Fred Gwynne: Sometimes dead is bettah. – Pet Semetary (1989)
A television show coming back from the dead to produce new content is almost as old as TV itself. The reasons the show comes back vary. You have your standard fan campaigns (e.g., Cagney & Lacey, Jericho). There’s also strong ratings in re-runs, impressive DVD sales, and attractive deals from the studio producing the show. However, don’t shows that come back always kind of suck, proving unable to regain their original mojo? In pondering this question, I have looked into the history of the un-canceled television show and found that shows typically come back in one of three forms:
- Un-canceled within less than one year by either its’ original or a new network and brought back as basically the same show with mostly the same cast
- Revived, often using the same exact show title, multiple years after cancellation as a new show which continues the story of the original but usually with changes to the cast
- Reunited via a feature-length film, aired on TV or released via home video (e.g., DVD) or in theaters.
This article is about shows which were canceled and un-canceled. For our follow-up article about TV show revivals, look here.
The following is a selected sampling of 30 shows which were officially canceled and then un-canceled. They are listed in reverse chronological order (most recent to oldest) and grouped by level of success. Only scripted shows, live-action or animation, were considered for this list.
SMASHIN’ SUCCESS STORIES
Southland (Un-Canceled in 2010)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 7 episodes on NBC (2009-2010)
- Post-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 31 episodes on TNT (2010-present)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 38 episodes (2009-present)
Since being saved and relaunched by TNT where the ratings threshold for what constitutes a hit is far lower, Southland has been an anchor of the new TNT Drama identity. And yet I don’t know anyone who watches it. Then again, maybe I just don’t know enough people.
Family Guy (Un-Canceled in 2005)
- Pre-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 50 episodes on Fox (1999-2002)
- Post-Cancellation: 8 seasons, 153 episodes on Fox (2005-present)
- Total Run: 11 seasons, 211 episodes (’99-’02, ’05-present)
Thanks to strong DVD sales and stellar ratings for re-runs on Adult Swim Fox brought back Family Guy and the world now has Seth MacFarlane to not quite know what to do with. I would argue that the quality of the show improved upon its return only to eventually hit a creative wall, something which the show itself references to comedic effect. The show now occupies a similar space as the Simpsons, meaning it has the feel of permanence even though at some point it will go off the air again.
Stargate SG-1 (Un-Canceled in 2002)
- Pre-Cancellation: 5 seasons, 110 episodes on Showtime (1997-2002)
- Post-Cancellation: 5 seasons, 104 episodes on Sci-Fi (2002-2007)
- Total Run: 10 seasons, 214 episodes (1997-2007)
Having diluted the value of its brand due to heavy syndication of re-runs, Stargate SG-1 was cut loose by Showtime after 5 seasons which is exactly how long it lasted on Sci-Fi afterward. It entered into TV franchise territory by spawning two spin-offs and two direct-to-video feature-length films in lieu of producing any more new episodes. The show, like many others, may have in fact outlived its creative limit, but its financial success post-cancellation is too large to deny.
For Your Love (Un-Canceled in 1998)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 6 episodes on NBC (1998)
- Post-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 81 episodes on WB (1998-2002)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 87 episodes (1998-2002)
Would you rather have 6 episodes on NBC at the height of its ratings dominance meaning untold millions of potential viewers or 81 episodes on a soon-to-be-defunct network where expectations are lower? Well, For Your Love got to experience both, and although never a show which really entered into the wider pop culture conversation it survived longer than most shows can ever hope for with almost the entirety of its output coming after having been canceled.
JAG (Un-Canceled in 1997)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 22 episodes on NBC (1995-1996)
- Post-Cancellation: 9 seasons, 205 episodes on CBS (1997-2005)
- Total Run: 10 seasons, 227 episodes (1995-2005)
Oh, NBC. You foolish, foolish fools. Yes, it was 1996. Must See TV was still a real thing. So, no big deal to cancel a low-rated military procedural about lawyers, right? Oops. Jag turned into a solid hit for CBS after premiering as a mid-season replacement in 1997, and produced an even more-watched spin-off in NCIS which now has its own spin-off, NCIS: Los Angeles. I’d like to say somebody should have lost their job over that, but with the massive turmoil behind the scenes at NBC these past 15 years I’m relatively certain somebody did.
Sister, Sister (Un-Canceled in 1995)
- Pre-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 31 episodes on ABC (1994-1995)
- Post-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 88 episodes on WB (1995-1999)
- Total Run: 6 seasons, 119 episodes (1994-1999)
Similar to For Your Love, Sister, Sister died on a major network and was brought back by a at-the-time brand new network in the WB where averaging around 70% fewer viewers than you did on the big network is good enough to live on for four more seasons. So, while it was a relatively low-rated show it stayed on the air for so long that I’d call it a smashin’ success.
