Freaks and Geeks was ace, so why did it get cancelled after just one series?
From 1999-2000, Freaks and Geeks documented crummy high school experiences of the ‘80s. It was relatable, funny, and the acting from young stars like James Franco and Seth Rogen was great. But then, like one of the show’s own bad fathers, the series disappeared and never came back again.
Now that its first season has been gifted to fans on Netflix, we have to ask: why was there never a second season of Freaks and Geeks? And what would have happened if there had been? And what should we watch instead, to make us feel better? First things first.
Why was Freaks and Geeks cancelled before season 2?
Reason 1: Its horrible timeslot
Freaks and Geeks was doomed from the start by its shoddy airtime. On September 25, 1999, the show was broadcast for the first time: a Saturday, at 8pm, when its intended audience would definitely not be at home watching the telly.
The second episode followed a week later, but then there was a three-week gap during October’s World Series (that’s baseball). Then there were three consecutive weeks of broadcasting – episode 5 landed in mid-November – but then it was put on hold until early January, aired once in February, twice in March, and was subsequently cancelled, with the two final episodes airing in July. Six episodes were never aired in the show’s original run.
The producers of the show created a website, hoping it would help fans to keep track of the show’s erratic scheduling, but NBC reportedly refused to share the URL because, says exec producer Judd Apatow, “they didn’t want people to know the Internet existed. They were worried about losing viewers to it.”
All in all, the way NBC handled this golden egg was an utter shitshow. Which had an effect on who watched it:
Reason 2: Ratings, ratings, ratings
Latterly, the show’s main timeslot competitor was the absurdly popular gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which drew an average of 18 million viewers. Across the 12 episodes that aired, Freaks and Geeks averaged 6.77 million viewers on NBC. In the same year, NBC was scoring about 14 million with its smash hits Frasier and Friends. It’s possible that in NBC’s view, Freaks and Geeks wasn’t worth giving a better timeslot. It was a vicious circle of poor scheduling and poor viewing figures.
Reason 3: Creative differences
It wasn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but a weird antipathy existed between the network and the showmakers. After the show had been picked up for a pilot, the NBC president changed: incoming prez Garth Ancier was from Dawson’s Creek‘s network, WB. Ancier had been to boarding school and Princeton and the show’s producers were told he didn’t “understand public school”. They called that the first red flag.
Creator Paul Feig didn’t think Ancier’s position was the be all and end all, though. He told Vanity Fair in 2013: “The irony was that the network was very, very supportive. The interference we had was the interference of people that wanted to make it as good as they could. But Judd was a screamer back then. He would take them on hard-core.”
They wanted the show to have “more victories”, says Apatow. They didn’t get the characters they wanted. James Franco recalls: “I always wanted to wear the beanie, and the network didn’t like it. They were all about ‘We need to see his hair. He needs to look handsome.’” And as director Jake Kasdan remembers, “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?’”
The network didn’t understand why the show was brilliant, but there was another reason they didn’t like broadcasting the show…
Reason 4: The creators simply refused to obey the network
That strange antipathy described above led to the show’s writers playing hardball with NBC by taking their storylines up a notch. Exec producer Judd Apatow was part of the writing team that gave Seth Rogen’s character, Ken, a storyline in which his girlfriend reveals she has “ambiguous genitalia”. In 2013 Apatow recalls, “In a way, it was a ‘Fuck you’ to NBC, like: ‘Now we’re going to get really ambitious and aggressive with storylines that you would never approve if the show had a chance of surviving’”, and director Jake Kasdan added: “There was this sense that it wasn’t going to last, so the network wasn’t really going to try to fix it. I’m not sure you could get away with those things on a show that isn’t about to be canceled.”
In 2009, screenwriter Gabe Sachs told The Guardian, “Whoever was in charge at the time didn’t quite understand what we were trying to do. They’d ask things like, ‘When is Sam going to make out with a cheerleader?’ In reality a special moment to us in high school was when we were sitting next to a girl and our knees were touching, never mind actually making out! But the network didn’t buy that at all. They also wanted James Franco to take off his shirt, Britney Spears to make a guest appearance and everyone to actually be cool.” Judd Apatow says the show “should have been on HBO… there was no home for us in 1999.” And Seth Rogen never forgave Scott Sassa, the guy who cancelled the show.
Reason 5: It didn’t win awards
Freaks was a critical darling, and perhaps if it had also scooped loads of awards, it would have made it through to a second series. Alas, it wasn’t to be: Paul Feig received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, but in the end if only won one Emmy – Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series.
What would have happened in Freaks and Geeks season 2?
We’ve had a glimpse into all of characters’ future arcs, mostly thanks to this piece by creator Paul Feig.
Where we left her: Joining new friends to follow the Grateful Dead instead of attending a summer school at the University of Michigan.
