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25 Years, 25 Huge Risks: In Praise of the Fox Network's Daring Reputation

Twenty-five years may seem like a long time for a network—that's a quarter of a century! But in human years, twenty-five is not very old. If you think of Fox as a human being, it's just reached the age where it's finally starting to get its life in order. It's considering moving into its own place, wondering whether grad school is a good idea. It's finally starting to have interesting things to talk about with other grown-ups. Twenty-five is an exciting age!

As such, we'd be remiss if we marked Fox's twenty-fifth birthday—which the network is celebrating this Sunday with a two-hour anniversary special—without giving credit where credit's due: No network has ever been as consistent of a risk-taker as Fox has. Though its experiments have ended in both success and failure, Fox remains an invaluable and praise-worthy champion to the odd, weird, and bracingly original. If you like TV and things that are different, it's hard to do better than Fox. Sure, it's often mistreated or destroyed its own darlings, but it's still incredible to think about the number of oddities it's aired over the years.

So to celebrate the occasion, we've compiled a list of our twenty-five favorite biggest, riskiest, and most original Fox experiments. Happy birthday, big guy! (And please consider using your birthday money to renew Fringe.)



1. The Tracey Ullman Show (1987-1990)


The risk: Primetime sketch shows are still risky today, and this one even revolved around a British woman with a flair for emotional comedy. Also, what was with the weird, animated yellow family who appeared every now and again?

Success or Failure? Success! The Simpsons. 'Nuff said.



2. The Ben Stiller Show (1992-1993)


The risk: Despite being centered on the progeny of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, this sketch show was fronted by four unknowns who took on youth culture and the MTV generation in such a bitingly accurate way that it basically guaranteed low ratings.

Success or Failure? Failure at the time, but appreciated later.



3. Parker Lewis Can't Lose (1990-1993)


The risk: At first written off as a bland rehashing of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, this fourth-wall-breaking sitcom was fast and colorful and had the nerve to put a confident, good-looking guy at the center of its shenanigans.

Success or Failure? Success! This series remains a nostalgia piece for a specific age group.



4. In Living Color (1990-1994)


The risk: It would be accurate to say that an African-American fronted sketch show hasn't happened very often in TV history.

Success or Failure? SUCCESS!



5. Prison Break (2005-2009)


The risk: The show's TITLE was a spoiler. Sure enough, Prison Break's fundamental premise changed from season to season, creating an interesting problem for Fox marketers hoping to draw in new viewers.

Success or Failure? Success.



6. Herman's Head (1991-1994)


The risk: Oh, just another three-camera sitcom in which the main character may be suffering from debilitating schizophrenia.

Success or Failure? Success.



7. Greg the Bunny (2002-2002)


The risk: Everybody loves a single camera, behind-the-scenes-of-Hollywood comedy about a SENTIENT PUPPET that stars a murderer's row of funny alternative comedians, right? They should've titled this Low-Rated Cult Classic just to be clearer.

Success or Failure? Failure.



8. American High (2000-2000)


The risk: A truly great, thoughtful documentary series profiling Illinois high school students who filmed themselves with camcorders.

Success or Failure? Instant failure at Fox, critical acclaim when it was rescued by PBS (!).



9. Glee (2009-Present)


The risk: A musical TV show. A MUSICAL TV SHOW. Say what you will about its fluctuating quality, this show did not seem like a good idea on paper.

Success or Failure? Success.



10. Get a Life (1990-1992)


The risk: This cult classic was a super-meta deconstruction of sitcoms that starred Chris Elliott as a grown man living at home. Also it was co-written by Charlie Kaufman. Yes, that Charlie Kaufman.

Success or Failure? Medium success then, but loads of retrospective acclaim since.



11. When Animals Attack (1996)


The risk: Before YouTube, people needed an outlet for raw footage of animal attacks, you know? Fox was the first network to really go there.

Success or Failure? Success, obviously!



12. Arrested Development (2003-2006)


The risk: Tons of ink has been spilled about this show in the intervening years, but let's admit it was a difficult series to embrace from the get-go: A dense, serialized sitcom with tons of characters and dizzying storytelling. Great as it was (is?), it's no mystery why more people didn't jump on board.

