Lets talk about two series that are only connected in the fact they were each unceremoniously cancelled after a mere 2 episodes had aired. These series have no thematic connection but it’s nice to look at shows that just never got the chance to really be anything.
It might seem strange today with the borderline glut of genre series on TV but there was a time when sci-fi was a bad word for networks. They would make shows and routinely kill them off almost immediately.
In 1993 CBS made six episodes of a new sci-fi show titled Space Rangers (with no relation to the Aircel comic book Space Rangers, nor the video game Space Rangers, nor the 2017 series Space Rangers… there are too many things called Space Rangers).
CBS may have made six episodes of Space Rangers and they may have put a large budget behind it… but they had no intention of actually doing anything with it.
Airing only two episodes nationwide (the West Coast got two more though) Space Rangers was dead before it ever got to audiences. Oh, and since this was a series written to have continuity where each episode directly leads into the next one… of course the two that CBS aired were episodes 3 and then 2 (and the other Coast got episode 6 and then finally the pilot because, of course, that is how they aired). Who the hell at CBS decided to start the show in the middle of a plotline?
With CBS clearly not giving a shit about Space Rangers why would they sink what is obviously a nice sized budget into the show? It seems that CBS kind of but not really wanted something to counter Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the forthcoming Babylon 5 but then got cold feet.
What is Space Rangers though?
It is very much a more ground level version of Star Trek really. The Rangers are basically space police with the cocky pretty boy leader, the smart ass tomboy pilot, the gruff but lovable mechanic, the brash rookie, the nerd and finally the totally not at all Klingon with the big forehead who comes from a race of warriors where honor is the ultimate force in his society. They also have a snarky boss and her jerkass superior. The Rangers would spiff across the galaxy where needed and keep the peace.
When viewing the episodes in the order they take place the show is much better than the generic descriptor I just used but there are many generalities that can be applied to Space Rangers. One thing that the show seriously succeeded at was being creepy. There is a race of aliens called Banshee’s that attack ships in hyperspace which are honestly terrifying. I was 18 when Space Rangers aired and I remember the Banshee’s really adding some dread to the show.
Created by Pen Densham (The Outer Limits 1995 series) Space Rangers never got a chance to even find an audience and only did so many years later when the Starz channel edited two episodes at at time (in order I might add) into “”movies” simply titled Space Rangers I, Space Rangers II and Space Rangers III. These “movies” actually allowed people to find the show finally.
The cast all would move on to much bigger things though.
Jeff Kaake in the syndicated series Viper, Marjorie Monaghan would have recurring role on (ironically) Babylon 5, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa would become Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat not to mention his huge role in Man In The High Castle, Jack McGee on Rescue Me, Clint Howard in just about everything and Linda Hunt in NCIS Los Angles. Buddy Hackett and Wings Hauser would also guest in episodes.
Is Space Rangers a show that was cut short?
Absolutely, but it was also too much of a network series to have ever had any real staying power. Space Rangers lacked the edge that Deep Space Nine had as well as the seriousness of Babylon 5. Space Rangers was the safe sci-fi show of 1993 that was never destined to be loved by the masses but it also was a great deal of fun and I enjoyed all six episodes.
Our other cancelled after two episodes series was 1997’s Sleepwalkers.
Again just like with Space Rangers technically more episodes aired as the West Coast got four more episodes but only in some markets.
In 1997 NBC had a huge hit with their “Saturday Thrillogy” of The Pretender, Profiler and a rotating show that was always cancelled very quickly.
Saturday nights were long a dead zone but all of a sudden NBC had a few shows that people wanted to stay home and watch. The Pretender would last four seasons and a few TV movies. Profiler would last four seasons. NBC just could not find a hit that would compliment these shows.
They tried the period X-Files knock-off Dark Skies which only lasted one season. There was the (actually pretty good) supernatural series The Others which lasted twelve episodes (with a thirteenth only airing in some markets) and finally there was Sleepwalkers.
Ever see the 1984 movie Dreamscape?
This is basically that, but for TV. Bruce Greenwood is a scientist who has invented a machine that allows trained personal to enter the dreams of another person to help them overcome some nightmare or trauma. It’s not expressly stated in the two aired episodes but they were hinting that a demon clown-like figure called “The Smiling Man” was a connection between these nightmares and something very evil that was building up.
“The Smiling Man” was set up as a recurring villain for the show but we just didn’t get time to find out where this was going. The team is your average set of pseudo-science TV guys, the leader who has an ulterior motive, the super smart guy that is socially awkward, the hot girl that is their ace in the hole and finally the cocky guy that thinks he is untouchable. They also add the rookie after the pilot as the guy they save in said pilot joins the team. The hot girl by the way is Naomi Watts in one of her first starring roles.
Sleepwalkers was nothing special but again, just like with Space Rangers, the series was enjoyable and if the overarching plot had a chance to play out there might have been something here. The tone of each episode was bordering on horror over thriller and there were some very tense moments within the dream worlds.
While most of the US only got the first two episodes (at least aired in order this time) the first six episodes were all released on VHS in Germany edited into three “movies” and of course those bootlegs made their way to the internet. No sign of the last three episodes though in any form.
Why does a network greenlight and then spend millions of dollars on a show only to get rid of it as quickly as possible?
Welcome to Hollywood.