The TV industry is a cutthroat business. During the 2019/20 season, a massive 48.4 percent of new broadcast television shows were canceled within their first season. However, established shows are often in danger of getting the chop too, especially if their ratings drop or, even worse, they become associated with a scandal. Here are 20 shows that were canceled due to controversies.
20. The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years, a coming-of-age comedy drama set in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, ran from 1988 until 1993 on ABC. It has gone down in history as a beloved classic and star Fred Savage is indelibly etched in the public consciousness as teenage lead Kevin Arnold. When the show was canceled, the Los Angeles Times reported that the ballooning budget caused the network to pull the plug.
However, in 2018 actress Alley Mills, who played Savage’s mother, Norma, claimed that the real reason for the cancellation was a sexual harassment lawsuit levelled against Savage and co-star Jason Hervey. A costume designer alleged that 16-year-old Savage and 20-year-old Hervey verbally and physically harassed her and it led to her firing. The case was settled out of court, with Mills labelling it a “big joke” and “ridiculous.”
19. Man Finds Food
Presenter and competitive eater Adam Richman hosted Man v. Food on the Travel Channel for four seasons between 2008 and 2012. The show would see him attempt a seemingly impossible eating challenge in every episode. Over the course of the show, he put on weight and suffered from depression. By 2015, though, Richman had lost 70 pounds and posted a picture of himself on Instagram, alongside the caption “Thinspiration.”
This caused an outcry, as that term is usually associated with eating disorders. When fans and viewers let Richman know about his unintentional insensitivity, his responses were unexpectedly vitriolic. He encouraged one woman to commit suicide and flung profanity at several others. As a result, his next show Man Finds Food was postponed indefinitely.
18. The Dana Carvey Show
Dana Carvey is best known for his portrayal of loveably dim-witted metalhead Garth in the Wayne’s World movies. But, in 1996, the Saturday Night Live alum got his own sketch show on ABC, The Dana Carvey Show. Incredibly, it only lasted seven episodes before being pulled from the air, with one of its sketches causing particular controversy.
The very first sketch in the very first episode featured Carvey as then-President Bill Clinton breastfeeding a baby, a kitten, and puppies, complete with a surgically-attached hen’s posterior in order to provide warmth to hatching eggs. It was utterly bizarre and caused ABC consternation. It even made Taco Bell revoke its sponsorship. In 2017, Carvey said that he felt it was amazing the show even lasted six more episodes after such an incendiary debut.
17. Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon was a 2016 television version of the classic Mel Gibson/Danny Glover action-comedy movie franchise. It starred Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans as mismatched buddy cops Riggs and Murtaugh and was a hit for its first two seasons. Between seasons two and three, though, Crawford was fired and American Pie star Seann William Scott stepped into the fray to partner Wayans for season three.
Deadline reported Crawford had a history of bad behavior on-set, which reportedly escalated to co-stars being uncomfortable around him. He was accused of emotional abuse and creating a hostile working environment. Then, only a few weeks after season three started shooting, Wayans announced he would be leaving, citing exhaustion due to his age and status as a diabetic. By this point the show’s ratings had dipped, so Fox made the decision to cancel the troubled production.
16. Made By Maddie
Animated show Made By Maddie was supposed to debut on September 13, 2020 on Nick Jr. However, after a social media plagiarism controversy reared its head, the show was pulled while the network looked into the matter. The furore emerged after the trailer hit the web and the show’s creators were accused of ripping off Matthew A. Cherry’s Academy Award-winning animated short Hair Love.
As noted by angry social media users, the character designs for eight-year-old Maddie and her parents were uncomfortably similar to those of the family in Hair Love. Silvergate Media, who made the show, claimed they started working on it in 2015, two years before Cherry raised Kickstarter funds to produce Hair Love. Silvergate’s CEO released a statement saying, “our hope is that when people watch our show, they will see it is its own story.”
In June 2020, in the midst of the social upheaval surrounding the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, the Paramount Network canceled Cops after 32 seasons. A long-running television institution, the reality show gave viewers a look at real police officers arresting real criminals. However, over the years it had increasingly courted controversy, with many believing it glorified police brutality against minorities.
The civil rights organization Color of Change, which had previously campaigned for the show to be axed in 2013, backed the decision on social media. Arisha Michelle, its vice-president, wrote, “Crime TV plays a significant role in advancing distorted representations of crime, justice, race and gender within culture. Cops led the way, pushing troubling implications for generations of viewers.”
14. Sorority Sisters
Sorority Sisters was a short-lived reality show that debuted in December 2014. It followed nine women who were part of historically black college sororities in Atlanta. The online backlash was instantaneous, with many social media users feeling the show made a mockery of Greek sorority organizations with rich histories. The Twitter hashtag “#BoycottSororitySisters” quickly trended.