Success or Failure? Both!



13. My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss (2004-2004)


The risk: Remember this? It was a full-fledged parody of The Apprentice that remains one of the more hilarious (and underrated) reality show takedowns of all time.

Success or Failure? Failure, alas.



14. That '70s Show (1998-2006)


The risk: A period sitcom that heavily incorporated drug use. Sure, NOW we know it was a conventional, charming show. But still, that's quite a premise to get past.

Success or Failure? Success. We been Kutcher'd!



15. America's Most Wanted (1988-Present)


The risk: Oh, this is just a show that enlisted viewers to help bring down real criminals AND WE DID and still do to this day.

Success or Failure? Success.



16. Temptation Island (2001-2003)


The risk: Keep in mind that reality shows were still a new thing for network television in 2001. Now remember just how presciently crass this was: A reality show that actively encouraged committed couples to break up.

Success or Failure? Brief success followed by laughing-stock infamy.



17. 24 (2001-2010)


The risk: A show that ostensibly unfolded in real time! With cougar attacks and everything!

Success or Failure? After some post-9/11 weirdness, huge success.



18. Ally McBeal (1997-2002)


The risk: A law procedural about a woman who frequented a covers-only piano bar and routinely hallucinated visual metaphors made out of '90s CGI. (That's how creator David E. Kelley pitched it, right?)

Success or Failure? Success. (We won't bring up the weird, weekly half-hour remix, Ally).



19. Alien Nation (1989-1990)


The risk: An early movie-to-TV adaptation before such a thing was commonplace, this was a sci-fi cop drama in which half the characters were downtrodden aliens. Plus its title remains one of the most depressing puns ever to grace a TV Guide.

Success or Failure? Failure?



20. Wonderfalls (2004-2004)


The risk: More mental illness whimsy: A local shopgirl begins to communicate with animated tchotchkes. Any questions?

Success or Failure? Failure then, success in retrospect.



21. Action! (1999-1999)


The risk: A fast-paced, mean-spirited look behind the scenes of Hollywood several years before Entourage was but a twinkle in Mark Wahlberg's eye.

Success or Failure? Immediate failure.



22. 21 Jump Street (1987-1990)


The risk: A police procedural about cops posing as high school students! How had nobody thought of this before?

Success or Failure? This year's slightly ironic movie remake was a HUGE success. Plus, you know, the whole Johnny Depp thing.



23. Firefly (2002-2003)


The risk: The subject of Joss Whedon's most tragic mistreatment by a network, Firefly was a Western-influenced sci-fi serial aired out of order and then summarily disposed of. Still, though: What an odd show to greenlight in the first place.

Success or Failure? Failure (on Fox's part mostly)



24. American Idol (2002-Present)


The risk: A twice-weekly karaoke contest in which a British man verbally eviscerates the singers in front of a live audience, and then viewers VOTE for a winner by telephone. I mean, honestly. That's bizarre.

Success or Failure? Um, success.



25. The X-Files (1993-2002)


The risk: A detective procedural about paranormal activity filmed with cinematic production values and serious scares. A genre show that treated strange occurrences seriously? Where would we be today without The X-Files?

Success or Failure? Success.


So those are our twenty-five favorite Fox gambles. What are yours?


Fox's 25th Anniversary Special airs this Sunday, April 22 from 8-10pm on... Fox! And be sure to show up early: At 7pm, the network is re-airing the pilot of its first-ever show, Married... With Children.

Comments (240)
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It is strange, that Firefly got a simple "Failure" in this article, after all those save-firefly campaigns and Serenity.
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A LOT OF GREAT SHOWS AND SOME REALLY BAD ONES...
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Firefly is one of the greatest shows ever. Foxs failure was cancelling it so early on!
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Firefly: "What an odd show to greenlight in the first place." ???



