They're the not-good-enough-for-the-fall winter series - better known as the mid-season replacements. Though TV shows tend to debut at almost any time of year these days, a stigma still exists for the winter debut network shows. If they're so good, wouldn't they already be on the air by January?
The answer is more complicated than that. Shows air at mid-season for reasons beyond quality. Maybe they were retooled and weren't ready for the fall. Maybe they just didn't fit in a time slot appropriate for their potential audience. Maybe the network wanted to make a bigger splash in January. It's hard to say.
The truth is, for every handful of forgettable mid-season shows (remember last year's Rake? Mixology?) there's a good or even great one. In some cases, these perceived afterthoughts to TV scheduling proved to be hits that stuck around for a decade. In the end, nobody remembers that they debuted at a somewhat inglorious moment; just that they are great series. These are fifteen of the very best TV underdogs.
15 The Office (2005)
Few expected this remake of the acclaimed BBC series to fly in America. The track record for Americanized versions of British sitcoms was just not good, and it didn't help that the pilot episode was an almost word-for-word remake of the Brit show.
14 Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997)
13 Married With Children (1987)
This lowbrow Fox family comedy practically kept the fledgling network alive in its early years. Debuting April, 1987, the show ranked only #142 among prime time shows in its first season. Which isn't good – but good enough for Fox during the 1980s.
12 Grey’s Anatomy (2005)
The medical drama snuck onto prime time in March of 2005 with little fanfare. Most critics viewed it as nothing more than an ER wannabee. Viewers disagreed. They were immediately attracted by the show’s interesting young characters and eccentric plot twists. It was like ER, yes, but hipper. And younger. By the end of its first three month season, the show was ranked in the prime time Top Ten.
11 All In The Family (1971)
Norman Lear’s classic family sitcom took three pilot episodes, three casts and three years before it finally made it to air in January of 1971. It was worth the wait. The show became a controversial TV sensation almost immediately for the raw, often shocking language of the bigoted blue collar Archie Bunker.
10 Malcolm In The Middle (2000)
This TV comedy was unique in many ways. It was shot on location like a drama, using one camera, and featured no audience or laugh track. It was also quite subversive, offering up a dysfunctional family like no other.
9 The 100 (2014)
An apocalyptic teen drama from the CW, The 100 follows a group of delinquent teenagers several generations after humanity fled the earth following a nuclear war and set up camp in a large space station. With the facility failing, the teens are sent back to earth and an uncertain future.
8 The Simpsons (1989)
7 Dallas (1978)
Few remember that this legendary primetime soap debuted in April of 1978 as a miniseries. The splashy, trashy tale of the Ewing clan proved to be a mild hit with audiences (it ranked #44 in the AC Nielsen ratings for that season), convincing CBS to turn it into an actual TV series.
6 Bob’s Burgers (2011)
Hopes weren't high for this animated Fox family show initially. Debuting in January, with a special sneak peek air in November, the show about a family burger business received largely negative reviews.
5 Twin Peaks (1990)
The David Lynch/Mark Frost mystery drama was the sensation of the spring season. 'Who Killed Laura Palmer?' became the big question around every water cooler. The two hour April pilot episode was the highest-rated TV movie of that season, attracting a third of the TV viewers. Critics loved the show. ABC renewed it for a second season. But audiences began to drop off almost immediately due to competition from NBC’s Cheers.
4 Castle (2009)
3 Chicago P.D. (2014)
A recent mid-season success, the cop show had the benefit of being a spinoff from a popular hit (Chicago Fire). It also had creator Dick Wolf, whose Law & Order shows have dominated the last two decades of primetime TV.
2 Happy Days (1974)
This January, 1974 mid-season replacement wasn't an immediate success. In its initial 16 episode run, it was a gentle, nostalgic family show shot on location. But by Season Two, it had fallen out of the Top 30 and was in danger of being cancelled. So the show was changed - some say 'dumbed down'.
1 Empire (2015)
Will Fox's new hip hop drama be a mid-season hit? It's too early to tell, but ratings have been encouraging for the Wednesday night show. According to Entertainment Weekly, the show did something rare following its pilot episode - its ratings rose. Most new shows typically see huge ratings out of the gate then drop off as the weeks go by before settling at a fixed level. Not Empire. It improved its ratings 5-per-cent in its second episode and easily won the night. Time will tell whether it can sustain the encouraging numbers, but critical response has also been enthusiastic.
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