A few years ago, Judd Apatow created what I consider to be the best television show in the last decade: Freaks and Geeks (episode guide). It told the real story of high school, for those of us that weren’t Dawson’s Creek-type kids. There were no laugh tracks, but it was funny. The music wasn’t overly dramatic, but there was drama. Turns out, a show focused around nerds, dorks, freaks, and—yes—geeks, was by far more “real” than the carefully orchestrated reality that came from the worthless “reality show” trend. They didn’t need to do “issue” shows to make a point. “[W]hen we did Freaks And Geeks, there was drug use, and a lot of pot being smoked, but we certainly took a position that it was screwing up all of these kids’ lives, without saying it explicitly in a way that would make you feel like you were watching a very special Diff’rent Strokes,” Apatow said in an interview with The Onion last year.

Bill Haverchuck

The actors and actresses were cast perfectly in their roles, especially Martin Starr, who played the role of quintessential geek Bill Haverchuck. In one episode, Haverchuck decided to get back at his gym teacher, who constantly picks on him during class. He decides to crank call Coach Fredricks, barely disgusing his voice: “Fredricks, you’re a turd… a stinky f-fat turd, go sniff a jock strap, you poop head. You love patting boys butts… butt… you butt patter. You’re a perv and a loser and a stinky t-turd!” With Freaks and Geeks, Apatow managed to create a world so much like the high school we all remember, it was nearly impossible not to latch onto a character and empathize.

Freaks and Geeks, unfortunately, was doomed from the start by the programming wizards at NBC. It originally aired on Saturday night prime time, otherwise known as “instant death,” no matter how good the show. After only five episodes, NBC pulled the show for nearly two months before bringing it back, this time on Monday nights. While the time slot was a bit better, and the show’s ratings improved slightly, NBC pulled it after five more episodes, waiting another month before bringing it back again. At this point, the show was simply doomed—viewers weren’t sure when and if it was going to be on. Two more episodes aired in March, then Freaks and Geeks disappeared from TV until its three-episode series finale nearly four months later. Three completed episodes went unaired.

In a move that pleased fans, FOX Family picked up the show and aired reruns after the show’s demise, including the three episodes that NBC never bothered showing. While the shows were censored a bit (for simple words like “ass”), they aired each episode a number of times, giving people ample opportunity to see the full series in all its glory. It also gave me a chance to put every episode on video, to hold me over until someone with some sense declares it time to put the series’ sole season on DVD.

The Undeclared crew

In 2001, FOX announced a new Apatow series, Undeclared (episode guide), which featured a number of Freaks and Geeks alumni in regular roles and others in guest spots or recurring roles. Critics loved it, fans loved it, but yet again, it seems the network had it in for Undeclared from the start. With almost no promotion after the original show aired, the series did respectibly in the ratings and ran almost uninterrupted for 16 episodes (the show’s contract was cut from 22 episodes to 17 episodes by FOX). Then, in March, FOX aired mid-season replacement Andy Richter Controls the Universe in the Undelcared time slot. Once again, it seems that Judd Apatow was screwed, despite having one of the best new shows of the fall lineup. FOX didn’t renew Undeclared for Fall 2002 (but they decided to keep the Godawful Grounded for Life) and never bothered to air the final episode, titled “God Visits.”

Undeclared fans should visit the official “Behind the Scenes” site of the finale episode before it’s removed. The site has deleted scenes, photos, and behind the scenes video.

Television has a history of airing crappy shows for too many years (Will & Grace anyone? Surivivor? Freaking Becker?) and crushing creative, entertaining, mold-breaking shows. Why this is, I’m not quite sure. These shows always have loyal followers that petition, rarely successfully, to keep their favorite show on the air. Maybe it’s like Apatow himself says, “If people wanted to watch Nova more than The Chair, we’d have Nova five times a week. Unfortunately at this time in our great nation’s history the citizens of our land will gladly watch people eating a pig’s anus on Fear Factor.”

According to Zap2It, FOX hasn’t given up on Apatow (or is it that he hasn’t given up on them?). This fall, there are talks for a new Apatow creation titled “Life on Parole” about a parole officer whose best friend is one of his parolees. Let’s cross our fingers for Judd. Every success he has is another vote for television that doesn’t suck.