Has the author of this even watched the show?!? It was an amazing show... in almost every aspect.
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That 70s Show

Firefly

In Living Color

Dark Angel

The Finder

Fringe

Human Target
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I absolutely love That 70's Show! The show had everything to make it a success - a great cast, which translated into 6 unique main characters - Eric, Donna, Hyde, Jackie, Kelso and Fez! The stories were awesome and the show stayed true to its self over the course of 7 years ( I didn't like season 8), with the unique and memorable elements - the vista cruiser, the Circle, disco, rock, the stupid helmet, the water tour....and then there were the parents...who can ever forget Red's "Foot in your ass!". Now that I think about it, I am so glad the show existed before today's mania of social networking and ship wars!
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"24"

"The Simpsons"

"21 Jump Street"

"Touch"

"The X-Files"

"House"
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Happy B-Day Fox and thanks for all you have done to help open up this good ole boy system called Network.
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From Alien Nation to Firefly to X-Files... Fox has shown that they are willing to take risks that the other networks won't. An impressive list that doesn't even include shows such as Space: Above and Beyond, amongst others.



Unfortunately Fox does little to mentor these shows once they make the schedule but at least they show some creativity in their programming.



I keep hoping that potential DVD set sales will result in more closure for future shows that are cut short.

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In what way was Arrested Development a failure?
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I don't know how Married With Children isn't on here. That was the networks biggest gamble and success story all rolled into one.
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Firefly and Wonderfalls were two of the BEST SHOWS I never heard about. And at the time of their airings I will still deeply addicted to television. Thank god for the internet or I would have missed out. They were unique and quirky and had the best casts. The whole firefly cast was stellar! Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin and Summer Glau... perfection!



Caroline Dhavernas as Jaye in Wonderfalls -- definitely was one of my favorite female leads. She never whined... which is pretty damn rare. She and Ellen Muth as George Lass are my favorite female leads from television shows -- both ended too soon. Alas...



Missing from this list -- Married With Children and Goosebumps (... even though technically it was a FOX Kids show).
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You have to include Married With Children here...



I'd even put Cops in here!
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Still mad at Fox about Firefly! And then they did it to Joss again with Dollhouse. Shame on them. Also Fox's handling of Fringe has been very frustrating.
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My 2nd favorite show that Fox gambled on and then screwed up was "Space:Above and Beyond" That was a great show!
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I now just looked at the pic for firefly and boom! I have seen every single face on that pic in some other epic series.. it must have been reeeeeeaaaally good.. and considering the Glee, 24, Simpsons, 21st Jump Street (oh my primary school years), Ally Mc Beal (oh my collage years), X-Files (now, that is something timeless), American Idol, Prison Break and Arrested Development, it does sound like a true win for Fox.. I hate the channel but gotta admit: this list proves a great sense of quality TV.. (and I am giving this credit, not because I watch these shows, most of them did not really fit my taste, but they were really big, influential, strong shows)
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The Edge. Mostly forgotten now, but really risky as a sketch show with, well, Edge. Very daring, a huge failure.
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Firefly and Wonderfalls both suffered at the hands of Fox's mad programmers. Both were frequently pre-empted or moved around the schedule without notice.



In Wonderfalls' case, it was even shown after 11 p.m. in many outlets. Far out of prime time. It also suffered greatly from being compared to the more popular Joan of Arcadia which hit the airwaves the year before.



Firefly was shown out of sequence, completely destroying Whedon's story arc. Very confusing to audiences.

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Firefly ruled! So did Human Target and quite a few others you all failed to mention!
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They totally ruined it with Firefly and Wonderfalls... great shows and didn't give them a chance... i don't know if i'm right, if it was from fox, but what about John Doe? Profit? Pushing Daisies? I missed them all!!! =(
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Fox can roundup the original cast of Firefly and get it going again. I've seen other comments around wanting Firefly back too. Great Cast and very unique, but realistic scenerio. And I so miss Jewel.
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What about Profit? 1996. I discovered this show after reading a review here. And then I watched it, last year, and LOVED IT. Definitely taking very big chances and yes a failure.
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can;t beat that 70s show, one of the best shows ever created!
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Firefly sucked. It was barely a sci-fi show. If so many people LOVED the show, then why was it cancelled? Because it SUCKED!
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Because it was badly advertised. My husband and I are both huge sci fi fans and the ads for Firefly just didn't give us a hint what it was really about when it came out. We fell in love with the show after seeing the movie and went back and watched the show. FOX did everyone a huge disservice with how they packaged the show and then ran it... they could have had another great show on their hands but they killed it.
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Or possibly because Fox aired episodes out of order ("I know! Let's air the pilot as the finale! BRILLIANT!") and changed the day and time it aired every other week (and the only reason it wasn't every week was because they kept pre-empting it). People didn't watch because they didn't know when the frack TO watch it. People not watching = low ratings. Low ratings = low payoff for a not-entirely-cheap show. Low payoff for a not-entirely-cheap show = not a big moneymaker. Not a big moneymaker = canceled.



