A Prophetic Judd Apatow Shot The Freaks And Geeks Finale In The Middle Of Production

For a show that only lasted a single season from 1999 to 2000, Judd Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks" sure did have quite an influence on sitcoms and show business itself. Not only is it a beloved cult classic, but it kickstarted the careers of stars like James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen. The show's hilarious but grounded look at two groups of teenagers in a 1980s suburb of Detroit stands the test of time, and the fact that it was canceled after just one season remains a travesty.

According to Apatow, the team behind "Freaks and Geeks" knew they were taking a big risk by making something so different from what was the standard sitcom at the time. Few single-camera sitcoms existed at that point, and the network was not too invested in making sure "Freaks and Geeks" continued using that format. "When we did 'Freaks and Geeks,' our show seemed crazy to everybody," said Apatow at a 2016 panel. "It was just a vibe that didn't exist on television and as a result, there wasn't a lot of energy behind making it survive."

For that, and a variety of other reasons, the show did not survive, getting canceled after just a single 18-episode season, only 12 of which were actually aired on NBC. But luckily for all of us, Apatow anticipated the show's axing and changed up the production schedule to ensure it got a proper ending, according to a 2020 Vanity Fair interview with the prolific producer.

An amazing script

In the video, Apatow talks about how, when he received the script for "Freaks and Geeks," he knew right away that it was excellent. "It never works out like that. Nobody ever hands you a script that's great and you go, 'Alright, I guess we'll just make that.'"

The cast also believed greatly in the script, including star Linda Cardellini. "I thought, reading the script, that that character was incredibly special in contrast to all the other sort of teenage young female roles, or male, young roles that I was reading," said Cardellini in a Den of Geek interview. "I felt like she was conflicted in a way that was so real and bittersweet. The script was so great."

But even with the collective cast and crew's great confidence in the quality of their show, Apatow didn't expect it to last long, which he spoke on in the Vanity Fair interview.

"While in production we thought it was going well and we really loved it, but we also knew that some of the people who ran the network didn't like it, so we always felt like it was gonna end at any moment. And then it did!"

The swift cancellation of a show like that, which clearly had a lot of love going into it and was genuinely very good, is always a depressing prospect. It seems like all the work that went in was for nothing, and they didn't even get to properly tell their whole story. Luckily, Apatow had a backup plan for that.

Cheating death

"[W]e shot the finale in the middle of our production, because we were so sure that they were gonna cancel us at any moment that, being neurotic, we just shot it episodes before the season was over, just in case the guillotine came down. And thank God that we did."

The show's finale, which sees the lead character, Lindsay, throw caution to the wind and decide to spend her summer following The Grateful Dead around on tour, is a touching end to the show, a fitting finale to such a great series.

The last few episodes of "Freaks and Geeks" never aired on NBC, their original broadcaster, but have all been premiered elsewhere and now have a home on Hulu, where a whole new generation of fans have found and enjoyed the show.

So, credit to Judd Apatow for his prophetic call. He knew the show was in trouble, and he made sure that we'd all have a satisfying ending, whether the network wanted to air it or not. And considering how well the careers of Apatow and most of the show's main cast have gone since, I think NBC has been kicking themselves for years over their decision.