One of the great underappreciated shows of the modern era was NBC's Freaks And Geeks, a dramatic comedy chronicling the lives of a group of Michigan high school students during the 1980–81 school year. Although it has since been recognized on lists such as Time magazine's 100 Greatest Shows of All Time, the series premiered during the 1999–2000 season and was canceled after only twelve of eighteen episodes had aired.
Looking back at the cast and creative team—including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Busy Phillips, Linda Cardellini, and producers Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, just to name a few—it's hard to believe that the Peacock let this gem slip through their fingers. For those who missed its original run and haven't managed to revisit it on DVD, the entire series began streaming on Netflix on Friday. To mark the occasion, Apatow and Feig answered some questions from Entertainment Weekly, and here are some excerpts.
EW: I was one of the few who actually watched every episode when they aired in that original NBC run — at least the ones that NBC bothered to air. What was the problem in terms of getting more viewers? Was it the fact that the network kept moving it around on the schedule? Was it because some episodes ran out of order? Or was it just too unconventional for broadcast television?
JUDD APATOW: I was talking to someone from NBC recently who was involved in its cancellation, and he said that they realized that we were never going to adjust the show to make it more about victories and easy problems easily solved. We shot the finale several episodes before the end, so when they saw the episode where Lindsay gets in a van to go follow the Grateful Dead, they realized that they were not going to have any effect on us creatively, and so they decided to cancel us. It was scheduled very badly. We were on Saturday nights, when not a lot of kids are watching that type of show, and then when they moved us they moved us to a slot up against Who Wants to be a Millionaire at the height of the craze. So we never really got a shot to find our audience. Who knows if it ever would have happened. We were off the air 13 out of 26 weeks. So there wasn’t a lot of continuity.
PAUL FEIG: It felt like at that time in television, people weren’t looking for that tone, sadly. The irony is that we had like 7 million loyal viewers, which today would be a middling hit, but it was just game show mania, so people were not in the mood to watch that kind of thing. We got cancelled for a game show. We got replaced by Twenty One.
EW: I remember when you were trying to get the DVD of the series out, but you said you wouldn’t do it unless you could clear all the music. How important a role did music play in this show? I keep thinking of the “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” episode with Bill Haverchuck finding solace through the power of grilled cheese and TV while the Who’s “I’m One” plays.
FEIG: We would write episodes to specific songs. So the music really was a character in it. And then Judd did “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers,” Judd took it to the next level of personalizing it to specific bands.
APATOW: When the show started, nobody used rock music as their score. It’s something we noticed when we started doing the show. Oh, nobody has ever put modern songs as the music. We were coming after the era of Dallas and Mannix — nobody was putting a Grateful Dead song as their score like Hal Ashby would in a movie. And as soon as we realized that, we freaked out and thought, Oh my God, this is wide open! Every great classic rock song has never been burnt out on 10 other shows. So every week we’d be like, Oh my God, the Who said we could use their music! Oh my God, we’re allowed to use any Van Halen song we want!
EW: So the Arrested Development group is getting back together to produce some new episodes and a movie. Any thought of reuniting the Freaks and the Geeks for a movie update, or is that too difficult considering the era the show took place in and how different it would have to be now?
FEIG: I find it scary. I mean it could be great, but if it’s anything less than great, then it just waters down the memory of the rest of the show. For some reason that becomes the last thing you’ve done, and I always feel like if you don’t get it right it erases the memory of what came before it. But I don’t know. If we came up with a great idea, who knows?
APATOW: I love the question mark at the end of the series, so I never want to know more than that. It is the reason why you don’t want to find out what happened, like when they got off the bus in The Graduate.
FEIG: That’s so true.
APATOW: That’s the main reason why it doesn’t feel interesting to do. But whenever we see any of the actors together, they have just such ridiculous chemistry that you could tell you could put them in any situation and they would be really interesting to watch, and sparks would fly. So there’s a chance I’m just completely wrong.
You can read the whole interview, including their favorite episodes and what they would have done differently, at EW.com.
I think Judd is completely wrong and as a fan of the series during its original run on NBC, I would love to see a reunion special and find out what these characters have done with their lives. With the star power that the cast and creators now wield, it could even work as a feature film and shine a spotlight on the show. How would you feel about revisiting the Freaks And Geeks universe?