I don't care *what* the show is, if it gets treated by the network the way Firefly was, it's going to be canceled.
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I've never even seen Firefly, so I have no opinion on it.
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I HAD seen Firefly, back when it first aired...and I agree with ChrisCollins. I found it a huge disappointment and terribly boring with whiny characters.
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The ironic thing about Firefly is if as many people who complain actually watched the show when it aired it would never have been cancelled. I'd bet most of the biggest critics of Fox never saw live. I count myself among that group as I love the show now but didn't see it until the DVDs were released a few years later. While it is true that Fox made a few mistakes in marketing the show, it was always going to be a tough sell to get people to tune in to a show about cowboys in space. I wish Fox had stuck with it because I think it would have eventually caught on but when you look at the cost and the ratings they get a lot more grief for that decision than they deserve.
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God Bless Firefly! The most dasterdly deed on television leaving it to some underground internet fans to show enough interest that it is now even a fav of my dad who is hitting 70 soon...

He didnt even know what it was until I hooked his smart TV up and we stumbled on it while searching for something else..

What great characters and adventure.. The Stargate Universe eat your heart out!!!! You too could have been great if not for the soap opera BSG theme.. Sci Fi is not Soap Fi.. GET IT???
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Firefly has a huge following now, even as mangled as it got. Maybe I don't understand how we're determining the retroactive failure/success-rate. I'm surprised Roswell (the one with the teenagers, for those who might not know it) isn't here. It would probably be considered a failure (it got a little extension on the WB but ran into the ground eventually). I think it would be a pretty hard-sell premise. Honestly I liked it, but it's no Firefly.
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Firefly was Awesome! Should never have been cancelled. Fox should be ashamed of the way they treated it. I hope the Fox network never gets to year 26...
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This article is false. Fox has 25 years of failure. Cutting Firefly was one of their biggest mistakes and now they just repeated it with Terra Nova. Shameful.
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Firefly was only a failure beacause they cancelled it after one season.

Imdb. - Ratings: 9.3/10 from 68,969 users

Tv - 9.1/10 from 12,187 votes

Obviously people love this show.
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only things I watched were Firefly and Wonderfalls, which were cancelled but I loved them anyways, and Glee.. I caught an episode of That 70s Show and Ally McBeal every once in a while. I was too young when X-Files was around, used to scare the crap out of me!
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Didn't The Ben Stiller Show win an Emmy for Best Comedy Series the year it was on? How is it any more of a failure than Arrested Development?
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It won an Emmy after it was canceled. It was a failure because it only ran 1 season, 13 episodes total. AD ran 3 seasons, 53 episodes total.
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Happy Birthday Fox. I'd buy you a present but everything I like is Sci Fi related and you....well ya just wouldn't get it!!
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I remember one show on FOX that was a huge risk...AND a huge failure! Anyone else remember "Woops!", the nuclear holocaust comedy? C'mon; even just saying that sentence is enough to hurt someone's head.



