Say you had a time machine, and could make actual changes to history (meaning, no arguments about paradoxes, please). And once you’ve solved the world’s major crises (war, poverty, making Cadbury eggs available year-round), you’ve got enough TimeFuel left to save a television show that was cancelled far too quickly. Which one do you save? And perhaps more importantly, how does it affect the future of entertainment?
For the purposes of this experiment (and so we can project into this alternate future with even modest accuracy), we need to make a few assumptions, so let’s go with these rules that I have very carefully thought out and definitely did not just make up:
1. The show must have been cancelled after a single season. (Which means I can’t save ‘Pushing Daisies’ or ‘Sports Night’ or ‘Happy Endings’. I hate the rules already.)
2. The rescued show will now run for eight seasons, making it a success that we can probably agree ran long enough for us to be satisfied. (This also means I won’t be considering more recent cancellations whose run we’d still be in the middle of in 2017, like ‘Enlisted’ or ‘The Grinder’. Seriously, is it too late for me to change the rules?)
3. The show’s principles (creator, main cast, etc.) will not leave the show during the run. Yes, I know people can/do leave shows all the time, but we can’t project all possible outcomes here, hence the limitation.
4. Because people cannot jump to another show, we will assume the worst case; that is, if a cast member/writer/producer is deemed essential to that show or movie, we will assume that it is never produced (or, at a minimum, is changed enough that I can speculate that it would not have been the same/nearly as good).
Everyone on board? Seatbelts fastened? Cool.
Let’s Start With Everyone’s First Choice: ‘Firefly’ (2002-2003)
Of course, we need to start with ‘Firefly.’ It’s that show that we all wish had gone on and lived a long, prosperous life. So let’s do it! We’ll probably have to blackmail some Fox executives or hack the Nielsen ratings, but I’m sure we could figure it out.
Eight seasons later - it’s May of 2010, Firefly has just concluded a very successful run and we’re all bawling in front of our televisions now that Mal and Inara FINALLY figured out how to be together (and simultaneously have made us feel even worse for Zoe, given that they killed Wash halfway through the final season and we’re still dealing with that). It was beautiful and cathartic.
But what did we lose?
Obviously, there’s no ‘Serenity.’ Maybe that’s okay; after all, we got to explore so much more of The ‘Verse that we probably don’t need it.
Joss could still give us ‘Dr. Horrible’, since it was produced during the 2007-2008 writer’s strike, and nobody was working for those months anyway. I suspect he might have been less itchy to produce something if he was in the middle of a show (which he wasn’t in our timeline), but let’s say it still happens.
But now there’s no ‘Castle’, because Nathan Fillion wasn’t available. Same goes for the movie ‘Slither’, which could have affected James Gunn’s career to the point that he is somewhat less likely to have been hired to make ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.
‘Chuck’, too, is, at minimum, a different show, because Jayne was still wearing that homemade hat (which made him somehow more terrifying when Joss made him the main bad guy for season seven).
Joss is too exhausted after running three shows over fifteen years to create ‘Dollhouse’, but if we’re being optimistic, maybe he kept enough in the tank to still work on ‘The Avengers’, which he would have signed to work on a few months after ‘Firefly’ ended.
We lose or affect some other, smaller shows, as well; Gina Torres isn’t available to make ‘Standoff’ (which means possibly Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt don’t meet and get married). Morena Baccarin is never in ‘Heartland’ (the TNT show that I haven’t seen, not the long-running Canadian show that I also haven’t seen). ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ doesn’t get off the ground because they can’t get Summer Glau to play Cameron.
(A side note: ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ ran for two seasons so it’s not eligible under the rules here, but consider that if that show had gone for even one more season, Lena Headey WOULDN’T BE CERSEI. My point is, TV-repairing time travel is consequential, which we’ll see more of in a moment.)
Ron Glass’s career and life would have remained just as legendary.
So. Are all these changes to history worth it? Probably. But now let’s see what happens if we take things too far.
Here We Lose a Movie Star: Kitchen Confidential (2005-2006)
If you don’t remember Kitchen Confidential, or wonder why I would bother saving this show, hang with me for a moment. Created by David Hemingson in 2005 (based on Anthony Bourdain’s book), the show was a good-to-pretty-good sitcom set in and around the kitchen of a fictional high-end Manhattan restaurant.
For the most part, this is a show we could safely extend into the future: eight seasons later, it’s 2013, and Kitchen Confidential is finally ending its long-run anchoring Fox’s comedy block. While it’s never been a breakout hit, the show has served as a solid utility player, providing a stable ratings base to help launch weirder shows, like New Girl, and also plugging holes up and down the lineup, which means Fox didn’t have to keep inexplicably renewing ‘Til Death. Think of it like Fox’s answer (ratings and lineup-wise) to Rules of Engagement.
Although Hemingson worked on a number of other shows as a writer/producer after Kitchen Confidential was cancelled, the only show he created in the years since was the short-lived ‘The Deep End’, so for the most part, we don’t necessarily lose too much television just yet.
