It’s a word every creator, producer, and star of a TV show dreads — the “C” word, as in cancelled. More often than not, that stamp of disapproval from executives sitting in high-rise office buildings in New York or Los Angeles seals a series’ fate. In some cases, these shows go down with a fervent fight from loyal fans. But the majority of the TV shows sent to the graveyard are just plain clunkers that did not resonate with viewers.
Although mighty executives’ cancellation stamps are weighty weapons, there are times a TV series escapes influential decision-makers’ death grips. In microscopically small instances, there have been rare revivals of a show, usually to a different network or program service. At times, the resuscitated TV series has a long after-life; other times, it goes flat for a second, and final time. Below are 10 examples of notable series that beat the odds and gave audiences more after the “C” word first surfaced.
10. Punky Brewster (1984-1986, 1987-1988)
She was a pint-sized, lovable, and spunky girl who was known for her bold wardrobe and earth-shattering ability to melt the heart of her cantankerous guardian. Actress Soleil Moon Frye stepped into Punky Brewster’s mismatched high-topped tennis shoes and garnered an avid young audience when NBC first put the show on the air.
Unfortunately, the audience just was not large enough for NBC’s ratings standards, and after two seasons, the show was axed. But a widespread movement in the mid-1980s, known as first-run syndication, breathed new life into Punky Brewster for one more season. The format in the revival was similar to the original NBC run, though some of the storylines revealed a more mature tone.
In the end, the revival in syndication matched the NBC run, bringing Punky Brewster to the illustrious mantle of 88 episodes, spanning four seasons. The perfect combination meant the lovable character has lived on over the years through reruns on various broadcast, cable and online outlets.
9. Mama’s Family (1983-1984, 1986-1990)
The southern-fried humor displayed on Mama’s Family was fairly straightforward, but the history behind the series’ origins and various attempts at getting on the air is more storied. Actress Vicki Lawrence, who first gained fame on The Carol Burnett Show, stepped into the elderly Mama’s signature sagging support hose through a series of sketches known as, “The Family.”
Several years after Burnett’s hit variety show went off the air, producer Joe Hamilton (Burnett’s then-husband) shopped around the idea of a spin-off of “The Family” sketches. Hamilton sold the idea of bringing the stand-alone sitcom, by then known as Mama’s Family, to NBC chairman Grant Tinker over a game of golf in the early 1980s.
Mama and her brood — which, in the early episodes, featured occasional appearances by Burnett and established actresses Betty White and Rue McClanahan — only had a brief stay on NBC. The series was booted off the airwaves after a season-and-a-half of middling ratings. But Lawrence got back into her support hose after a two-year hiatus. Mama’s Family was more successful in syndication than it was in its original NBC run. The series ran through early 1990.
8. JAG (1995-1996, 1997-2005)
This Naval-themed series, headlined by actor David James Elliott, was pitched as a hybrid of the plots in Top Gun and A Few Good Men. With two blockbuster films as its inspiration, JAG seemed poised for success. But NBC, the network that ordered a pilot to series, dumped it in a sleepy timeslot, and the drama ranked No. 79 in the ratings at the end of its inaugural season.
With such low ratings, JAG and the ship the series rode in on seemed sunk. But CBS, seeing potential in the series, swept to the rescue and brought the series back midway through the 1996-1997 season. Ratings gradually rose, and over the years the drama found its way into the top 20 on a few occasions throughout its long-lived run.
JAG’s lineage also is traced to another exceptionally long-lived CBS drama, NCIS, as the latter was a spin-off of the mother ship (no pun intended).
7. Charles in Charge (1984-1985, 1987-1990)
Scott Baio’s first attempt at a starring role in a series (Joanie Loves Chachi) fell flat, but the Happy Days alum struck gold the second time around — albeit with a few twists and turns along the way — as he played a male housekeeper.
Charles in Charge aired for one season on CBS to low ratings. But the sitcom’s production company, Scholastic, shopped it around and struck a deal to air new episodes through first-run syndication after a year-and-a-half respite.
There were significant cast changes between the two versions of the sitcom. While Charles and his sidekick best friend, the aptly named Buddy (Willie Aames) appeared throughout the sitcom’s run, Charles cared for the Pembroke family during the CBS run, but a plot twist resulted in the titular character tending to the Powell brood throughout the rest of the series’ run in syndication.