As one angry Twitter user wrote, “Profane language, scantily clad women, screaming and fighting is the antithesis of sorority values.” Soon, lucrative sponsors such as McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret, the NBA, Hallmark, and Ford began pulling their advertising campaigns from airing during the show. An online petition to cancel the show even received 78,000 signatures. In the end, VH1 simply didn’t bring the controversial show back.
13. Politically Incorrect
Late-night talk show host Bill Maher found himself in the middle of a maelstrom of controversy in 2001 when he made some questionable comments on his show Politically Incorrect. Less than a week after the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks, Maher took issue with then-President Bush’s labelling of the terrorists as “cowards.” Instead, he pointed the finger of cowardice at the U.S. military.
“We have been the cowards,” said Maher, “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.” Unsurprisingly, these comments didn’t go over well, despite Maher using his next episode to clarify his intention and apologize. The show was subsequently suspended and then eventually canceled.
12. The Playboy Club
In 2011 NBC made a play for the audience that loved AMC’s ‘60s-set drama Mad Men. They hoped that The Playboy Club, which told the story of the employees of the first Playboy nightclub in the 1960s, would attract some of the same audience. Unfortunately, the project was surrounded by controversy before it even aired, and it wound up canceled after only three episodes.
Despite being a network show with content that would be deemed tame in comparison with a cable counterpart like Mad Men, it was targeted by outraged conservative group the Parents Television Council. Their belief was that the show glorified a pornographic brand that demeaned women. In the end, with fairly low ratings also being a concern, NBC pulled the plug.
Profit, a pitch-black satirical drama about a sociopathic corporate businessman played by Adrian Pasdar, aired on Fox in 1996 and lasted a mere five episodes before being canceled. Shocked viewers complained to their local Fox network affiliates about protagonist Jim Profit’s actions, with some calling him “Satan in a suit.” Corporate America was also angry, with many high-flying individuals feeling the show cast them in a terrible light.
However, in subsequent years, the show has enjoyed a critical reappraisal, with many outlets believing it was simply ahead of its time. Not too long after it aired, edgy shows featuring amoral main characters became extremely popular and contributed to what has been called the golden age of TV. Perhaps Profit sank so that shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter and The Shield could swim.
10. Grace Under Fire
Sitcom Grace Under Fire was a substantial hit in the ‘90s, running for five seasons between 1993 and 1998. Lead actress Brett Butler became a star playing Grace Kelly, a single mother raising her three children after leaving her abusive husband. However, in real life Butler was suffering from a drug addiction that caused her to act erratically. In fact, her behavior led to several production delays while she sought rehabilitation.
Unsavoury incidents involving Butler included when she allegedly exposed her breasts to young actor Jon Paul Steuer, who played one of her sons on the show. Julia White, who played Butler’s best friend on the show, left after season four and publicly said Butler was her reason for leaving. In the end, with controversy always swirling around their lead, the network cut the cord in 1998.
Described by some observers as “The Jersey Shore of Appalachia,” Buckwild was a short-lived reality show that aired in 2013. It followed the lives of nine young people in Charleston and Sissonville, West Virginia. The show was a hit and was renewed for a second season in February 2013. However, when cast member Shain Gandee tragically died in April from carbon monoxide poisoning following an off-roading accident, MTV quickly canceled it.
MTV’s statement said they couldn’t see how the show could continue without Gandee, its breakout star. But producer J.P. Williams railed against this, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “This is the network that has shows about teen pregnancy. They’ll stick by a show that allows you to abandon a child, but a kid dies by accident doing what he does for a living and they cancel the show?”
8. All My Babies’ Mamas
Shawty Lo, a founding member of southern hip hop group D4L, was supposed to have his own reality show in 2013 on the Oxygen Channel. It was to be called All My Babies’ Mamas and would give viewers a glimpse into his unorthodox life as a father to 11 children, from 10 different women. However, the pilot episode was leaked online and following a huge backlash, Oxygen canceled the show before the first episode even aired.
The show was viewed as a glamourization of premarital sex with multiple partners and many were also outraged at it playing into unfair stereotypes about black families. Shawty Lo gave his opinion on the matter to MTV News. He said, “You can hate all you want, I didn’t ask for it.” He added, “If I wasn’t taking care of my kids then you would really dog me out, but I’m taking care of my kids, providing for my family.”
