Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.
This western with hints of steam punk and sci fi delivered equal parts Wild Wild West and Indiana Jones as it followed bounty hunter Brisco County Jr. who travels through the old west seeking the outlaw John Bly (who killed his father) as well as answers to the mysterious and powerful “Orb” which Bly is also looking for. The show was a ton of fun as it mixed tongue-in-cheek humor with action/adventure along with Bruce Campbell chewing up the scenery in one of his all-time beloved roles. Of course, the supporting cast made their mark as well which included the late Julius Carry providing spot on verbal sparring as a rival bounty hunter and Kelly Rutherford vamping it up as this show’s version of Lili von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn’s character in Blazing Saddles). Plus, the co-creator of the show were none other than Carlton Cuse who was making his debut in television before going on to work on Lost, The Strain, and more (and he had also co-written the script to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Brisco County kicked off the 1993 season for FOX with impressive ratings, but its numbers quickly began to drop, blamed in part on its Friday night 8 PM EST timeslot. By the end of the season, it was one of the lowest rated shows on the broadcast networks and FOX decided to cancel it. Despite only lasting one season, the show had an extensive number of episodes released on VHS (which was rare for the time) and had a healthy syndication run on TNT through most of the 90’s. Fans even lobbied that cable channel to produce new episodes, but it would have been too expensive for that network to produce an original series of that nature at that time, so no new episodes ever emerged. Interestingly, Brisco County’s lead-out series during its run on FOX was The X-Files, also in its first year, which had low ratings as well but that one was cheaper to produce and had received much acclaim from fans and critics. And that one would eventually make Friday nights appointment television for many genre fans, though unfortunately Brisco County was out of the picture by that time. When later speaking about the cancellation in his autobiography, Bruce Campbell had this to say in his book If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor:
To explain why a TV show is canceled is almost impossible. Ironically Brisco, with its off-kilter humor, wouldn’t have been developed on any other network, yet the appeal of ‘Westerns’ was still rural – not the side Fox’s urban bread was buttered on.
The show has lived on in the hearts of many of the fans who watched it when it first aired and has since been collected on DVD so that a new generation of fans can discover it.
Aired: FOX, 1993-94, 1 Season 27 episodes
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Julius Carry, Kelly Rutherford, Christian Clemenson, John Astin
Created By: Jeffrey Boam, Carlton Cuse
Buy The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. on DVD from Amazon.com: