With the awesome news earlier this week that AMC changed its mind about “The Killing,” which it canceled a few months ago but has now resurrected for a third season (to air later this year), I thought I’d take a look at a few notable resurrected (or un-canceled, if you prefer) series through the years.
This list does not include spinoffs (“Star Trek” returning as “The Next Generation”) or relaunches (which are a type of spinoff anyway, like the new “Hawaii Five-0,” or the “Twilight Zones” that pop up every decade or so, or the U.S. version of “The Office” growing out of the U.K. version). I’m also discounting TV shows that are resurrected years later as movies (like “The Brady Bunch”), but I make one exception because it’s from the same cast and crew as the TV show and it continues the story.
These are shows that were definitively canceled by a network, and then resurrected at some point in the future because someone changed their mind or because another network or distributor picked it up. This list is ranked in order of the awesomeness/surprise factor of the news more so than the quality of the show itself.
1. “The Killing” (2011-present, AMC) — I had resigned myself to the loss of one of the best-looking (the noirish, rainy Seattle) and best-acted (Linden and Holder) series on TV. Lauded by critics in Season 1, it suffered backlash from all corners when it pushed the resolution of the Rosie Larsen killing till the end of Season 2. (Personally, I didn’t mind.) Many viewers departed, and AMC canceled it in July. I thought I was the only one who cared, but apparently Netflix and DirecTV were looking into picking it up, and since AMC changed their mind and un-canceled it earlier this week, the response has been surprisingly positive.
2. “Futurama” (1999-2003, Fox; 2007-09, DVD movies; 2010-present, Comedy Central) — Despite having the same brand of humor as “The Simpsons” — only with more sci-fi touches — “Futurama” quickly settled into being a cult favorite rather than a mainstream favorite. As such, Fox spread the first four seasons over five years, bumped it around the schedule and then quietly canceled it. Four DVD movies, starting with the excellent “Bender’s Big Score,” confirmed the existence of a passionate fanbase, and the new seasons have been strong, albeit not as consistent from episode to episode as the early seasons.
3. “Friday Night Lights” (2006-08, NBC; 2008-11, DirecTV/NBC) — Jason Katims’ first great family drama seemed it would end on a sour note, canceled in the middle of its story threads during a weak season thanks to the writers’ strike. Although the storylines of Season 2 were never wrapped up — which, to this day, I think is utterly bizarre — the show miraculously continued with three more seasons — shorter than usual, but much better than nothing. NBC worked out a cost-sharing partnership with DirecTV where the satellite channel would air the episodes in the fall, with NBC getting the reruns in the spring. As is the case with many other entries on this list, “FNL” and its fans were the beneficiaries of a new network needing to take a risk in order to generate buzz.
4. “Arrested Development” (2003-06, Fox; 2013, Netflix) — Truthfully, it’s remarkable that this uniquely weird yet consistently funny sitcom got three seasons on Fox. Still, while the fanbase was small, it was passionate, and after “AD’s” cancellation, rumors popped up that a pay-cable station might pick it up (the show even referenced this in cagey dialog in the final episodes). That never happened, but now Netflix has commissioned new episodes which will be available later this year.
5. “Beavis and Butt-head” (1993-97, 2011-12, MTV) — The pop culture phenomenon simply ran its course in the late ’90s, but in 2011, creator Mike Judge realized the boys would be perfect commentators on modern society. In some ways, not much was different with the new version — the title characters (who never acknowledged the jump forward in time) were as immature as ever — but there was one major difference: More time was spent on the stories and less on the music-video commentaries. That, combined with the DVR fast-forwarding function that makes all MTV shows more tolerable, made the eighth season into perhaps the best yet. (Unfortunately, the ratings must not have been great, because “B&B” seems to have been canceled again.)
6. “Family Guy” (1999-2002, 2005-present, Fox) — Similar to the “Futurama” situation, Fox couldn’t find a large enough audience for “Family Guy” upon its initial airing. But fans turned out in big numbers for the DVD collections and reruns on Cartoon Network, inspiring Fox to commission new episodes in 2005 and give “FG” a steady Sunday slot with “The Simpsons.” I used to laugh a lot at the show, but I canceled it from my schedule a while back. Still, I think those first few years after the resurrection featured “FG’s” best episodes, including the first “Star Wars” parody.
7. “Sliders” (1995-97, Fox; 1998-2000, Sci-Fi Channel) — I actually liked Season 4 the best, when “Sliders” added Kari Wuhrer and started to find its groove on the Sci-Fi Channel. Really, it always felt more like a Sci-Fi show than a Fox show, anyway.
8. “Firefly” (2002, Fox) and “Serenity” (2005 movie) — In a case of “better than nothing,” Joss Whedon couldn’t find a TV network to pick up further adventures of “Firefly,” but Universal was interested in a film version. Although it’s a great movie, the story played best in the form of a TV show. I feel like we missed something between the show and movie and that the film had to shoehorn in some big ideas that would’ve played out nicely in a Season 2 of the show.
9 and 10. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-01, The WB; 2001-03, UPN) and “Roswell” (1999-01, The WB; 2001-02, UPN) — Unlike the other entries on this list, “Buffy” and “Roswell” fans didn’t have to go through the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with cancellation and rebirth. We knew both series would be continuing on UPN even before their WB runs ended. Still, this is an example of both shows cashing in on good timing; if UPN didn’t want to make an aggressive play for attention, we might have never gotten the last two years of “Buffy” and the last year of “Roswell.” (“Roswell” was especially lucky, because it was thrown in as part of a package deal with the more popular “Buffy.”) The “Buffy” resurrection is particularly apt, of course, because Buffy was resurrected from the grave in the UPN premiere.
And here’s one oddball entry that doesn’t strictly fit this list: “24.” Because of the writers’ strike, “24” took the entire calendar year of 2008 off from the airwaves. So although the show lasted nine years on Fox (2001-10), there are only eight seasons. Although pay-cable shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” often take long breaks between seasons, I can’t think of another example of a network giving a show a year off without canceling it.
What are your top 10 examples of a show being un-canceled? Share your lists below.