15 Shockingly Inappropriate Shows That Were Canceled Before They Aired Due To Controversy

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TV shows get canceled all the time, but it's pretty rare to have a show canceled before it even airs.* Still, it has happened — usually because there's something realllll shady going on. Here are 15 controversial TV shows that will never see the light of day!

Amazon Studios

*The exception is, of course, pilots — many pilots are shot each year, with only a few being picked up by networks. But pilots aren't really "canceled," and most of the entries on this list had more than an episode filmed, or were actively not aired because of controversy.

1.First, I want to start with one of the wildest examples: Frogmen, which was set to star O.J. Simpson as an ex-Navy SEAL leading water rescue missions. Filming completed just a month before O.J.'s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman were killed. This, of course, led to O.J.'s arrest and one of the most infamous murder trials of the last century.

O.J. Simpson in court
Lee Celano / WireImage via Getty Images

The pilot never aired, nor was the series picked up, in light of the murder charges. But the story doesn't end there — footage from the pilot was actually submitted as evidence in O.J.'s murder trial (though it didn't end up being used). The reason? O.J.'s character showed proficiency in knife combat, and Simpson reportedly received military training for the role.

Scene from "Frogmen"

And even further than that, Simpson's costar Todd Allen had once accompanied O.J. to Ross Cutlery between shooting. Ross Cutlery is the suspected source of the murder weapon, which was never discovered.

O.J. Simpson holding a gun

2.Good Grief was a reality show meant to follow the happenings at a family-run mortuary in Texas...until "eight decaying bodies" were found there. The mortuary owners were charged with "corpse abuse," which is, you guessed it, treating a "human corpse in a way that the person knows would outrage reasonable family sensibilities."

Johnson Family Mortuary

Lifetime obviously went ahead and canceled that nightmare, with VP Les Eisner saying Good Grief "has not and will not air on Lifetime."

Men loading a body into a hearse
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

3.Back in 2017, when Game of Thrones was still in its heyday, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (along with Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman) made waves when they announced their next project: Confederate, a drama set in an alternate timeline where the Confederacy won the Civil War. The idea almost immediately garnered backlash, with #NoConfederate actually trending during the airing of a Game of Thrones episode.

A Confederate panting
Lee Walters / Getty Images

Defending the series, Weiss called slavery "the worst thing that ever happened in American history," and said, "It’s an ugly and a painful history, but we all think this is a reason to talk about it, not a reason to run from it. And this feels like a potentially valuable way to talk about it."

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for HBO via Getty Images

While the producers initially doubled down and stressed reserving judgement until the show was actually shown (it hadn't even been written), the show was later canceled, as confirmed by HBO president Casey Bloys in 2020.

Casey Bloys
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for HBO via Getty Images

4.In 2005, ABC tried out a new reality series called Welcome to the Neighborhood, where different families competed to win a house in a neighborhood full of conservative, Christian, white families. The families competing for the house were mostly from marginalized groups (though one was literally just a conservative white family with tattoos), and early episodes featured a number of harmful, racist, and anti-gay comments.

Aerial view of a neighborhood
Art Wager / Getty Images

In the end of the series, the gay couple won, with the contestant who said in the first episode, "I would not tolerate a homosexual couple moving into this neighborhood" changing his views and even reconnecting with his own gay son. While the end result was positive, organizations such as GLAAD worried that early episodes made discrimination seem acceptable, and the National Fair Housing Alliance felt the show might violate the Fair Housing Act, even though the house is awarded and not bought/rented.

A man barbecuing
Miodrag Ignjatovic / Getty Images

Ultimately, the show was canceled. "Our intention with Welcome to the Neighborhood was to show the transformative process that takes place when people are forced to confront preconceived notions of what makes a good neighbor, and we believe the series delivers exactly that," ABC said in a statement. "However, the fact that true change only happens over time made the episodic nature of this series challenging, and given the sensitivity of the subject matter in early episodes, we have decided not to air the series at this time."


5.The 2000s were flooded with problematic plastic surgery-based reality shows like The Swan, Bridalplasty, and Extreme Makeover. But we haven't seen anything similar in the last decade...until The Surjury tried to step in to the once-popular niche.

Screenshots from makeover shows

The British reality show would've featured people who want plastic surgery making their case, essentially, to a jury of their peers — and if 75% or more of the jury approves the surgery, they get it for free. If not, they go home with nothing. The controversial show had plenty of backlash for its premise, but it was actually not canceled until soon after the death of its host, Caroline Flack.

Closeup of Caroline Flack
Lia Toby / Getty Images

6.Back in 2004, some execs thought it'd be fun to create a reality special centered around two straight dudes pretending they were gay. It was called, Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay, and it was set to feature two straight men trying out "the gay lifestyle," entering a queer social scene, and even going on a blind date with a man — ultimately competing over who could better convince their family and friends they were gay.

Two men at a bar

GLAAD expressed concern over the premise and were given an advance copy — they had "grave concerns" over the special, calling it "an exercise in systematic humiliation." Contestants apparently compared pretending to be gay to "their worst nightmare" and being "trapped in gay hell." They also were scared their mentors (called "mantors" in the show) would touch them inappropriately.

Ellen DeGeneres giving a speech

In response, Fox canceled the upcoming special, a decision GLAAD found commendable. Instead, they aired American Pie 2.