Baywatch (Un-Canceled in 1991)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 22 episodes on NBC (1989-1990)
- Post-Cancellation: 10 seasons, 220 episodes in syndication (1991-2001)
- Total Run: 11 seasons, 242 episodes (1989-2001)
“Listen, guys. It’s stories with babes, not babes with stories.” As E! True Hollywood Story fans would know, that bit of wisdom comes to us from David Hasselhoff, who was referring to Baywatch. Well, the man knew his product well and flashed some serious business savvy when he and the show’s producers responded to NBC’s first season cancellation by turning the show into a decade-long phenomenon in first-run syndication. Well, the phenomenon-part probably didn’t actually last that whole decade, but put pretty people into tight red bathing suits and run them around in slow-motion and we’ll watch far longer than you’d expect.
Fame (Un-Canceled in 1983)
- Pre-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 39 episodes on NBC (1982-1983)
- Post-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 97 episodes in syndication (1983-1987)
- Total Run: 6 seasons, 136 episodes (1982-1987)
Though a critical darling and Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner, the Fame cast was in the middle of a song & dance number at NBC headquarters in 1983 when one of the executives suggested they head out into the street for an impromptu song. Once everyone was out, the doors were locked and a megaphone through an open window yelled, “By the way, you’re canceled! We locked the doors. You’re not getting back in.” Okay, I only wish that’s how it happened. But the cast sang and danced their way through 100 more new episodes in first-run syndication. But, alas, contrary to the lyrics of the show’s theme song fame does not last forever but definitely longer than NBC thought.
Cagney & Lacey (Un-Canceled in 1982 AND 1983)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 6 episodes on CBS (1982)
- First Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 22 episodes on CBS (1982-1983)
- Second Post-Cancellation: 5 seasons, 97 episodes on CBS (1984-1988)
- Total Run: 7 seasons, 125 episodes (1982-1988)
It started familiar enough: show canceled. Then an idiot at the network referred to the show as centering around two, well, not a nice word for lesbians. Cue public outrage. A compromise is reached in which the network will un-cancel if one of the lead roles is re-cast, specifically Sharon Gles stepping in as the new Cagney. Voila, show un-canceled. Still, the ratings aren’t there, and the show is canceled, again. Then fans starting writing letters to the network, the show performed well in re-runs, and Tyne Daly (Lacey) wins an Emmy for the show. CBS throws their hands in the air and gives the show back to America, somewhat unsure of why the country likes it so much. It lived on for 97 more episodes and a series of four follow-up TV movies.
The Odd Couple (Un-Canceled in 1971 )
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 24 episodes on ABC (1970-1971)
- Post-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 90 episodes ABC (1971-1975)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 114 episodes (1970-1975)
Basically, ABC played a game of “Psych!” with the show. They canceled it after its 24-episode first season, and then really liked the ratings for the show’s summer re-runs. So, they called them up and said, “Psych! You’re not really canceled. Come on back to work on that second season, already.” They came back and enjoyed a healthy run of 90 episodes.
Leave It To Beaver (Un-Canceled in 1958)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 39 episodes on CBS (1957-1958)
- Post-Cancellation: 5 seasons, 195 episodes on ABC (1958-1963)
- Total Run: 6 seasons, 234 episodes (1957-1963)
I have to admit it – I kind of hate Leave It to Beaver. When I was a kid, this show was just…always…on. Plus, even 6-year-old me knew this crap about this kid and his idealized middle-class life in suburban America barely resembled the world as we know it. Well, on that first part I now know who to blame – ABC. This show’s near-ubiquitous presence in syndication would never had happened had ABC respected CBS’ decision to pull the plug on the show after one season. Alas, they did not and the show lived on for 5 seasons and nearly 200 more episodes.
TOO EARLY TO TELL
Murdoch Mysteries (Un-canceled in 2012)
- Pre-Cancellation: 5 seasons, 65 episodes on Citytv (2008-2012)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 13 episodes (11 have aired as of this writing) on CBC (2013-)
- Total Run: 6 seasons, 78 episodes (2008-present)
I cannot overstress this – Yannick Bisson, who plays the titular Detective Murdoch, is disgustingly handsome. Example: You think he’s wearing eye liner? Nope. That’s just how his eyelashes naturally look. You beautiful, bastard. That being said, the actual show, which is based on a series of novels and began its life as 3 TV movies, is a fun, light police procedural. It is currently airing its sixth season, which is only happening because CBC saved it after Citytv canceled it. At this point, it is too early to say whether or not the show will ultimately benefit from returning from the dead.
