Why Freaks And Geeks Was Canceled — Here's What We Know

Looking back at "Freaks and Geeks," it seems crazy that the series barely survived a single season, canceled after airing only 12 of its 18 episodes. After all, the show, which aired on NBC from 1999-2000, was executive produced by Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up") and created by Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids," Ghostbusters"). It also had an absolutely stellar cast, featuring rising stars such as Seth Rogan, Jason Segel, James Franco, Linda Cardellini, and Busy Phillips, among others.

"Freaks and Geeks" tracked a group of high school students in suburban Detroit from 1980-1981. At its core is Lindsay (Cardellini) and Sam Weir (John Francis Daley). Lindsay had traded in her mathletes shirt for an army jacket and ditched her bestie Mille in favor of finding her place among a group of lovable outcasts, freaks if you will. Her younger brother Sam had just started high school and was already struggling to survive, along with his closest geek pals (Samm Levine and Martin Star).

Few series so perfectly capture not only how painfully awkward life as a teenager is, but also how brutally unfair. "Freaks and Geeks" may have managed to mine all of that for comedy, and it was hilarious but it was also heartfelt, with characters who were both memorable and relatable. Despite its short lifespan, the show has gone on to become a beloved classic.

So, how did such an excellent show get the axe so quickly?

Better Double Check Your TV Guide

Any show can fail in a bad time slot and "Freaks and Geeks" seemed destined to do so from the start, thanks to the fact that NBC chose to air the series Saturday nights at 8 P.M. I'm not saying everyone in high school has exciting weekend plans, but come on! Aside from that, after only two episodes, the show went on hiatus for several weeks, thanks to the World Series. Then it returned for a few episodes, only to be pulled once again during the holidays, and finally, aired sporadically until its untimely demise.

The producers even created a website to help fans keep track of the show, but Apatow told Vanity Fair, NBC refused to share the URL. He explained, "they didn't want people to know the internet existed. They were worried about losing viewers to it." Plus, the series did have a competitor in its ridiculous timeslot: The immensely popular game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." The show was a critical darling, but no one was watching it. Plus, as a dramedy, it was difficult to classify, and also utilized serialized storytelling, which had only really just started becoming more popular in the late '90s.

Can This Be Any Less Depressing?

It's not that no one at NBC understood "Freaks and Geeks," but it didn't help that after the show had been picked up, NBC's new president Garth Ancier found the series quite mystifying (apparently his boarding school background left him ill-equipped to grasp the complexities of public school). Aside from that, Feig told Vanity Fair that the network was actually quite supportive, saying, "The interference we had was the interference of people that wanted to make it as good as they could."

Director Jake Kasdan explained:

"The thing they always used to say was 'We want these kids to have a victory.' I think what they were trying to say was 'Is there any way it could be a little less depressing?'...We were telling really unconventional stories where the victories were so small they could be confused with not actual victories."

Apatow mentioned Ancier requesting some "wins" and clarified that their version of that was in "The Diary" when Bill finally catches the ball in gym class, but is so excited about it, he forgets to actually keep playing the game and his team loses. This sums up part of what was so great about "Freaks and Geeks" pretty accurately.

Despite being supportive, the network seemed to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what kind of stories "Freaks and Geeks" was trying to tell. Writer Gabe Sachs told The Guardian that the majority of the show's plotlines came from the real life experiences of the writers. However, the network wanted something different, like for Sam to make out with a cheerleader. Sachs stated, "They also wanted James Franco to take off his shirt, Britney Spears to make a guest appearance and everyone to actually be cool."

Apparently the final nail in the show's coffin was when Scott Sassa (head of NBC West Coast) saw a rough cut of the final episode, "Discos and Dragons," in which Lindsay decides to tour with the Grateful Dead rather than go on to her summer school program. Apatow told Vanity Fair, Sassa was a great supporter of the show and credits his "creative leeway" with "Freaks and Geeks" being what it was. However, he also said that episode's ending made Sassa realize that they "would never do the things that would make the show commercial."

MTV To The Rescue?

After the show's cancellation, MTV offered to save "Freaks and Geeks." However, it would've been with a much lower budget. Ultimately, they chose to pass on the offer, feeling that it wouldn't be enough money to enable them to make the show as it should be. Feig, who had lost his mother mere days before the show's cancellation, stated, "We probably just had to lose so much stuff and music and budgets. We were already always strained on our budget as it was." The show's music rights were quite costly, which made it difficult to negotiate a "Freaks and Geeks" DVD release. There was a a similar struggle for its streaming rights. The series did have an amazing soundtrack featuring The Who, Curtis Mayfield, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead, among so many others. 

A revival seems unlikely at this point, considering how busy the cast is with other projects. I don't know about anyone else, but I would totally watch a limited series about where these characters are now!