7. Extreme Makeover
Reality show Extreme Makeover debuted on ABC in 2002 and lasted four seasons before it was canceled in 2007. Ordinary people underwent makeovers on the show, which often included plastic surgery. When a candidate named Deleese Williams was preparing to undergo surgery, her sister Kellie McGee said negative things about her appearance. Williams’ reaction to these comments was caught on camera.
However, McGee would claim she had been manipulated by the producers into making the comments and she felt tremendous guilt about it. Ultimately, Williams’ surgery was canceled and she subsequently sued the producers. She alleged that her sister’s sense of guilt made her take her own life only four months later. The lawsuit was settled out of court, but the scandal contributed to low ratings and the show’s eventual cancelation.
In 2012 ABC began airing a new comedy drama series entitled GCB, which stood for “Good Christian Bitches.” Based on the 2008 novel by Kim Gatlin, it told the story of a former high school queen bee who returns to her hometown to mend fences with the women she once tormented. It was canceled after a first season of 10 episodes which drew the ire of Christian organizations.
The American Family Association launched a petition against the show, saying that it mocked Christians. Peter Vallone Jr, a New York City councilor, encouraged a boycott and said the show was, “yet another outrageous attack on the Christian faith.” For what it’s worth, star Kristen Chenoweth, an evangelical Christian herself, said this was not an accurate representation of the show. “I certainly wouldn’t do anything that would make fun of my own faith,” she said.
This television reboot of the classic 1988 high school black comedy film was a strange case in the TV landscape. A full 10 episode first season was produced by the Paramount Network and they were happy from a creative standpoint. In fact, a second season was already being written. But then a school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018 left 17 dead and the network decided it would be inappropriate to air the show, which dealt satirically with some very controversial themes.
Keith Cox, president of development and production at Paramount, told The Hollywood Reporter, “This is a high school show, we’re blowing up the school, there are guns in the school, it’s a satire and there are moments of teachers having guns.” He added, “The combination of a high school show with these very dark moments just didn’t feel right.” In the end, Heathers never aired in the U.S. but did show in certain European markets.
Luck seemed like a home run for HBO when it debuted in January 2012. It had incredible pedigree in front of and behind the camera. The star was Hollywood icon Dustin Hoffman, the creator was Deadwood’s David Milch and legendary Heat director Michael Mann helmed the pilot. The show was even initially renewed for season two. But, only two months later, it was canceled in the middle of the first season.
The axe was ultimately brought down due to the tragic deaths of three horses during the production of season one. PETA criticized the production heavily, publicizing the fact that they had looked at necropsy reports and found, “One of the horses had been pumped full of painkilling drugs, another one was old and arthritic.” HBO pulled the plug, stating they couldn’t ensure accidents wouldn’t happen again in the future.
HBO also courted controversy in 2017 when it was announced that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners of the massively successful Game Of Thrones, were writing a new show for the cable network. It was entitled Confederate and was set in an alternate future in which the South won the Civil War; meaning slavery was legal. The backlash was immediate, with critics worrying that the show would be a rallying cry for white supremacists.
Author Roxanne Gay dubbed the proposed show, “slavery fan fiction” and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, “African Americans do not need science fiction, or really any fiction, to tell them that this ‘history is still with us.’” When it was announced in 2019 that Benioff and Weiss had signed a lucrative deal with Netflix, it was reported that Confederate wasn’t happening anymore. It was then officially canceled in January 2020.
2. Kid Nation
Kid Nation aired for one season in 2007 and was a lightning rod for controversy. It was a reality show in which 40 children, aged between eight and 15, were tasked with building their own society at an abandoned movie set in the desert. Stuck halfway between a reality show and a social experiment, the show came under fire for the dangers it posed to the children.
The children’s contracts stated they had to be available 24 hours a day for filming, which contravened child labor laws. Parents had to sign a waiver that removed responsibility from CBS if the children injured themselves or even died. As it was, during production one child accidentally drank bleach and another burned her face with grease. In a wise move, CBS decided not to make a second season.
1. Megan Wants A Millionaire
The cancelation of Megan Wants A Millionaire, a VH1 reality show, was precipitated by a truly harrowing murder. On August 19, 2009 the show was taken off the air when it was announced that Ryan Jenkins, a contestant vying for the heart of Rock Of Love star Megan Hauserman, was wanted for the murder of his wife Jasmine Fiore. Police believed he had fled to Canada to avoid questioning.
Fiore’s body was found in Buena Park, California. She had been strangled, beaten and crammed into a suitcase. Jenkins was the only suspect. Four days later, he was found dead in a hotel room in British Colombia. He had committed suicide. The day after, VH1 canceled both Megan Wants A Millionaire and the third season of I Love Money, as Jenkins was also reportedly a contestant on that show.