Futurama (Un-Canceled in 2008)
- Pre-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 72 episodes on Fox (1999-2003)
- Post-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 68 episodes on Comedy Central (2008-Present)
- Total Run: 7 seasons, 140 episodes (’99-’03, ’08-Present)
Like Family Guy before it, Futurama rode a wave of strong DVD sales and solid ratings for re-runs on Adult Swim to a new birth. However, they eased back with four direct-to-DVD movies before progressing to producing entirely new episodes, this time on Comedy Central instead of its original network, Fox. Since its return, the show has dang near equaled its original output if simply looking at total number of episodes. Quality wise, I would argue it is actually more consistent now than it was ever before, but this steadiness means in addition to never reaching its old lows the show also rarely if ever achieves its previous highs.
COMME CI, COMME CA
Primeval (Un-Canceled in 2011)
- Pre-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 23 episodes on ITV (2007-2009)
- Post-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 13 episodes on Watch (2011)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 36 episodes (’07-’09, 2011)
Canceled after 23 episodes across three seasons due to ITV’s immense financial woes, Primeval returned in 2011 after securing additional funding from a great many sources. The additional episodes achieved ratings only somewhat down from its most recent season prior to cancellation. After the two new seasons, a spin-off was produced for Canadian television, but has rather recently been canceled.
Medium (Un-Canceled in 2009)
- Pre-Cancellation: 5 episodes, 95 episodes on NBC (2005-2009)
- Post-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 35 episodes on CBS (2009-2011)
- Total Run: 7 seasons, 130 episodes (2005-2011)
After a healthy run of 95 episodes on NBC, Medium survived for an additional 35 episodes across 2 seasons on CBS, suffering a slight drop-off in viewership in the network transition. It is only because of its time on CBS that the show was able to surpass the 100 episode mark, the traditional gold standard for the number of episodes needed to secure a lucrative post-show syndication deal.
Grounded For Life (Un-Cancled in 2003)
- Pre-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 40 episodes on Fox (2001-2003)
- Post-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 51 episodes on WB (2003-2005)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 91 episodes (2001-2005)
Canceled two episodes into its third season on Fox, it finished its season and made 2 more for WB. It was viewed by a rough average of 5 million viewers a week on the WB than it was on Fox, and never gained widespread popularity. This is why it I wouldn’t call it a smashin’ success. However, by coming back it was able to surpass 88 total episodes, a good number for syndication, and has been widely syndicated in re-runs since going off the air.
Sliders (Un-Canceled in 1998)
- Pre-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 48 episodes on Fox (1995-1998)
- Post-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 40 episodes on Sci-Fi (1998-2000)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 88 episodes (1995-2000)
Fox kicked it to the curb after three seasons and 48 episodes before Sci-Fi, as was their habit at the time, picked up another network’s garbage. It survived for 40 more episodes across two seasons, although the entire last season is kind of a wash since the lead character had to be re-written since Jerry O’Connell was no longer available to play him. It may not have benefited, creatively, from the extra time. However, the extra lease on TV life grew the show’s episode total to 88, which is a good number for syndication purposes. Currently, the show is syndicated in the US on The Hub…for some reason.
Clueless (Un-Canceled in 1997)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 18 episodes on ABC (1996-1997)
- Post-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 44 episodes on UPN (1997-1999)
- Total Run: 3 seasons, 62 episodes (1996-1999)
Other than Rachel Blanchard replacing Alicia Silverstone, a lot of the film’s cast showed up for this TV series adaptation. Oddly, the show was canceled and then did remarkably well in re-runs, leading almost every other teen-targeted show of the time. But ABC changed their mind too late. UPN beat them to it, but it only lived there for two more seasons to substantially lower viewership totals. Even then, some fans believe the show was far improved during its time on UPN.
Due South (Un-Canceled in 1995 AND 1996)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 23 episodes on CBS (1994-1995)
- First Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 17 episodes on CBS (1995-1996)
- Second Post-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 27 episodes on CTV (1997-1999)
- Total Run: 4 seasons, 67 episodes (1994-1999)
If you’ve read our piece about what we called F-You finales you’ll know Due South was originally canceled and ended on one of the more depressing series finales you can imagine. Then CBS changed their mind and gave it an additional season, minus creator and writer Paul Haggis. They canceled it again after its second season. However, due to the show’s immense popularity in Canada and the UK the producers were able to secure outside funding for additional seasons, airing on CTV in Canada. Creatively, the show suffered without Paul Haggis, and its post-CBS seasons were wildly lighter in tone than what had come before. But some of the show’s finest hours only came after being un-canceled.
