MST3K

1. Community (2009-present)

Considering Community’s reliance on meta-humor and constant cancellation threats, it was inevitable that the possible end of the show would be worked into the script. In the episode “Basic Sandwich,” Greendale Community College is going to be shut down and replaced with a Subway training facility unless the central study group can somehow stop it. Facing their uncertain future, Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) decide to get married, which Abed (Danny Pudi) describes as a desperate attempt to create a spin-off that will inevitably only last six episodes. The episode ends with another spin-off joke in the form of an inexplicably psychic school board member getting his own show that would replace whatever else fails on NBC’s lineup. At other points, Abed reassures his distraught friends that they’ll definitely be back next year. Luckily he was right, as Community got picked up for a season on Yahoo TV. [Samantha Nelson]

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2. The Angry Beavers (1997-2001)

Aired during the same time that Nickelodeon’s Rugrats was dominating the network, The Angry Beavers went largely unnoticed in comparison. It’s a shame, because the animated situational comedy was reminiscent of The Odd Couple, with the suave and smart Norbert and his dimwitted younger brother Daggett experiencing true bachelordom for the first time. And it had enough sophisticated wordplay and cultural references to be appealing to both a younger and older audience. Alas, it was canceled after four seasons, with the final episode going unaired. The audio for “Bye Bye, Beavers” is available, though, and it’s a hoot. Norb and Dag break the fourth wall to address the show’s cancellation as well as the truth that cartoons are not real. With dialog like “Maybe if they had promoted it,” and an explanation about how syndication costs the network, and earns the creators nothing, Nickelodeon was not a fan and left viewers with the penultimate segment “Shell Or High Water,” in which the boys build sandcastles, blissfully unaware of their pending doom. [Becca James]

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3. Moonlighting (1985-1989)

Moonlighting was no stranger to breaking the fourth wall during its run, and its series finale, “Lunar Eclipse,” went a step further by tearing down the three other walls around the main characters. Returning from a wedding, Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis) discover that the set of the Blue Moon Detective Agency is being disassembled around them, and an ABC executive overseeing the process announces that their show has been canceled. The two desperately petition Cy, the most powerful executive in the business (played by director Dennis Dugan), but he refuses to help them, citing that “People fell in love with you two falling in love, but you couldn’t keep falling forever.” (A not-so-subtle reference to the show’s ratings slump and declining quality in later years, frequently blamed on the season three resolution of the will-they/won’t-they relationship between David and Maddie.) Unable to appeal to Cy’s mercy or get a priest to marry them at the last minute, the two sadly look over their greatest hits as Ray Charles plays in the background, and a final message notes that Blue Moon ceased operations on the show’s final broadcast date of May 14, 1989. [Les Chappell]

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4. Sports Night (1998-2000)

Screwed with from the start, neither Sports Night nor creator Aaron Sorkin ever concealed their understandable contempt for the suits in charge of the fate of a smart but ratings-challenged TV series. Like the SportsCenter-esque sports news show called Sports Night within this ABC show, Sports Night dealt with a network that mucked about with it in every conceivable way. The fictional Sports Night was beset with budget cuts, philistine executive notes, and possible cancellation, while the real-world Sports Night had to weather an unwanted laugh track, unstable time slot, and nonsensical and half-hearted advertising. So when the real-world Sports Night saw the end approaching, Sorkin used the fictional show to craft a fairy tale ending that also served as one of the greatest “fuck you’s” ever. When the principled, intelligent protagonists of Sports Night found their workplace threatened, salvation came in the form of Clark Gregg’s fairy godfather investor who swooped in at the last minute and bought their network, telling Felicity Huffman’s producer, “Anybody who can’t make money off Sports Night should get out of the money-making business.” [Dennis Perkins]

