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Back from the Dead: TV Shows That Survived Cancellation

May 8th, 2008 8:22am EDT
JerichoShows are canceled all the time. This time the victim was "Men In Trees," a show that jumped timeslots, disappeared for months at a time, and was finally put out of its misery by ABC. It wasn't exactly a surprise the network canceled it. Who knew it was still on? (Fans can catch the final few episodes when it airs again beginning May 28.)

But what doesn't happen all the time is second chances. Once a television show is canceled (a.k.a. axed, yanked, cut, punted, escorted off the premises, etc.) by its network, it ceases to exist. Normally, that is the case...but not always. After all, that old cliché "Rules are meant to be broken" has to apply somewhere, right?

Yes, every so often a show makes its way back from that great television network in the sky and returns to a prime time schedule. Often, this resurrection is spearheaded by rabid fans, fans that refuse to let the natural order of things progress. Other times, the series is saved in a much quieter way, such as when one network cancels a show that a rival network then picks up.

Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that such a phenomenon does not occur very often. As the dates when the rest of the 2007-08 cancellations will be made known approach, let's look back at a few of the more notable series to make the daring return from the afterlife - and how they fared post post-mortem.

Cagney & Lacey (1982-1988)

The show: A police drama revolving around two mismatched female NYPD detectives (played by Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly). The series was revolutionary in the early 80s as it was the first television drama starring two women.

Cancellation and Resurrection: "Cagney & Lacey," like many great shows before and after, struggled to find an audience early on. It was eventually canceled by CBS due to low ratings at the end of its first full season (and second overall). The show's cult audience rallied together and staged a massive letter writing campaign, which quickly convinced CBS to rescind the cancellation and bring the series back to primetime.

The Return: "Cagney & Lacey's" return proved to be profitable for both the show and the network. The audience grew considerably after the brief cancellation (making CBS execs feel all warm and fuzzy inside), and "Cagney & Lacey" quickly entered the Nielsen top 10. It also won 14 Emmy awards (including two for best drama) and ran for five more seasons. Guess CBS made the right decision, eh?


Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-present)

The show: Crude, satirical irreverent and hilarious animated series focusing on the Griffin family and their wacky friends and neighbors.

Cancellation and Resurrection: Everyone seems to know the miraculous story of "Family Guy." Its original run lasted for 50 episodes over three seasons. The series, which always had a small cult audience, was never able to cultivate a mainstream viewership due to Fox's trademark scheduling ADHD. After several brushes with death, it was quietly canceled in 2002.

Several years went by and "Family Guy" was all but a memory. Then two things happened. Cartoon Network added the show's 50 episodes to its "Adult Swim" lineup, and the first three seasons were released on DVD. The ratings were high for the Cartoon Network repeats, but that was nothing compared to the mind-bogglingly astronomical DVD sales. Fox reevaluated its prior (poor) decision and eventually brought the series back in 2005, three years after it was left for dead.

The Return: "Family Guy's" return engagement proved to be fruitful and Fox, learning from prior mistakes, kept the series entrenched on Sunday nights. "Family Guy's" success also led to a second animated series for creator Seth MacFarlane ("American Dad"). Additionally, a new animated spinoff of "Family Guy," starring Peter's friend Cleveland will likely be included on Fox's 2008-09 schedule. Oh, and the original series is still going strong too. Once again, good decision.


Jericho (2006-2008)

The show: A post-apocalyptic drama series that follows the members of a small Midwestern town as they try and adapt to life in an America that has been devastated by massive nuclear attacks. Gripping and entertaining despite the fact that it starred Skeet Ulrich.

Cancellation and Resurrection: "Jericho" began the 2006-07 season as a consistent and solid performer for CBS. However, the serialized "Jericho" was never able to recover from a midseason hiatus, and ratings tumbled once it returned in the spring of 2007. Cancellation followed shortly thereafter.