Jamie King would never have gone on to be in Gary Unmarried. Bonnie Summerville wouldn’t have been in Cashmere Mafia. John Francis Daley wouldn’t have joined Bones, but he wasn’t part of the original cast so we’re probably okay there. Owain Yeoman wouldn’t have been in The Mentalist, which perhaps would still have been more or less the same show, but that’s our one (potential) major TV casualty.
I have to apologize to you here, because up to now, I’ve willfully omitted one fact about Kitchen Confidential: the lead of the show, who I cropped out poorly in the previous image, was this guy:
In 2005, Bradley Cooper wasn’t a big name yet. He had a number of memorable supporting/recurring roles in film and TV — Ben in Wet Hot American Summer, Will Tippin in Alias, Sack Lodge in Wedding Crashers (I haven’t seen this in a while, but HOLY CRAP WAS THAT REALLY HIS NAME?), and of course, Student With Question on Inside the Actor’s Studio - but Kitchen Confidential was Cooper’s first leading role. And considering this was still the early part of his career, it’s entirely possible that he would have spent this period of time focused on (and enjoying) the perks of being a lead on a major network television show, which means a good amount of success, fame, and money, but also less time for projects like The Hangover, The A-Team, Limitless, and Silver Linings Playbook.
Certainly, some of these might have still been made (The Hangover, in particular, had a short enough production that it’s plausible they could have fit it into Cooper’s schedule). But it’s entirely possible that the success of Kitchen Confidential would have given us Bradley Cooper, TV star, instead of Bradley Cooper, movie star.
And if that’s the case, does he still end up in American Sniper? Does he still voice Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians movies? And most pressing of all, does Aloha get quietly (and mercifully) shelved because they can’t find the right lead to play opposite noted Asian, Emma Stone?
These are tough questions, fellow time travelers, but thankfully, this show wasn’t beloved enough for us to do this kind of potential damage. The next one, though, might be.
Oh Crap Did We Just Destroy an Empire: ‘Freaks and Geeks’ (1999-2000)
Now that we’ve seen the dangers of saving a less celebrated show, it’s time to turn our attention back to the one of the greats: Freaks and Geeks. Be warned: this show is one of the most dangerous for us to mess with.
But everyone loves the show. We yearn for more. And how bad could it be, right?
Eight seasons of Freaks and Geeks gets us to 2007 (never mind that they wouldn’t have been in high school for the entire run of the show, let’s just assume we followed them to college or something and it was still great). Paul Feig has been so busy running the show that his directing career doesn’t take off as quickly as it should have, meaning he may not have gotten to Bridesmaids in time to launch himself to successful comedy director status.
John Francis Daley, ironically enough, never gets to Kitchen Confidential, and as (arguably) the second most important character in that show, might accidentally cost us Bradley Cooper.
But more consequential (for him, at least): if Freaks and Geeks survives, he never goes to The Geena Davis Show, where, at fifteen, JFD met his future writing partner Jonathan Goldstein (who was a mid-level writer on the show), which means they never work together on major feature films like Horrible Bosses, Vacation, or Spider-Man: Homecoming.
(Before we move on, I want to reiterate that point. John Francis Daley, AT FIFTEEN YEARS OLD, was impressive enough to be a fairly successful TV writer that, several years later, that same TV writer would agree to team up with him, elevating both of their careers. At fifteen, the most impressive thing about me was that I managed to pass my driving test with the maximum number of point deductions.)
I’d suggest that James Franco doesn’t get to the Spider-Man movies, but let’s be honest, he would’ve somehow found a way to be on Freaks and Geeks and everything else at the same time anyway, because James Franco is a shark and cannot stop moving ever. (Although if it turns out James Franco can, in fact, turn down work, it’s possible he isn’t in Annapolis, which may unintentionally cost us a great action director.)
It gets worse. Jason Segel doesn’t get to How I Met Your Mother, potentially costing us a wonderful, long-running show, as well as the NPH renaissance.
But perhaps the biggest consequence of all: if we save Freaks and Geeks, we may accidentally destroy much of what Judd Apatow has built over the past fifteen years.
As a writer and Executive Producer on a successful, beloved show, would Apatow have left that security, working with people he likes, to create Undeclared? Even if he did, he wouldn’t have been able to take Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, since they’d be committed to Freaks and Geeks (which subsequently slows/alters Rogen’s writing career, as Undeclared was his first writing job). With a demanding full-time job, Apatow may not have found the time to write and direct The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up.
The consequences spread further as we get into Apatow’s producing work. Would he have found the time to help Will Ferrell and Adam McKay get Anchorman off the ground? Or Talladega Nights? Would Superbad have been made? Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Pineapple Express? And if we’re dismantling Apatow’s comedy empire from the bottom up, how much damage are we doing? What about the more recent fare he’s shepherded, like Girls or Crashing or Love? How much are we willing to sacrifice for Freaks and Geeks? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
You know what? I think we may be better off without the time machine after all.
But I could be wrong.
So what show would you save? And what price would we all pay for it?
Dan Hamamura is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter. Follow him on Twitter.