5. Eureka (2006-2012)

Fans of Eureka were baffled by a Syfy press release that both praised the show’s fifth season episodes as “some of the best we’ve seen” and announced that the network wouldn’t be giving it a sixth year. The creators gave voice to those emotions in the form of the endearingly nerdy Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston), who learns that the government has cut funding to the super science lab where he and all of the show’s central characters work. He nearly quotes the release, asking how their budget could be cut considering the good work they’re doing and becoming increasingly flustered when their closing date is pushed up, a reference to the six-episode final season that was promised and later scrapped. He also pokes some fun at Warehouse 13, Syfy’s show about a government-run facility for storing mystical artifacts, asking if Eureka could get some of their funding since they had “paved the way for those guys.” While a wealthy patron swooped in to save the town, no one did the same for the show, and Warehouse 13 shared the same fate just two years later. [Samantha Nelson]

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​6. American Dad, Fox run (2005-2014)

In a world of Family Guys and their spin-offs, American Dad has always felt like the red-headed stepchild of the Fox/Seth MacFarlane family—despite actually being the superior show. The series’ quiet cancellation in July 2013 only piled on to that treatment, even though TBS was able to swoop in for the save. But proving that it would not leave its original network without a bang, American Dad made the last chapter of its time on Fox a memorable one. That episode, “Blagsnarst, A Love Story,” is a surreal (a word that might just be redundant when it comes to American Dad) tale of extraterrestrial love and the secret origin of Kim Kardashian. It’s the type of episode that exists when a show has nothing left to lose, but it’s also a true farewell that most shows don’t get to have. “Blagsnarst” ends with an acknowledgment of the show’s fate: Stan finishes reading the whole story and proceeds to literally close the book on American Dad On Fox, a story that now belongs on the shelf, sandwiched in between Ulysses and Moby Dick. It’s bittersweet, and it makes an episode that was promoted as “the Kim Kardashian episode” a love story to the fans. [LaToya Ferguson]

7. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-89, 1989-96, 1997-99)

Technically, the classic movie-mocking cult series Mystery Science Theater 3000 was canceled three times: First when it was dragged down by failing Twin Cities UHF outpost KTMA; when Comedy Central sacrificed the Satellite Of Love to become the network of South Park and The Daily Show; and a third and final time when Syfy (then the Sci-Fi Channel) pulled the plug at the dawn of the new millennium. The end of the show’s first cable stint was not without strife between Comedy Central and the show’s production company, Best Brains, Inc., whose breakup looked imminent the moment the network ordered a measly six episodes for the show’s seventh season. Reading the writing on the wall, Best Brains prepared a 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired finale, complete with a monolith, star baby, and journey to the end of the universe. It’s an epic farewell initiated by a dismissal as curt as Comedy Central’s six-episode order: Before letting Mike Nelson and his robot friends loose, mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester blithely informs them that the funding for his experiment in world domination via bad movies has been cut. “You guys just aren’t cutting the mustard,” Forrester informs the SOL crew, glancing sideways at Comedy Central’s official reason for cancellation: low ratings. And so the characters were released to be re-born on Sci-Fi Channel, where they’d suffer similar, un-commented-upon indignities two years later. [Erik Adams]

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8. Arrested Development (2003-2006, 2013)

In the episode “S.O.B.’s,” the Bluth family loses its lawyer and throws a “Save Our Bluths” fundraiser to try to raise money to keep its legal representation. But the episode is in no uncertain terms a plea for Fox to keep the show on the air. Arrested Development was a ratings failure, so this episode is packed with traditional viewer-grabbing stunts like a guest star, a bit of 3-D, and the promise of a character death. Some of the Bluths get jobs to be “more relatable,” addressing another complaint about the show, and the characters wonder if they can get help from the Home Builders Organization (HBO) before putting on a dinner show (Showtime) in a bid for one of those networks to pick them up. By the end of the episode Michael (Jason Bateman) concludes that maybe the family is a lost cause, but it did eventually get its second chance with a season on Netflix. [Samantha Nelson]

9. Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)

Long before it looked for handouts from another Syfy show to save it from cancellation, Eureka was blamed for the declining fortunes of the network’s former anchor. In the episode “Family Ties,” an alien visiting the military facility housing the Stargate finds it underwhelming and is told, “The truth is the Stargate program doesn’t get the support it used to from the people in charge.” When he asks why, a character interrupts with an excited shout of “Eureka!” The alien doesn’t wait for a real answer before expressing his surprise that the “Stargate program” doesn’t get more respect, considering all it had “accomplished for this network of planets.” Ironically, just before the show’s cancellation was announced, Stargate SG-1 celebrated its 200th episode with a meta-humor-heavy episode dedicated to a canceled television show that an alien had written about the Stargate, which was going to be turned into a movie. In the show, that series was renewed, but in reality Stargate SG-1 did find its future in two direct-to-video films. [Samantha Nelson]

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10. Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-present)

After Fox canceled Family Guy due to low ratings, Cartoon Network bought the rights to air the reruns as part of its Adult Swim programming block. There the show finally found its audience, bringing in plenty of viewers and unprecedented DVD sales that forced Fox to reconsider its decision. When Family Guy returned to the network, Seth MacFarlane brutally mocked the network’s history of short-lived shows. The first new episode opened with Peter informing the rest of the family that they’d been canceled and then launching into a list of 29 shows that the network had to “make room for” including Firefly, The Lone Gunmen, The Tick, and Wonderfalls. He concludes that the only hope the family had is that all of those shows get canceled. Of course, all of them had already been canceled, making the gag simultaneously hilarious and tragic for the fans of those shows that never were revived. [Samantha Nelson]

11. Strangers With Candy (1999-2000)

It’s remarkable that Strangers With Candy lasted for three whole seasons, really. Left to its own devices by a sympathetic standards executive (who was reportedly a fan) in a subprime time slot (Sundays at 10 p.m.), the show was free to make all the stinky pinky references it wanted. But then Comedy Central executives decided to clean house, quietly canceling Strangers With Candy in favor of a slate of shows that included the Julie Brown/Victoria Jackson vehicle Strip Mall. So it’s definitely not a coincidence that the corporate encroachment Principal Blackman fights so tirelessly against in the series finale—eventually burning Flatpoint High to the ground when he realizes the battle is lost—is a strip mall. (School board members Lee and Hillary, played by Mark McKinney and Cheri Oteri, were reportedly based on actual Comedy Central executives.) But while their show may have been unceremoniously dumped, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello triumphed in the end, because who the hell remembers Strip Mall? [Katie Rife]

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12. I Married Dora (1987-1988)

The short-lived sitcom I Married Dora struggled through three low-rated months in 1987 before ABC finally pulled the plug, with viewers somehow never warming to the show about an architect (Daniel Hugh Kelly) entering into a green-card marriage with his housekeeper (the late Elizabeth Peña), then attempting to raise his two kids (one of whom was played by a young Juliette Lewis). But with the cancellation handed down midway through the series’ run, the producers had the opportunity to ensure it went out big, at least: The finale saw Kelly’s architect leaving his family behind for a job in Bahrain, when suddenly he reappeared in the airport, saying, “It’s been canceled.” As Peña asked, “The flight?” Kelly responded, “No, our series!” Fourth wall demolished and curtains pulled back, I Married Dora finally had an unforgettable moment, right at the moment it was being forgotten. [Sean O’Neal]

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13. The Kids In The Hall (1989-1995)

Character resolution is unusual for a sketch comedy show—though The Kids In The Hall was unusual in the extent to which it developed its characters. The self-referential series finale, therefore, found the troupe saying goodbye through honest-to-goodness endings for the likes of self-deluded garage band Armada, whose fears of growing old while still doing the same old routines mirrored the Kids’ own; Buddy Cole, who wonders aloud whether his bar could have tried harder to be more welcoming to a larger crowd; and finally, the cross-dressing corporate drones of AT&Love, who are forced to leave their wigs behind and go out to find new jobs “almost exactly like this one.” The episode ends with the Kids literally being buried, with a no-longer-silent Paul Bellini dancing on their grave, and a literal—and metaphorical—headstone being placed on five seasons of television. [Sean O’Neal]

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