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The Real Reason Dharma & Greg Was Canceled

The '90s comprised the tail end of the classic three-camera sitcom era, before the transition to the mockumentary style popularized by The Office. Dharma & Greg premiered during the peak of that era in 1997 and, for a few years, stood near the top of the ratings battlefield. It'd be difficult to pin down more quintessentially late-'90s television: A rich, straight-laced Reagan Republican played by Thomas Gibson (before he got to chase serial killers for a decade-plus) and a powerfully '90s New Age hippie played by Jenna Elfman are an odd couple who find love and try to reconcile their wildly different interests and lifestyles while navigating the relationships of their diametrically-opposed parents. This was back when telling someone you were taking a yoga class was a punchline, and when the go-go boom of the '90s made any challenge, even political and experiential gaps, feel surmountable. In 2002, a mere five seasons later, the series was cancelled, soon to drift away as a faded icon of a decade gone by. What happened that brought a charming, off-beat sitcom to the network chopping block, and can it, too, find a foothold in this age of reboot fever?

Dharma & Greg's cancellation was a familiar song with a twist

There's no particular drama leading to the cancellation of the show insofar as basic facts, but it's arguably also a victim of a unique moment in television. The simple answer is that Dharma & Greg didn't perform well — its fourth season, which aired during a relatively late time slot and against the juggernaut Frasier, suffered due to stiff competition. Its fifth and final season continued to droop to half of its peak Nielsen rating back in season 3, and so it and the other last vestige of the 1997 premiere season, Ally McBeal, were both canceled. That's the official story, but there's a twist. As we said, Dharma & Greg was canceled in 2002, but that fifth season began the previous September — September 25th, 2001, in fact.

The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 had a radical effect on all media in production, first release, and syndication in the immediate aftermath, and for years afterward. The television season typically begins in early September, and all those premieres that year, new and renewed shows alike, were put back weeks in response to the tragedy and the overwhelming amount of news coverage in the weeks and months afterward. The setback of a rescheduled season premiere will hit any show hard, but the post-event mourning doesn't leave much room for light-hearted odd-couple sitcoms, either.

Dharma & Greg got the briefest of reprieves

Dharma & Greg was a Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom — we know him today far, far more popularly for his twin hits Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. The former series, which infamously starred and eventually fired Charlie Sheen, premiered the very next year after Dharma & Greg's cancellation, and went on to much more consistent ratings success. That matters here because, for exactly one special episode, Dharma & Greg got an unofficial revival. When Charlie Sheen was fired for ... well, being Charlie Sheen, tiger blood and all, the show's decision was abrupt and final. That had to be explained somehow, and that became a funeral episode: "Nice To Meet You, Walden Schmidt." Thomas Gibson and Jenna Elfman make a very brief and uncredited appearance in the episode (likely due to copyright issues, because Dharma & Greg aired on ABC and Two and A Half Men on CBS) as a bickering couple attending Charlie Harper's funeral. It was a fun little reference flex for Lorre, and why not, since the entire trajectory of Two and A Half Men was in such major transition at that time, anyway?

Could Dharma & Greg benefit from a reboot renaissance?

In our modern-day rush to reboot and revisit beloved stories of both the large and small screen, no property is necessarily off the table. Dharma & Greg, however, does not appear to be high on anybody's priority list. Back in 2017, Jenna Elfman told Access Hollywood that she had reached out circa 2016 to see if a revival was in the cards: "I called, like, last year some time, or a year and a half ago or something. I called to say 'Hey guys, should we get back together?' But he [Thomas Gibson] was still doing Criminal Minds and it wasn't an option. I'm here, doing this show [Imaginary Mary]." Elfman also said that she would show up to a Dharma & Greg revival "any time".

Imaginary Mary did not get beyond a single season, and Thomas Gibson departed Criminal Minds likely very soon after Elfman would have spoken with Lorre or anyone else attached to Dharma & Greg, but that doesn't mean an opportunity is any more probable now than it was then. Gibson was very publicly fired from Criminal Minds for allegations of violence on set. Meanwhile, Elfman was for many years unable to maintain the public profile she had on Dharma & Greg, starring in failed pilots, aborted series, or otherwise smaller roles for many years until landing a lead part on Fear The Walking Dead, which is still running. The tables have turned vis-a-vis availability, and it seems that the time has indeed passed for any kind of revisitation.