Screenshot from "American Pie 2"
Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.In 2016, NBC announced a new sitcom with an unusual premise — the show was Mail Order Family, and it would follow a recent widower who hires a Filipino mail order bride to help care for his kids. The announcement immediately led to controversy, with people calling out mail order brides as human trafficking and worrying about the depiction of Asian women on the show.

Jackie Clarke speaking

In response to the backlash, an NBCUniversal rep released a statement, saying, "We purchased the pitch with the understanding that it would tell the creator's real-life experience of being raised by a strong Filipina stepmother after the loss of her own mother. The writer and producers have taken the sensitivity to the initial concept to heart and have chosen not to move forward with the project at this time.”


8.This is a bit of an older example, but another canceled sitcom was 1979's Mr. Dugan, which would've featured a young, idealistic Black football player-turned-congressman. The series was scrapped after a number of Black congressmen saw a screener and heavily objected to the portrayal of a Black congressman as a "silly, incompetent man ruled by his staff." One said, "I feel that as Black representatives, we could not afford to come off looking like buffoons all over the United States."

Screenshot from "Mr. Dugan"

T.A.T. Communications, which had created the show, then canceled Mr. Dugan, at least in part because of this response. "Their opinions only confirmed our concerns about the show," they said. "We agreed with the viewers that the content and the character just didn't play. ... We're not in the business of offending the Black Community." Star Cleavon Little defended the show, saying that the show was "a chance to bring some serious issues to the screen through the vehicle of comedy" and that he would've brought more Black actors and writers onto the show. "I wouldn't have taken the part if I thought it would have had a negative impact," he claimed, saying the character could've been "the strongest Black comedy character on television."

Cleavon Little
John Kisch Archive / Getty Images

9.Competition show Our Little Genius' premise seemed simple enough: "Genius" kids would compete in a quiz show to prove their intelligence and win money for their family. The show, which was set to premiere in 2010 after an airing of American Idol, was pulled just six days before it was supposed to air — after a family came forward to claim their child had received what seemed like quiz answers in a session before taping.

A little boy in a suit

Executive producer Mark Burnett (also behind shows like Survivor and Shark Tank) initially said he'd reshoot the series after discovering "that there was an issue with how some information was relayed to contestants during the preproduction of Our Little Genius.” But the show was never reshot — in fact, it was the subject of an FCC investigation.

Closeup of Mark Burnett

10.Reality series Ev and Ocho was meant to follow football star Chad Johnson and his wife, Evelyn Lozada — and their sometimes rocky, heated relationship. But after Johnson was arrested for domestic battery, VH1 quickly canceled the show.

Chad Johnson and Evelyn Lozada

Their statement was, "Due to the unfortunate events over the weekend and the seriousness of the allegations, VH1 is pulling the series Ev and Ocho from its schedule and has no current plans of airing it."

Closeup of Chad Johnson
Broward County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

11.An additional show canceled due to its star was The Cops — after its star and producer Louis CK admitted to sexual misconduct, TBS suspended the animated show, which would've followed two LA cops. Two months later, they officially canceled the 10-episode series.

Screenshot from "The Cops"

12.HGTV's Flip It Forward, which was meant to follow twin former baseball players helping turn fixer-uppers into dream homes, was also canceled after cast controversy – in this case, the anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim views of the show's hosts, David and Jason Benham.

David and Jason Benham

The twin hosts later told CNN, "We love all people. I love homosexuals. I love Islam, Muslims, and my brother and I would never discriminate. Never have we — never would we." It was apparently "an agenda that's seeking to silence men or women of faith," not specific gay people, that concerned them.

The Benham brothers

13.A&E had planned a docuseries called Escaping the KKK that was canceled due to controversy only five days after it was announced. There had been a wave of backlash against the series, which would follow members of KKK families who were trying to leave the Klan, and those helping them leave. A&E Executive Vice President Rob Sharenow said, “That goal is to expose and combat racism and hatred in all its forms, and we appreciate the valuable feedback we have received.”

Screenshot from "Escaping the KKK"

Surprisingly, it was not the backlash that led to the series being canceled, but the revelation that producers of the show had paid KKK members for access, which goes against their documentaries policy. A&E said they had not been aware of this, even telling the Anti-Defamation League that money had been provided to hate groups; now that they were, they decided not to air the show.

Someone wearing a KKK mask

14.The Stan Lee-developed animated show The Governator was meant to follow a semi-fictionalized version of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his family — "Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting center under his house in Brentwood.”

Screenshot from "The Governator"

But in the wake of the revelation that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with an employee, the series was scrapped, with a rep telling TMZ, "In light of recent events, A Squared Entertainment, POW, Stan Lee Comics, and Archie Comics have chosen to not go forward with the Governator project." This came after an announcement from Schwarzenegger that he was putting his acting career on hold.

Closeup of Arnold Schwarzenegger
John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images

15.And finally, Man vs. Beast, a reality show featuring people competing against animals, actually did air in the US. However, the planned British version never aired. A network spokesperson said it was simply delayed, denying that it was canceled due to being "unfair to animals" (as detractors claimed), but the show never ended up airing.

Screenshot from "Man vs. Beast"

We don't know exactly what the UK version would've entailed, but for reference, the US version featured people with dwarfism competing against an elephant in tug of war. Yes, really.

Screenshot from "Man vs. Beast"

What's the wildest reality show you saw that actually aired? Let us know in the comments below!