In The Heat of the Night (Un-canceled in 1992)
- Pre-Cancellation: 5 seasons, 96 episodes on NBC (1988-1992)
- Post-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 54 episodes on CBS (1992-1995)
- Total Run: 8 seasons, 150 episodes (1988-1995)
Having fallen out of the Top 30 and thus no longer a hit, NBC shuffled it out into the cold, cold night. CBS brought it in from the cold, but it never again sniffed the Top 30 and its final season was actually 4 two-hour made for TV movies chopped into an 8 episode season. However, by coming back it was allowed to pass the 100 episode mark, and it did not necessarily perform poorly for CBS. Like Leave It To Beaver, this show, too, was…always…on somewhere along the cable dial when I was a kid. Dang syndication.
Matlock (Un-Canceled in 1992)
- Pre-Cancellation: 6 seasons, 137 episodes on ABC (1986-1992)
- Post-Cancellation: 3 seasons, 58 episodes on CBS (1992-1995)
- Total Run: 9 seasons, 195 episodes (1986-1995)
I have to be honest here – all I know about Matlock is that Abraham Simpson was once prone to screaming the man’s name repeatedly and along with his friend Jasper once bum-rushed Andy Griffith due to lack of understanding of the difference between actor and character. So, I can’t speak to the quality of the show. In looking at the numbers, it is surprising to see that in Matlock’s first two seasons on its new network it actually enjoyed a surge in ratings before plummeting to series’ low ratings in its final season. For a show that had already aired 137 episodes, I guess you could wonder why they even bothered to bring it back for 58 more. However, according to the ratings people really wanted themselves some more Matlock.
WHY’D THEY BOTHER?
Breaking In (Un-Canceled in 2012)
- Pre-Cancellation: 1 season, 7 episodes on Fox (2011)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 seasons, 13 episodes (only 5 aired) on Fox (2012)
- Total Run: 2 seasons, 20 episodes (2011-2012)
This show was never outright horrible. However, it was also never particularly great. As such, many observors were mystified when Fox changed their mind and un-canceled the show. Why bring back a show about which nobody appeared to be passionate? The best guess offered was it had something to do with Fox wanting to maintain a good relationship with the studio that produced the show. Of course, in true “only at Fox” fashion the show came back as a little-advertised mid-season replacement and was yanked from the air after only 5 episodes. For some reason, the remaining 8 episodes for the season were aired in the Phillipines but not here. I guess Christian Slater is still really big there.
Jericho (Un-Canceled in 2007)
- Pre-Cancellation 1 season, 22 episodes on CBS (2006-2007)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 7 episodes on CBS (2008)
- Total Run: 2 seasons, 29 episodes (2006-2008)
What most people know or remember is that CBS canceled it after the first season due to low ratings but kowtowed to viewer demand after fans inundated the CBS offices with peanuts, in reference to a line near the end of the first season of the show. What most people don’t remember is the second season CBS granted the show was only 7 episodes long. The ratings did not improve, and the show was canceled..again. Netflix claims Jericho is one of its most popular streaming titles, which of course has helped generate many rumors.
7th Heaven (Un-Canceled in 2006)
- Pre-Cancellation: 10 seasons, 221 episodes on WB (1996-2006)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 22 episodes on CW (formerly WB) (2006-2007)
- Total Run: 11 seasons, 243 episodes (1996-2007)
Basically, after ten seasons on the air too many people tuned in for what was going to be the show’s series finale, considering most everyone knew the show had been canceled. Then the network saw the huge ratings for the last episode, flipped, and gave the show one more season, which nobody watched. It was as if the viewers showed up in droves to the show’s funeral to say goodbye and were stunned when it jumped out of its grave dancing the charleston, forcing the viewers to sneak away rather than sticking around for this freak show.
Roswell (Un-Canceled in 2001)
- Pre-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 43 episodes on WB (1999-2001)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 18 episodes on UPN (2001-2002)
- Total Run: 3 seasons, 61 episodes (1999-2002)
Roswell benefited from its own fan campaign, wherein it was prevented from early cancellation due to fans sending tobasco sauce (which is consumed by the alien protagonists of the show) to the network’s offices. However, it was not the fans that actually saved it once it was canceled after its second season but instead a girl named Buffy. The studio that produced the show, 20th Century Fox, sold Buffy The Vampire Slayer to the UPN (who outbid The WB) as a package deal involving Roswell, meaning to get the rights to new Buffy episodes the network would have to put Roswell back into production. On its new network, it still struggled to find an audience.
