By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
After four weeks off the air, Freaks and Geekswas set for its third and final "re-launch" on March 13. Apatow tried unsuccessfully to shake loose some more promo time from the network, which was more concerned with pushing midseason replacements Daddio, Battery Park and God, the Devil and Bob (the last two of which have also since been canceled). On the Friday before, Variety reported that NBC had renewed Third Watch, The West Wingand Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, each of which averaged an audience about twice the size of Freaks and Geeks'. (The network's other new hourlong show, Cold Feet, had already been axed.) Paul sent critics tapes of the finale, "Discos and Dragons" -- not scheduled to air until the end of April -- because, as he prophetically wrote, "If you don't tell people we exist, no one will see it but you."
That Saturday, the Museum of Television and Radio, as part of its annual William S. Paley Television Festival, devoted an evening to the show. Except for James Franco, who was out promoting a movie, all of the main cast were onstage at the Directors Guild, along with Judd, Paul and Jake; several supporting players were in the audience as well. They screened "I'm With the Band," which Judd had directed and in which Paul had a cameo, and the makers met their audience, who showered them with love and support and wanted to know what NBC's problem was. "Judd and Paul had said from the beginning, half-jokingly, that it was all for the museum," says Jason Segel. "Once we got there it seemed like that would have been fine with me, too. It was filled with fans, and just being with the whole group of people while we watched the episode, it felt like a real family."
The family feeling continued through the next night's wrap party -- "a big happy sad convention of everyone who had ever worked on the show," as Martin Starr recalled it. The American Legion Hall on Highland Avenue was decorated as if for a 1980s prom, with a professional prom photographer shooting couples against a sky-blue backdrop, and a surprise cap-and-gown graduation ceremony for Levine, Starr and Rogen, all of whom were finishing real-world high school. There were yearbooks to sign, and karaoke. Judd sang his standard "Spinning Wheel," and Paul did "Viva Las Vegas," and they slow-danced together while Busy Philipps and Linda Cardellini, the latter in a blond wig and her mother's ä own prom dress, sang "Wind Beneath My Wings."
A week later, Paul's mother died suddenly.
And the night after that, after a week in which the show received a total of one minute and 20 seconds of promotion, NBC ran Freaks and Geeks for the last time, the episode "Chokin' and Tokin'," in which Bill Haverchuck's peanut allergy puts him in a coma and Lindsay gets paranoid on pot. Some of the cast came by the office to watch the show. "It got to that montage of her rolling a joint," recalls Jake Kasdan, who was there working late cutting the last episode, "and I had this grim flash that this is not going to last, I could just see people all over the country going, 'Huh?' And the scene where Sam and Neal are sitting in the hospital hallway having the conversation about what if Bill died, would he be a ghost and hang out with us, and it ends with Sam saying, 'He'd just be dead and gone, wouldn't he?' Great moment, total Feig -- just this simple presentation of the strongest ideas in the world, in plain English exactly the way kids encounter those ideas. As we were watching the show that night, I just had this feeling, like, this show is too good and weird to be on the air."
Notwithstanding a slight improvement in the numbers, Freaks and Geeks was history by noon the next day. Judd got the news from Shelley McCrory, NBC's head of comedy development, then called Paul at his father's accountant's office, where he was settling his mother's affairs.
Then Garth Ancier called, Judd remembers, "and I'm screaming and half crying and saying every single thing I ever wanted to say to him in one phone call. And he's a hard person to talk to, because he's one of those people who does not confront you, so you could say anything and he'll just go [sympathetically] 'Yeah, I know, yeah.' So it's no fun even to let it all go. He sounds like he's made that call a thousand times, he may have made that call three times that day. For all I know he's on a speakerphone and there's someone else in the room and they're giggling -- I know it doesn't bother him. So it's just a terrible moment, because you also know that he's a guy that in his own way supported the show, and there's a much larger political process that has to do with affiliates, and GE, and you don't know if he has anything to do with it. I doubt he woke up one morning going, 'We must get rid of Freaks and Geeks.' But he's the guy you have to talk to. And then you feel terrible the next day that you lost your mind on the phone. But then you do it again to [West Coast NBC president] Scott Sassa the next day, 'cause you can't stop yourself."