6. Leave it to Beaver (1957-1958, 1958-1963)
Unlike most series receiving the “C” word, the well-worn, black-and-white sitcom Leave it to Beaver continued to run without so much as a hiccup when CBS announced it was axing the show after one season. ABC almost immediately swooped in and revived the defining period piece, known for wholesome moral lessons and Barbara Billingsley’s amazing ability to vacuum in high heels and pearls.
In a quirky case of déjà vu, a mid-1980s reboot of the sitcom had a very similar scenario. The Disney channel ran an update of the sitcom (with many of the same actors reprising their roles). Still the Beaver, however, met an early demise on the kiddie cable channel, and it was revived on a different cable outlet: Ted Turner’s then-Atlanta superstation, WTBS.
5. Community (2009-2014, 2015)
The fear of cancellation was an almost annual occurrence on Community, a critically acclaimed, low-rated cult-classic sitcom that centered around a group of adults from disparate backgrounds who attended the fictitious Greendale Community College. Throughout its five-year run on NBC, Community received plenty of buzz for the on-screen and off-screen antics that took place.
But after years of back-and-forth rumors about the show’s fate, NBC finally pulled the trigger at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season, handing creator Dan Harmon a pink slip.
After a few months of dormancy, executives at the Internet pioneering company Yahoo! announced they were bringing the series back for another season through the company’s Yahoo! Screen service, which at the time had just begun dabbling in original productions. The cost of acquiring the rights to stream new episodes of Community proved cost-prohibitive, however, and the series bowed out after one additional season online.
4. Baywatch (1989-1990, 1991-2001)
Once considered America’s most most exported entertainment program, Baywatch was known for plotlines that were nearly as skimpy as the bathing suits the beach babes wore throughout the series’ decade-plus run. NBC introduced the David Hasselhoff-headlined series, but threw it back into the ocean after one season.
Through the wonders of first-run syndication, the producers of Baywatch struck a deal to revive the series after a one-year hiatus, selling new episodes to TV stations across the U.S. As time went on, the show became a cash cow because the rights were sold to TV networks on other countries spanning the globe.
3. Cagney and Lacey (1982, 1982-1983, 1983-1988)
Of all the series receiving second chances, the police procedural Cagney and Lacey is notable for a number of reasons, chief among them being the fact it was not cancelled once, but twice by the same network. Early in its run, the drama, about two female detectives, suffered a number of cast changes. In the pilot episode, actress Loretta Swit played Det. Christine Cagney, but when the drama was ordered to series, actress Meg Foster stepped into the role. Actress Tyne Daly played detective Mary Beth Lacey throughout the run.
After a low-rated tryout season of six episodes, CBS cancelled the series at the close of the 1981-1982 season. Vocal outcries about what was believed to be a trailblazing series, however, prompted CBS executives to reverse their decision, so long as Foster was replaced with actress Sharon Gless.
Cagney and Lacey soldiered on for its second season, but executives remained weary of the anemic ratings. The drama was canceled again at the close of the 1982-1983 season, but advocates for quality television mounted a stunning campaign. The publicity, coupled with notably high ratings during summer reruns, prompted executives to again change their mind. From there, the show enjoyed a long, healthy and far more stable run.
2. Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-Present)
Premiering in a coveted spot (immediately after the Super Bowl), the odds initially looked good for Family Guy, the Fox network’s first major foray into launching an animated primetime series since The Simpsons hit the airwaves a decade earlier. But after four seasons of basement-dwelling ratings, network executives pulled the plug on the antics of the Griffin family.
After several years of dormancy, two eyebrow raising factors impressed Fox executives and prompted a revival in 2005. For one, the Cartoon Network had been airing reruns of the series on its Adult Swim block of programming, and it received high ratings. Another factor that led to the about-faced decision were the voluminous profits from DVD sales, suggesting strong interest in the series. Since its revival, Family Guy has been a venerable staple on Fox’s Sunday night lineup.
1. Arrested Development (2003-2006, 2013-Present)
Praised by critics and viewers for razor-sharp, satirical dialogue, Arrested Development garnered heavy publicity for its portrayal of the wealthy, deeply dysfunctional Bluth family. Unfortunately, all the media buzz surrounding the show did not translate into ratings magic. After three low-rated seasons, Fox gave the comedy the ax.
Any attempt at a revival appeared dead when creator Mitch Hurwitz indicated the show would not be transitioning to Showtime. Years later, however, Arrested Development did come back to life. In 2013, officials at streaming video service Netflix began dipping their toes into the pool of original programming. They commissioned a fourth season of the show that essentially picked up seven years after the show went off the air, and another season is currently in the works.
Dave Fidlin is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer who has long been infatuated with the television industry. Follow him on Twitter.