The Critic (Un-Canceled in 1995)
- Pre-Cancellation: 13 episodes on ABC (1994)
- Post-Cancellation: 10 episodes on Fox (1995)
- Total Run: 1994-1995
ABC gave it 13 episodes and then told them it stinks. Fox gave them 10 episodes and then told them it stinks, even though the ratings had actually improved. Yes, Mr. Sherman, everything stinks. Deep Simpsons reference there for you. Apparently, The Critic was going to be un-canceled a second time, this time by UPN, but Fox wouldn’t officially cancel the show until much later at which point the UPN deal was dead. Total dick move, Fox. A decade later, the show was revived with a series of webisodes.
Diff’rent Strokes (Un-canceled in 1985)
- Pre-Cancellation: 7 seasons, 170 episodes on NBC (1978-1985)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 19 episodes on ABC (1985-1986)
- Total Run: 8 seasons, 189 episodes (1978-1986)
Why? You’ve already been on the air for 170 episodes. Why do you need more? Surely, American had moved on from Gary Goleman. As it turns out, yes, they had. Plus, have you ever heard one of the many sarcastic jokes about, “Tonight, on a very special episode of Blossom?” Well, screw you Blossom and your anachronistic hat. Diff’rent Strokes was built on very special episodes!
Taxi (Un-Canceled in 1982)
- Pre-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 90 episodes on ABC (1978-1982)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 24 episodes on NBC (1982-1983)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 114 episodes (1978-1983)
NBC rescued the critically acclaimed show and paired it with the first season of Cheers on Thursday nights. Then they moved it Wednesday. And then Saturday. Then they piled the entire cast into a taxi cab, clown car style, drove them to a field, and either released them into the wild or shot them in the back of their collective head, Mafia style, depending on your comedy predilections. In other word, they canceled it after just one season. But I guess the show did get over the 100 episode hurdle due to its additional year on the air.
Bionic Woman (Un-Canceled in 1977)
- Pre-Cancellation: 2 seasons, 36 episodes on ABC (1976-1977)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 22 episodes on NBC (1977-1978)
- Total Run: 3 seasons, 58 episodes (1976-1978)
The Bionic Woman is the strange case of a show which actually always did well in the ratings but was still canceled twice, with the second one being the kill shot. At the time that ABC canceled it after two seasons, it was the 14th highest rated show on network television. As a point of comparison, NBC’s The Voice is the current 14th highest rate show from the current television season. Could you imagine NBC just canceling it out of the blue? So, you can see why Bionic Woman was un-canceled by a rival network in 1977, but not why they then canceled it as well despite solid ratings. It’s no surprise then that the Bionic Woman lived on in three separate TV movies, teamed up in each with The 6 Million Dollar Man.
Get Smart (Un-Canceled in 1969)
- Pre-Cancellation: 4 seasons, 112 episodes on NBC (1965-1969)
- Post-Cancellation: 1 season, 26 episodes on CBS (1969-1970)
- Total Run: 5 seasons, 138 episodes (1965-1970)
Similar to Taxi, Get Smart only lasted for one season post-cancellation. It did, however, yield two feature-length film continuations (in 1980 and 1988 respectively) as well as a brief revival series in 1995. It was remade in 2008 in a film with Steve Carrel, but being remade is very different than being un-canceled or revived.
I highly expected to find that the majority of returning shows only came back for one season before suffering the indignity of a second cancellation. However, in truth shows appear almost as likely to reach new heights upon a return as they do to flame out horribly. Creatively, the quality of the shows are all over the place, as just because a show was on the air for a long time does not mean it was actually any good. But why didn’t I mention Arrested Development or Star Trek or Doctor Who? Look for those in my follow-up list, which will be shows which were revived.
As far as I can tell, these shows switched networks without ever officially being canceled, sometimes literally sold from one network to another (see: Damages) or simply moved from between a corporation’s various networks (see: Law & Order: Criminal Intent moving from NBC to USA):
- Cougar Town
- Friday Night Lights
- Law & Order, Criminial Intent
- Mystery Science Theater 3000
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer
- Babylon 5
- Family Matters
- Step By Step
Why Are Shows Canceled In The First Place: There are various reasons why TV shows are cancelled, ranging from low ratings to funding/ad revenue issues to controversy regardless of ratings to behind the scenes conflict with the producer(s)/network.