20 Sci-Fi TV Shows That Were Canceled Too Soon

Science fiction’s origins on television can be traced back to 1938, when the BBC aired a 35-minute adaptation of R.U.R. by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek. In the U.S., the genre caught up in 1949, with the children's serial Captain Video and His Video Rangers, becoming the first popular production featuring exaggerated science. Since then, thousands of sci-fi shows have aired, each with a different level of success.

Because patience isn’t a virtue shared by many network and streaming service executives, the axe tends to fall on this genre as regularly as it does elsewhere. Ordinarily, it’s the bad science fiction shows that get canceled, but there have been a few cases when the termination was unfair. The projects in this particular list had interesting concepts and loyal fanbases that might have catapulted them to "classic" status if only they had been granted ample time to thrive.

Here are 20 sci-fi TV shows that were canceled too soon.

Wayward Pines (2015-2016)

Sci-fi movies and shows tend to overuse the “trapped in small town” plot, but Wayward Pines was a little creative with it. Based on Blake Crouch’s similarly titled series of novels, the series revolves around the attempts by Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) to find answers after he finds himself in a town surrounded by an electric fence. Anyone who tries to leave is publicly executed by the Sheriff.

M. Night Shyamalan Could Have Nursed the Show Back to Good Health

There is always a huge risk in having a talented director handle a show’s pilot. This is because anyone else who takes over will struggle to fill the shoes. That was the case with Wayward Pines, which had a slight dip in quality after the M. Night Shyamalan-directed pilot.

However, it was still a decent show that could have gone on to be better if it were allowed to stretch to the four or five-season mark. Shyamalan was still serving as executive producer and as someone who is known for dips and highs, he could have found ways to nurse it back to good health. Unfortunately, Fox executives didn’t want to take the chance, so they sent everyone packing after Season 2. Stream on Hulu

FlashForward (2009-2010)

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Robert J. Sawyer, FlashForward covers the aftermath of a mysterious global event that caused nearly everyone on Earth to lose consciousness for close to three minutes on October 6, 2009. During this period, the victims had visions of what their lives would be like on April 29, 2010.

Critically Adored, But Had Low Ratings

Critically acclaimed shows ought not to be judged by ratings only. Breaking Bad, for example, started with only 1.3 million viewers per episode, but by the final season, it was averaging 8 million. Well, FlashForward was widely appreciated by critics, too, and at the Emmys, it even received three nominations.

All this didn’t matter to the ABC decision-makers, who decided against renewing the sci-fi show for a second season. Even worse was that the last episode had ended on a major cliffhanger. Thankfully, the book is available for those keen on knowing how the story ends. Rent on Prime Video

Brave New World (2020)

Brave New World is set in a futuristic world where monogamy is illegal. Anyone can sleep with anyone so long as they flirt and come to an agreement. Money is prohibited, too, and interestingly enough, the wider society has become peaceful because of these rules. But as is always the case, there emerge a few individuals who attempt to break the law.

Peacock's First Cancelation

There have been arguments that marriage has more disadvantages than advantages, and the sci-fi series did well in addressing this topic head-on. If given more time, it presumably could have taken the discussion to new and exciting directions. Brave New Word sure was a brave new show, but Peacock proceeded to make its first-ever axing victim. Rumors about Netflix acquiring the project began surfacing online, but nothing has materialized so far. Stream on Peacock

Altered Carbon (2018-2020)

Altered Carbon is undoubtedly one of the must-see shows about artificial intelligence. Its events occur in the 2300s, an era where technology has advanced so much that peoples’ consciousness can be easily digitized and stored in hard drives located in their vertebrae. Once these people die, the consciousness can easily be uploaded to new bodies.

Filled an Often-Neglected Space, But Was Expensive to Make

There haven’t been enough shows in the cyberpunk sci-fi subgenre lately, so Altered Carbon filled a crucial market void. However, according to Netflix, the viewership figures weren’t good enough, especially when weighed against the budget. The initial lead, Joel Kinnaman, was quoted mentioning that the first season’s budget had been greater than that of the first three seasons of Game of Thrones. To justify the investment, the show needed to be a major hit, which it wasn’t. Even so, it had slowly begun to create a buzz, and an extra season or two might have attracted more viewers. Stream on Netflix

The Event (2010-2011)

The Event follows an average Joe named Sean Walker, who, while searching for his missing fiancé, discovers a major alien conspiracy. He learns that the government once captured and imprisoned aliens that crash-landed on Earth shortly after World War II. Some escaped, and because they look just like humans, they were able to hide within the general population for decades.

