments, and this one could have generated a lot of conversation. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that the series was greenlit by buttoned-down CBS, not Fox. Between grumbles of protest and the show’s creative supposedly not coming together, it wasn’t surprising that the network quietly shelved the show.
7. Us & Them (Fox, 2013):
Parenthood actor Jason Ritter and Gilmore Girls‘ Alexis Bledel co-starred in another U.S. version of an acclaimed UK favorite that never came to pass, this one about a couple who meet online. Fox ordered 13 episodes, then cut down the order, before ultimately deciding not to air the show at all.
BONUS: Star Trek: Phase II (Paramount Pictures TV Network, 1978): We’re going really far back here, and cheating a little—while this one was ordered to series, only test footage was shot rather than actual episodes. But it’s Star Trek! Ongoing interest in the axed late-1960s NBC series prompted studio Paramount to order a sequel titled Star Trek: Phase II (not to be confused with a 2008 fan series using the same title). The show would have aired on its proposed Paramount Pictures network. Bonus: The sequel actually had most of the original cast on board. New characters included a studly young Vulcan named Lieutenant Xon and bald empath Lieutenant Ilia. But when the network idea collapsed, the scripts were used for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Next Generation.