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The Best Slapstick Crime Series That Only Lasted One Season According To Fans

The history of television is full of shows that were canceled too soon. Never forgotten by fans, these ahead-of-their-times cult hits can sometimes have a long shelf life compared to their other more highly rated and conventionally popular contemporaries, especially as they continue to find new audiences in the home video and streaming eras.

Sometimes, a show comes along that is simply too refined or sophisticated for mass audiences at the time. It doesn't connect, and low ratings spell a quick cancellation, and then it's the audience's turn to play catch-up. Fans all have their own personal favorites, but one slapstick crime show from the early '80s seems to stand above the rest, even though it only managed to survive for six half-hour episodes before getting axed by the network. The arc of history is long, though, and in the decade after its cancellation, it went on to spawn a big-screen comedy film franchise and became a beloved classic in its own right.

Police Squad! didn't find much of an audience when it first aired

Back in 1980, the comedy filmmaking trio made up of Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker produced a surprise break-out smash: "Airplane!," which, among other things, introduced veteran actor Leslie Nielsen into the comedy universe that would become his home for the very successful remainder of his career. Shortly after the success of "Airplane!," the trio got the chance to create a television series in a similar vein on ABC, with the deadpan delivery of absurd wordplay and cartoonish sight gags, all delivered at the rapid-fire clip that made "Airplane!" such a success. The result was "Police Squad!," which also starred Nielsen, this time taking the role of Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant Police Squad.

Unfortunately, the humor that worked so well on the big screen didn't translate well to TV. "Police Squad!" ended up battling with other shows for audiences' limited attention spans at home, and the show struggled to find an audience. When the series was canceled, ABC exec Tony Thomopoulos gave a reason that has since become infamous — "the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it," as quoted by Vulture. That might sound silly, almost like a gag from "Police Squad!" itself, but actually, compared to many TV shows of the time that were designed to function as little more than pleasing background noise, there is some truth in it.

"Police Squad!" rewards close rather than divided attention with intricate, subtle gags. The show has no laugh track, which was highly unusual for a comedy series in the 1980s, and another example of its higher comedic ambitions -– a laugh track would have spoiled its deadpan replication of an earlier era of cop shows, like "Dragnet" and "M Squad."

America eventually fell in love with Frank Drebin

Due to its low ratings, "Police Squad!" was canceled after just six episodes. That could have been the end of Frank Drebin's crimefighting escapades, but the concept was revived in 1988 for "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" Leslie Nielsen's Drebin became more of a slapstick bumbler in his big-screen incarnation, but much of the show's deadpan sensibility was retained, and the film was enough of a box office success to give us two additional sequels. There's also talk of a reboot in the works from "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane. That's not a bad afterlife for a show that was canceled so quickly. 

Now, "Police Squad!" is remembered as a classic TV comedy, often cited by fans as one of the great one-season wonders. Take a look at all the comments on this Reddit thread on the subject of the best shows that only got one season, and you'll get a small idea of how fondly this show is remembered today. "My brother and I do the epilogue bit when we laugh freeze and pour coffee all over the place. Our wives don't see any humour in it whatsoever," said u/chiselmybrownpants, possibly illuminating the difficulties the show had in finding an audience in the first place. Another Redditor, u/Hydra_Master, remarked, "I'm not sure if you can count this considering it had three movies that came out of it, but it's Police Squad, so to hell with the rules!" Then you've got the countless other commenters who had fun simply sharing their favorite lines and gags from the show.