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A Hiatus Ruined the Momentum

Sci-fi shows rarely get a 22-episode order, so The Event’s lengthy first season was proof of how strongly the network believed in the show. Handling a long season proved to be no challenge for showrunner Evan Katz, who had previously worked on 24. Like the FOX espionage thriller, the NBC series was full of twists and turns, only to be denied another season.

There was a legitimate reason for this, as ratings had dwindled to almost half the figure attained by the pilot, but this was only because the show had gone on hiatus for a long time. When it came back, some viewers had understandably forgotten about it. Despite that, there is the likelihood that it might still have caught up once again. Stream on Peacock

Solos (2021)

Solos could be described as Prime Video’s answer to Black Mirror. The sci-fi anthology series revolves around complicated events that arise because of technological advancements. It’s also one of the most star-studded shows in recent years, with a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, and Constance Wu. Morgan Freeman also stars in it, and serves as the narrator.

No Reasons Were Given for Solo’s Cancelation

Prime Video never offered any official explanation regarding its decision not to renew the show. It should be presumed that low viewership figures were to blame, but other factors ought to have been considered, especially the performances. Thanks to the presence of established actors, the anthology series ended up having some of the most likable characters. Two or three seasons more might have put it on the same level as Black Mirror. It might have even surpassed the popular Netflix show, which had a rather unsatisfactory sixth season. Stream on Prime Video

The Neighbors (2012-2014)

The lack of proper communication can create plenty of confusion and that’s exactly what happens in one of the funniest sci-fi sitcoms, The Neighbors. In it, aliens show up on Earth, disguise themselves as humans, and take an entire housing project for themselves. They wait for communication from their masters regarding whether to “kill the Earthlings” or just fit right in, but no word comes. After a few years, they give up and try to make the best out of their time on the new planet.

The Sitcom Formula Rarely Fails

Viewers love sitcoms and, in the genre, it’s common for shows that start slowly to gain steam later on. The Neighbors might thus have been a major hit by its third season, but it never made it past the second one. It also had one of the best showrunners a network could have hoped for: Dan Fogelman — known for This is Us, Only Murders in the Building, Cars, and Crazy, Stupid, Love — knew what he was doing, but for now, all that is left for fans to do is imagine what could have been. Buy on AppleTV

First Wave (1998-2001)

Fans in search of captivating alien invasion sci-fi shows need not look further than First Wave. Produced by The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, the series follows security specialist Kincaid Lawrence "Cade" Foste, who wears his investigative hat after chancing upon old quatrains by famed astrologer Nostradamus that predict how the earth will be destroyed in three phases of deadly waves. The first wave just so happens to involve an alien attack.

A Matter of Money

First Wave fans were presumably less disappointed because the show ran a few more miles and made it to Season 3. And there is the likelihood that it could have grown even better. The few tie-in novels that were published all did well, proving that the SyFy Channel series was ripe for more franchise expansion. Regrettably, the network had budget issues to deal with, so an impromptu end was seen as the most logical decision. Rent on Prime Video

Sense8 (2015-2018)

The Washowskis have had more misses than hits in their post-Matrix career, but Sense8 sure is one of their best efforts. The series follows individuals from around the world who realize they have strange mental and emotional connections with each other. They are soon forced to work together after realizing that a mysterious group known as the Biologic Preservation Organization (BPO) is hunting them down.

The Show’s Cancelation Triggered Fan Outrage

Sense 8 has little to no flaws and is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows made by film directors. It was, therefore, not a surprise when news of a cancelation caused fans to almost riot. A #RenewSense8 hashtag began trending, causing Netflix to slightly bulge. Instead of a new season, a two-hour special was ordered to serve as a proper finale. Fans, therefore, got closure, but this shows that the sci-fi series would have continued to do well if it had been allowed to continue. Stream on Netflix

Firefly (2002)

Following the success of Buffy the Vampire Slater, Joss Whedon quickly worked on Firefly, which also debuted to strong approval ratings from critics. Events in the series take place in the year 2517, where humans have found themselves in a different star system. At the center of the events is the crew of the Firefly-class spaceship known as Serenity.