Incidentally, on this list, Tracey Ullman, In Living Color, America's Most Wanted, Alien Nation & 21 Jump Street are the only ones I gave a hangnail about.
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I mentioned Woops! as my "best risk" choice waaaaay down there.
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oh-BTW TV.com-do you realize the the original "Star Trek" was sold as "a western in space"?--I supposegiven the chance you would consider that a "failure" also
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Star Trek was sold as "Wagon Train to the Stars", which was Gene Roddenberry's way of dumbing it down for studio and network executives (Wagon Train was a long-running tv show of the time), but the actual show wasn't at all a western in any way, unlike Firefly. That said, Firefly is only listed as a "failure" because Fox had essentially canceled it before they aired the first episode (they had also mangled the pilot to air at a later date) and only aired 11 of its 14 episodes at all, and they were not ratings successes. Star Trek ran 3 seasons and 79 episodes, that's how you measure success in this case, even if it was canceled midway through its original run.
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Firefly a FAILURE? Comeon. with what metrics? You guys had NOOO problem giving marginal credit to 21 jump street and several other pieces of drogg, but FIREFLY gets a straight up "failure" and "Still, though: What an odd show to greenlight in the first place." Have you hacks ever even watched the show..or "Serenity"? Despite FOX's mistreatment that show is still a cult classic.If Whedon could clear the rights to it-it would be a huge success again...anywhere. Firefly Fans revolt!!! This is BLASPEMY on the part of TV.com.-What do you folks think???
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See my reply to the comment directly above yours. It's all about numbers of seasons and episodes. Plus, as much as I love Firefly, it's clearly not a successful draw, the mediocre showing of Serenity at the box office proves that (we can debate the wisdom of making a movie that changed so many characters and then needlessly killed part of the crew off in a different venue). Passion does not automatically equal success.
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Sorry but you are flat out wrong. TV Shows that are failures don't get greenlit for movie production based on DVD sales. Doesn't matter what sort of draw it had at the box office, the show wasn't meant for the big screen. It was meant to be a serialized western space epic.



Shows that are "Failures" don't receive movies, novels, and comics after cancellation. The only reason that this show failed was because someone in the marketing department was clearly having an anuerysm. They had an amazing and excellent cast that has gone on to star in other projects which is why we will never see this show resurrected. The cost of re-casting all of these people is out of reach for most network television.



Firefly will always be considered a cult classic.



Too bad it wasn't made in the era of the DVR and social media because it would have never been cancelled. Jericho was birthed during the era of the DVR and social media and look what its few supports managed to do for that show.
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Firefly was the best one on there!



Most of the "successes" are irritating and lame at best.
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I kind of enjoyed the special. It was a good retrospective on Fox's history. Plus, it was a good idea for the network to show two classic pilot episodes before the special actually started. That was cool.
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Firefly has had massive success in Dvd sales and an ever growing crazily loyal fan base plus they got a MOVIE! So I think it should be considered a post FOX success!
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It was a success despite FOX.. I think it's a Whedon success, but not a FOX one.
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Some of these shows weren't mentioned/shown. :(
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I'm still sad to this day that firefly was booted ... the funny thing is, I don't think a reboot is possible unless the old crew were to come back. The Idea behind firefly had major "flaws", but that crew made everything works so well, that those "flaws" became the lovable quirkiness that made everyone want more.
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Many smiles and many tears, what a wonderful look back. Thank you FOX for your look back at the the way we as a people have changed from the era of the people from the great depression to the people post depression. We have come a long way and we should be proud of the of the world in which we live and the fact that we are on the path of even more great change. A change that is not only overdue but will prove that the era of " Green thinking" is not just something that those Hippies believed in but is the future of this planet and mankind.
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Fox could be celebrating 150 years, still its the worst network ever, they cancel a lot of good shows and now Fringe its in limbo, no info yet of renewal



the best show on television and it could get cancelled, only on FOX, please save Fringe!
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Move on from Fringe, it is getting stale. JJ Abrams turns great ideas to crap after a few seasons. The show started off awesome but is turning lame.
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Dark Angel had to of been a risk, and thats a cult favorite at it's core.
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Awesome first year, terrible second year. It did bring us Jessica Alba.
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and Micheal Weatherly who is now on NCIS as Tony DiNozzo
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This list leaves something to be desired-- thoughts and arguments composed of words and sentences. It does have pictures and numbers though. Halfway there.
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Firefly was not a huge failure! They might have not had many fans but they were very... lets say dedicated to it.
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where is Fringe and Married with Children, the list is incomplete!! next time do your work correctly!!
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Bring back Firefly!
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X-files! Fringe! Married with Children! Human Target! Family Guy! Simpsons! And American Idol I guess
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Pushing daisies!
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That was on ABC.
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