Episodes: 14 over one season.
The pitch: Cowboys! In space! Firefly told the tale of a rag-tag bunch of smugglers, thieves, fugitives and hired guns thrown together by circumstance and trying to do the right thing – but only if they get paid. The idea of a space series by Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon might sound like Star Trek-level nerdery, Firefly was first and foremost a rollicking, knockabout adventure series packed with zippy dialogue and thrilling action scenes, and underscored with real emotional weight. It also has a surprisingly large female fanbase, no doubt helped by star Nathan Fillion, who played charming rogue Mal Reynolds.
The end: Fox aired the series completely out of order (the pilot, unbelievably, was one of the last to be shown) and consequently the series – which was planned to run for seven years – was cut short at 14 episodes. A movie spin-off, Serenity, wrapped up the series’ dangling plot threads.
Executives’ punishment: Pistols at dawn against the Time Out posse. We go first.
Freaks & Geeks
Episodes: 18 over one season.
The pitch: This delightful comedy-drama may be set in a ’80s US high school, but it will be familiar to anyone who’s been on the wrong side of a bully or an angry teacher. It follows teenager Lindsay Weir, a brainbox and former ‘mathlete’, as she crosses over to the dark side of slackerdom thanks to the charms of head ‘freak’ Daniel Desario. However, the series soon broadens its scope and delves into the lives of everyone around Lindsay, each of whom is fleshed out by deft writing and an extraordinary cast, including James Franco (Pineapple Express) and Seth Rogen (Knocked Up). Keep your eyes open for cameos by Ben Stiller, Shia LeBeouf and Jason Schwartzman.
The end: Critical success. Commercial failure. Axed. Depressing.
Executives’ punishment: Pursuit across the UAE desert by a swarm of enraged camel spiders.
Episodes: 13 over one season.
The pitch: Jaye Tyler – played like a young, snarky Cybill Shepherd by the splendid Caroline Dhavernas – is a cynical, disaffected Generation Y dropout who suddenly finds herself on the receiving end of cryptic commands from stuffed animals and other inanimate objects. And while following their commands usually has positive results, it also causes hilarious chaos along the way. Jaye’s uber-successful family provide a down-to-earth balance to the quirks, and the cast is rounded out by Jaye’s bitchy best friend and an on-off-on love interest.
The end: Fox, in their decidedly finite wisdom, only screened four episodes (out of order, no less) before canning the show. Sadly, series creator Bryan Fuller’s even more fantastical follow-up – the delightful Pushing Daisies – will go the same way after two seasons. The man is cursed.
Executives’ punishment: Being eaten alive by an ant.
Episodes: 22 over two seasons.
The pitch: Essentially a soap opera for men, Rome was a glorious mix of political intrigue, social powerplay and extreme violence set in the titular Rome of 44BC. Following both the senate of Julius Caesar and the warfields of soldier Titus Pullo, it united an extraordinary cast and incredible attention to detail to make one of HBO’s best series. And there’s a bit where a dude cuts another dude’s head off with a shield. Dude!
The end: Rome proved so costly that it took both the BBC and US channel HBO to finance it. And sadly, the BBC’s terrible editing of the pilot – they cut three episodes into two by shearing away the politics and turning it into a sex ’n’ violence fest – led to it bombing in the UK. With the Beeb pulling out, HBO had no choice but to can the series after its second season.
Executives’ punishment: Surgical transformation into Modhesh.