Fox's Biggest Mistake

Canceling a show made by someone who has already proved capable of creating something good is definitely unwise, but Firefly had ranked very low in the Nielsen ratings when it first aired. Interestingly, the Season 1 DVD sold incredibly well, prompting Whedon to collaborate with Universal Pictures and create a sequel film titled Serenity.

That was consolation enough, but in an ideal world, FOX ought to have swallowed its pride and renewed the show for another season. Today, interest remains high, hence several comic books set in the same universe have been published. Stream on Hulu

Dark Angel (2000-2002)

It’s not every day that you get a sci-fi show produced by filmmaker James Cameron and starring Jessica Alba, so Dark Angel triggered a lot of excitement when it premiered. Set in the late-2010s, it chronicles the misadventures of a genetically engineered supersoldier, Max Guevara (Alba), after she flees from a secret military facility. While trying to avoid capture, she also searches for her missing siblings.

The "Strong Women" Wave Was Only Getting Started

The early-2000s was the era of strong women on television. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nikita, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Alias were incredibly popular, and if FOX had been less trigger-happy, Dark Angel would have become as big as them. Not to forget that Alba was nominated for several awards for her performance, including a Golden Globe. Besides that, a proven talent like Cameron is entitled to carte blanche, so the network ought to have let him work his magic. Rent on Prime Video

Jericho (2006-2008)

In Jericho, a nuclear attack destroys 23 major cities in the United States, leaving the country on the brink of collapse. Eager to ensure their survival, the residents of Jericho, Kansas keep devising ways to ensure they make it through the dark period. Sadly, with every problem solved comes a new challenge that proves even tougher.

Fans Briefly Got a Renewal

Like Sense8 fans, Jericho fans also pushed hard for a renewal, and they got one. CBS gave the green light for Season 2, consisting of seven episodes (a far cry from Season 1’s 22 episodes), but then canceled it again after the season finale. Thankfully, there is a half-a-bread consolation in this scenario. Season 3 and Season 4 exist in the comic version, so dedicated followers know how the story ends. But even those who’ve read them can’t help but imagine what the events would have looked like on television. Stream on Paramount+

Farscape (1999-2003)

Farscape revolves around the crew members of a sentient biomechanical ship known as Moya, who are all fleeing from an evil group known as The Peacekeepers. Soon, they are joined by an astronaut who has just traveled through a wormhole. The subplots mainly focus on the friendships and conflicts that emerge as the protagonist works hard to find ways to erase their current predicament.

A Movie Has Remained in Development Hell

Four seasons seem decent for any show, but Farscape has proved to have a very large fanbase, meaning it deserved to be on air a little longer. DVD releases have performed well, and in the past few years, several webisodes, novels, and games have been made, to great success. News of a finale film meant to wrap up the events also came up in 2014, but since then, nothing has materialized. Hopefully, it will still happen one day. Stream on Peacock

Journeyman (2007)

The TV arena is littered with time travel shows, so the cancelation of one of them isn’t supposed to hurt. However, Journeyman’s abrupt end was painful because it is unique. Here, the journalist, Dan Vasser, is unable to control his random "travels." They happen suddenly, and each displacement has a purpose, requiring him to rectify an injustice that happened in the past.

A Renewal Campaign Failed

Given its numerous cliffhangers, Journeyman is the kind of show that could have garnered a strong fanbase with time. It arguably could also have done even better once it was made available on a streaming service. Unfortunately, NBC pulled the plug after a single season, citing poor ratings.

This caused staunch fans to send letters to the network demanding another season. Creator Kevin Falls was moved by the gesture, commenting: "Your fight to save Journeyman has humbled and moved us. I'm certainly not going to tell you to stop now." Despite these efforts, the sci-fi project never continued. Rent on Prime Video

Caprica (2010)

Caprica is a prequel spinoff of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, which began airing in 2004. Events in it occur six decades before those of the main series, with the offshoot offering a near-conclusive backstory about the villainous androids named the Cylons. Information about what motivated them to become malicious and how they turned against their masters is all provided.