Where she would have gone: Judd Apatow says season 2 would have found Lindsay having “an extended acid trip” while following The Grateful Dead. “We wanted to show how parents in the eighties dealt with when their kids were really badly on drugs,” he said. “That was something we had talked about.” But creator Paul Feig says eventually she would have ended up “at some point in her twenties in Greenwich Village as a performance artist, and after that she’d probably become a lawyer — a human-rights lawyer.”
Where we left him: Breaking up with his shallow girlfriend Cindy and saying goodbye to Lindsay.
Where he would have gone: Would have ended up in drama club, because, says Feig, “That was my experience in school,” he said. “That bummed me out the most, not getting to play that story out.”
Where we left him: About to watch his parents go through a divorce.
Where he would have gone: Would have been in a swing choir. “I just thought he would really blossom in there and think he was kind of the king of the school,” says Feig. “We figured it could be his outlet while his parents are going through a really horrible divorce.”
Where we left him: Failing another test, being forced to join the A/V Club, playing Dungeons & Dragons with the geeks – and winning.
Where he would have gone: Paul Feig says he “always liked the idea that eventually Daniel would probably end up in jail.”
Where we left him: With his mom dating Coach Fredricks; playing D&D with Daniel.
Where he would have gone: Actor Martin Starr said: “Because of the decisions I was making off-camera, they had plans gearing toward Bill becoming a jock in the second season,” Star added. “They kind of talked about the potential of splitting us up as a threesome and the geeks parting ways, to some degree, and me fitting in with a different crowd.” Paul Feig adds: “He turned out to be good at basketball and started to get into it, so that he was getting pulled a little more over to the jock side – which would create an odd little rift with him and the other geeks.”
Where we left her: Expressing her envy of Lindsay’s place on a summer school program; joining Lindsay on tour.
Where she would have gone: Feig “wanted Kim Kelly to be pregnant, but it wasn’t necessarily going to be Daniel’s. I thought this actually happened when she was out on the road with Lindsay following the Dead… That was another burning desire of mine, because when we were in high school there’d always be a girl or two who were pregnant, and it was so mind-blowing.”
Where we left him: Becoming a disco dancer, quitting pot and dating Sara (Lizzy Caplan) to try and convince himself he’s over Lindsay.
Where he would have gone: “We were kind of moving Nick towards having to go into the army,” says Feig, “because of his badass dad. ’Cause that was a real option for so many people in my school—but he would be desperately trying to avoid it.”
Where we left him: Being angry with Nick for taking up disco, and getting kicked out of the disco contest.
Where he would have gone: Feig says he “always liked that we had set up that he had rich parents. But Ken’s such an enigma – I think he’s the guy that just kind of hangs around town. We liked to surprise people with Ken’s character — what was the thing you’d least expect he would do, or place he’d come from? I can completely see us loading him up with a lot of weird shit. I was sad we never got to show his parents, and God only knows whom we would have had him dating.”
I loved Freaks and Geeks. What should I watch next?
Though very similar in tone to Freaks, this college-set comedy is a half-hour show – not an hour-long one – about a group of freshmen in the ’00s. It was made by Judd Apatow from 2001-2002, straight after the demise of Freaks and Geeks.
Freaks and Geeks representation: Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Michael Starr, Busy Philipps, Samm Levine, Natasha Melnick, David Krumholtz and Ben Stiller. (Amy Poehler is in it too.)
Watch via: the iTunes store
2. Knocked Up
Judd Apatow says of his box-office hit: “In my head, I can look at Knocked Up as just an episode of Seth’s character getting a girl pregnant.”
Freaks and Geeks representation: Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Michael Starr. Creator Paul Feig also has a cameo as a fantasy baseball guy. It’s also got some of the Undeclared cast: Jay Baruchel and Loudon Wainwright III included.
Watch via: Amazon Video
Apatow’s an exec producer on Lena Dunham’s millennial take on post-university life in NYC, which absolutely isn’t what Sex and the City made it look like.
Freaks and Geeks representation: Becky Ann Baker, who played Jean Weir in Freaks – she plays Loreen, the mother of Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath.
Watch via: Amazon Video
Apatow co-created this 2016 show about two terrible 30-somethings in LA who turn out to be perfect for each other.
Freaks and Geeks representation: Dave Allen, who played Freaks‘ counsellor Jeff Rosso. In Love he’s a weirdo called Allan.
Watch via: Netflix
5. Arrested Development
This cult comedy, which started in 2003, follows the almost-entirely-objectionable Bluth family. After a six-year break it returned for a fourth series in 2013 and is rumoured to be returning for another soon.
Freaks and Geeks representation: Seth Rogen appears in season 4, as does Ben Stiller.
Watch via: Netflix