Television is a tough field, with 65-percent of first season network shows getting cut before they can find their footing. Ten years ago there weren’t as many options for TV shows as there are today. Original programming could air on a basic cable network (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, UPN, The WB) or a paid service like HBO. But with the advent of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, there are more avenues for TV shows to thrive and find a happy afterlife. Competition and lack of marketing are two reasons as to why many shows get canceled. In some cases, one network will cancel a show but another network will buy the rights and renew it. The shows on this list prove how, when your favorite show is canceled, it’s not really the end, anymore.
Nothing can keep a good hero down—especially cancellation. When the series debuted in the fall of 2006, it actually had pretty strong ratings, but with each passing season, it lost momentum and was finally laid to rest in February of 2010. With the continued success of anything superhero or comic book related, NBC reevaluated Heroes and decided to create a 13-episode miniseries called Heroes: Reborn, which will air next year.
9. The Comeback
In 2005, The Real Housewives and a lot of other reality TV mainstays didn’t exist, so a lot of people didn’t quite understand the brilliance of the meta HBO show. A post-Friends, Lisa Kudrow starred as a cringe-worthy has-been actress named Valerie Cherish, who was filmed by a reality show TV crew. Nothing went right for her, which was the appeal of the mock reality show. Only 13 episodes aired from June 5-September 4, 2005, before HBO canceled the cult series. Living up to the show’s title, The Comeback is returning this fall, with six new episodes of Kudrow reprising her Emmy-nominated role.
The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening developed a sci-fi animated show for Fox in March of 1999. The series was never officially canceled, but Fox stopped producing episodes in August of 2003 and pulled it from their fall schedule. Part of the problem was Fox aired Futurama erratically and didn’t always air it after ratings winner, Simpsons. All was not lost, though, when Comedy Central came to an agreement with Fox to air 2008’s straight-to-DVD Futurama films, as 16 new half hour episodes; in 2009, Comedy Central picked up 26 episodes of the show. But like all good things, Futurama met its end in September of 2013 when Comedy Central pulled the plug.
Joss Whedon’s western-in-space epic lasted for 14 episodes. Set in 2517, the crew of spaceship Serenity mixed humor and action in what became a cult series. In September of 2002, it premiered on Fox and was immediately greeted with low ratings. After airing 11 episodes, Fox canceled the show three months later, leaving three un-aired episodes in the vault. In 2003, the SyFy Channel aired the previously unreleased episodes to conclude the series. The show’s DVD release helped it obtain a stronger fan-base, which led Whedon to write and direct the film Serenity (all nine of the main cast members starred). Unfortunately, the film wasn’t a box office success, and the fate of Firefly ever returning remains as mysterious as space itself.
6. The Killing
Cue the pun: The Killing just couldn’t be killed. After a semi-successful first season in 2011, the AMC crime procedural experienced a ratings plunge in its second season (2012) and was canceled soon after. But a couple of months after the cancellation, Fox Studios made a deal with AMC and Netflix, to do a third season where the show would air on AMC and then be stream-able on Netflix, a few months after the conclusion of the season. When last summer’s season three ended, once again the show was, um, killed. But like a phoenix, it came back—but this time exclusively on Netflix. The fourth and final season—six episodes worth—will debut on Netflix August 1st.
Kiefer Sutherland played Jack Bauer, a counter terrorist agent, in the action-packed series that ran for eight season between 2001 and 2010. Each episode dealt with one-hour in a 24-hour story arc (24 episodes total). When an idea to do a 24 feature film failed, Fox decided to bring back the show. Four years later, the show’s back on TV (now called 24: Live Another Day) with Sutherland and a few other original cast members. This time, the season only contains 12 episodes instead of 24, which means, even more action piled into each episode.
4. Family Guy
The scathing, comedic pop culture animated sitcom started airing in January 1999 on Fox, but got canceled in November 2003 after three seasons. Stiff competition in its time slot and the fact that the show was moved around a lot, led to an early demise. Factoring in brisk DVD sales and seeing ratings rise in syndicated reruns propelled Fox to renew Family Guy in 2004, for a fourth season. Since it came back on air in 2005, the show’s been a smashing success and just finished a twelfth season.
3. Veronica Mars
From 2004-2007, the snarky teen detective show that made Kristen Bell a star only lasted three seasons on fledgling network UPN. The show was a critical success but not a ratings one. Show creator, Rob Thomas struggled for years to make a movie version of the show, but Warner Brothers repeatedly passed, saying there wasn’t enough fan interest. There was hope last year when Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a self-produced film, and surprisingly, ardent fans ponied up more than enough money (over $5 million dollars) to fund the film. In March, the film was released in theaters and fans finally found out what happened to Veronica and rest of the Neptune, Calif., crew.
2. Cagney and Lacey
The female detective show experienced a couple of lives before it became a ratings hit. The first season aired in 1988, with actress Meg Foster playing the Cagney role. After its six-episode initial run, CBS canceled it and replaced Foster with Sharon Gless. Soon after it bit the dust, the network had a change of heart and un-canceled it. Even with the new cast member, the series ratings didn’t improve and it was canceled again in 1983. A combination of a fan-led letter writing campaign and a surge in summer rerun ratings, coerced the network to renew the show for another season. Cagney and Lacey returned to the airwaves in 1984 and finished in the top 10 for the season. After that, the show was a smashing success and went on to win 14 Emmy awards, until it was canceled a third and final time in 1988.
1. Arrested Development
The Ron Howard-narrated show followed the zany adventures of the Bluth family for three seasons on the Fox network. Even though the show received Emmy nominations and averaged a whooping 6.2 million viewers—a low amount for 2003 but today it’s considered a ratings success—the show was axed in 2006. With the sea change of television, streaming network Netflix stepped in and licensed and distributed 15 new, hilarious episodes last year, making all the episodes available at once. The structure worked well for AD, as it didn’t require every cast member to be available for each episode and it allowed for intersecting plot-lines. The Netflix resurrection was so successful, there’s talks of a possible fifth season.
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