Battlestar Galactica Has a Rich Universe

Battlestar Galactica is like Star Trek and Star Wars, in that its universe is rich and detailed. Hence, there are plenty of directions Caprica could have taken. A single season was simply not enough for such an ambitious show, but SyFy executives couldn’t be convinced otherwise. Its cancelation was also bad for the larger universe because it left a few continuity questions. Fans need not fret because there is another spin-off, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, that’s just as good. Stream on Roku

Space: Above and Beyond (1995-1996)

In the fictional world of Space: Above and Beyond, humans have mastered how to travel through the galaxy using wormholes, so they proceed to establish several space colonies. Soon, they meet their match in the form of a deadly alien race known as the "Chigs." After the extraterrestrials obliterate most military units, the inexperienced and under-trained 58th "Wildcards" are sent to confront them. The show thus covers the challenges of each of the squadron’s members.

Low Ratings Plagued the Show

Space: Above and Beyond is regarded highly and has been placed on many “greatest sci-fi shows” lists. Its blend of military action and exaggerated science is indeed wonderful, and since so much time has passed, a reboot would be the ideal way to go if the story is ever to be revisited. Its cancelation is also a shame because Glen Morgan and James Wong (best known for their work on The X-Files) were the producers. Given enough, they would have developed something robust. Rent on Prime Video

Dollhouse (2009-2010)

Dollhouse is yet another Joss Whedon series that has surprisingly fallen into obscurity. Its story is about a corporation that programs individuals known as Dolls, or Actives. For a hefty sum, the rich are allowed to hire the Dolls as sexual partners, assassins, or therapists. With time, one of the Actives begins developing some form of self-awareness.

Initial Reviews Were Mixed

Compared to Whedon’s other projects, initial reviews for Dollhouse were mixed and ratings weren’t good either. On a positive note, the protagonist, Echo, was granted proper character development and was very likable. She had what it takes to be one of TV’s greatest characters, but her great run only lasted two seasons. It’s also worth noting that the two final episodes, “Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two,” received overwhelmingly great reviews, a sign that momentum was picking up. Rent on Prime Video

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)

When Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was first announced, many were skeptical, assuming that a project without Arnold Schwarzenegger iconic Terminator wouldn’t impress. Well, it flourished, thanks to a great plot. Picking up after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the show follows Sarah Connor and her son, John, in their mission to destroy an early version of the sentient AI system, Skynet.

Fans Tried to Save It

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ranked high in many polls asking viewers about the canceled shows they’d like to see back on the air. Additionally, crowdfunding was suggested as it had become a common way for producers to raise money at the time, but series creator Josh Friedman declined it. Looking back at the developments, whatever happened is unfortunate, because this is arguably the best installment in the franchise after Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Everything else has been generally poor. Stream on Hulu

Invasion (2005-2006)

Modeled after the popular ‘70s sci-fi flick, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invasion covers the aftermath of a hurricane. When the deadly disaster ends, residents of a small Florida town believe the suffering is now over, only for amphibious aliens to emerge from the floods. They then begin taking over human bodies by cloning them and replacing them.

The Cancelation Baffles Fans and Cast Members to Date

Many of Invasion’s cast members have come out in recent years to confess that it was one of the best shows they ever worked on and that the series' cancelation still baffles them. Well, it baffles fans too, since the ratings were high and critics were impressed. More so, its time slot was right after Lost, ensuring an easy transition for sci-fi fans. It sure will go down as a missed opportunity for ABC, but given the network’s many hits, the executives probably never sweated about it. Stream on Roku or Tubi

The Peripheral (2022)

Based on William Gibson’s novel of the same name, The Peripheral dwells on the chaotic life of the dedicated VR gamer Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz). As she is figuring out ways to get money to pay for her mom’s medical bills, a mega gaming corporation offers her the chance to test out a recently created prototype for a huge payday. Within no time, she finds herself in a complicated alternate-reality universe.

The 2023 Writer’s Strike Ruined Plans for Season 2

VR technology and alternate realities have been hot topics in recent years, so The Peripheral was the perfect show for the current era. And the fact that Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Joy were behind it meant it was always going to be in good hands. The higher-ups at Prime Video felt this way, too, and that’s why they had initially renewed it for a second season.

Fate then threw a curveball in the form of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes. Because of the production delays caused by these events, the earliest that Season 2 would have premiered is 2025. Well, the streaming service felt that fan interest would probably have already died down by then, so they canceled the show. Stream on Prime Video

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