The axing of "Jericho" was met with an uproar by devoted fans, who quickly organized in such a manner that had rarely (if ever) been seen before. The mobilized "Jericho" fans started a multi-pronged assault on CBS, which included telephone, email and letter writing components as well as the now famous "Nuts Offensive." Fans, inspired by a line from the show's first season finale, began bombarding CBS executives with (literally) tons of peanuts. Apparently one of the CBS decision makers has a serious allergy, because the network quickly caved and brought back the series for an abbreviated second season. And no peanut related deaths were reported, so it appears that the allergic exec made it as well, so breathe a sigh of relief.

The Return: "Jericho" came back with a seven episode second season, which debuted midseason 2008. Although massively hyped by CBS, the premiere received dismal ratings - and it was all downhill from there. CBS handed out a second (and likely final) cancellation just days before the second season finale aired. At least the second time, fans got a conclusion (of sorts).


JAG (1995-2005)

The Show: An episodic lawyer series (in a military setting!), "JAG," which stands for Judge Advocate General, was also notable for having one of the oldest average audiences of any primetime series in recent memory. Actually, "JAG" was one of the major reasons why CBS was sarcastically referred to as the "old people's network" in the 90s and early 2000s, a reputation that it has been desperately been trying to shed in recent years.

Cancellation and Resurrection: "JAG" debuted on NBC in 1995 and put a lot of people to sleep. Well, it actually did that throughout its entire run, but that's another story. The bottom line was that the ratings were terrible, and NBC decided to cut it loose. CBS, which at the time was not nearly as dominant as it is today, swooped in and grabbed "JAG" from the scrap heap.

The Return: The move by CBS paid off; the series went on to enjoy a highly successful nine year run on The Eye. It also spawned the equally tedious (yet ultimately successful) spinoff "NCIS," which still thrives today. Not too shabby, even if no one actually knows someone that has ever watched either show.


Roswell (1999-2002)

The Show: Supernatural high school show about three aliens (Jason Behr, Katherine Heigl, and Brendan Fehr) and their human friends attending school in Roswell, New Mexico. "Roswell" owes a good deal of its existence to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which paved the way for the teen soap meets supernatural drama boom of the last decade.

Cancellation and Resurrection: "Roswell" aired on the WB, but even by the former netlet's standards, the ratings were quite poor. Like "Homeboys in Outer Space" poor. The story was similar to that of many other niche shows past and present - the core audience was passionately dedicated but far too small. The WB was somewhat patient with the series, but by the end of season two had seen enough and shut it down.

Fans responded by sending the WB bottles of Tabasco sauce (the aliens loved the stuff) in a precursor to "Jericho's" Nuts Offensive. The show was revived, although in the end it wasn't the passion of the fans that won the series new life. It was business. UPN was trying to acquire "Buffy" at the time, and 20th Century Fox (the studio, not the network) that produced both shows was able to package "Roswell" together with the coveted "Buffy" prize.

The Return: Unfortunately, the new network did little to increase the size of "Roswell's" audience. It failed to hold on to a large percentage of its "Buffy" lead-in and was canceled after just one year on UPN. Those UPN execs must have been thrilled with that.


Honorable Mentions

Futurama - Like "Family Guy," "Futurama" suffered from poor handling courtesy of the Fox network. Its timeslot was dreadful, and the series was regularly preempted for football coverage and other special (and not so special) events. After death, it enjoyed success in syndication on Cartoon Network and on DVD (though not as much success as "Family Guy"). The series has since been revived in the format of four direct to DVD films, which will eventually be split up into a sixteen episode "season" to be aired on Comedy Central. So it technically came back. Technically.

Firefly - Another example of Fox mismanaging and ultimately sabotaging a promising series. Although Joss Whedon's third (and least successful) series never returned to television after its hasty cancellation, it did get a rebirth of sorts - on the silver screen. The series' passionate fan base drove DVD sales way up, enough so that studio executives became keen on the idea of doing a feature. The film, which included the entire regular cast and picked up where the series left off, was lauded by critics and fans…unfortunately, not enough of them paid to go see it.

What is your favorite series that returned from cancellation? What recently canceled shows would you like to see come back? Leave a comment!


Story by Derek Krebs
Starpulse contributing writer


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