10 Shows That Got Popular After They Were Cancelled (and Many That Were Brought Back)

November 14, 2012

This past Sunday, the Science Channel aired a reunion of "Firefly," which has become a pop culture phenomenon and gained a fiercely loyal following even though it only aired for less than a full season. The series struggled in its initial run to stay in the top 100, and as a result was cancelled after only eleven of fourteen produced episodes aired. The fan outcry over the cancellation became ad-hoc promotion and marketing for the release of the DVD of the first season, which resulted in not only a spike in sales but also an eventual movie that was released in theaters.

The story of "Firefly" is remarkable but becoming a lot more common, with the internet making it easier for fans to promote and discuss their favorite shows. But it's not the only example of a show where the network gave up on them, but their respective fandom did not.

Star Trek

Source: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The original series that not only spawned a franchise and several spin-offs, but informed pretty much every sci-fi show that came after it. What many younger fans may not realize is that Star Trek was one of the first shows to be saved by a fan write-in campaign, yet still only lasted three seasons on NBC in its initial airing. Reruns airing in syndication brought the show to a whole new generation, and its popularity soared until it was relaunched as a film franchise with the original cast left intact. Even as we enter the 21st Century, it still refuses to die, with JJ Abrams currently wrapping up the second installment of a wildly popular reboot.

Police Squad!

Source: ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Here's yet another show whose run was brief, but led to an eventually successful film franchise. "Police Squad!" starred Liam Neeson in a parody of cop shows in the same vein as "Airplane." ABC pulled the plug after only six episodes, but the concept and Nielsen's earnest deadpan delivery amongst absurd circumstances was too good for Hollywood to ignore. In 1988, six years after the show was unceremoniously dumped, it became one of the most successful comedy film franchises of all time with the release of "The Naked Gun."

Family Guy

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Their only rival in terms of popularity and pop culture relevance is "The Simpsons," but it was actually off the air for three years. Fox cancelled the series in 2001 due to low ratings and costly production, but as with Firefly, DVD sales made them reconsider their decision. And it's a good thing they did, since it's been a cornerstone of the network's success since returning in 2004.


Source: 20th Television

The show combined the sci-fi and Western genres, which was part of the reason why Fox thought it had trouble finding an audience. Yet as already mentioned, it quickly became a cult hit and broke through to the mainstream after it was released on DVD. It made a star out of its lead, Nathan Fillion, an actor who has become a bit of an icon to the geek crowd for his willingness to embrace his own dorkiness. The production of a movie well after the show was cancelled was unique at the time, but it wasn't the first show to do it. That honor belongs to…


Source: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Another animated series that was cancelled by Fox and brought back, but this time on another network. Audience and critical response to "Futurama" was initially tepid, since it was invariably compared and contrasted to the other animated series created by Matt Groening (a little show called "The Simpsons") when it premiered on Fox in 1999. Yet once fans were able to accept it for what it was rather than what it wasn't, they began to appreciate its consistency and own style of humor. Once again, DVD sales led to a revival, with Comedy Central deciding in 2009 to produce 26 new episodes. It's been an unbridled success for the cable channel in terms of ratings and DVD sales, with a seventh season currently in production and set to premiere in June.

Freaks and Geeks

Source: Apatow Productions/DreamWorks Television

The cult hit still seems to struggle to find an audience, as many still haven't watched the show despite the near universal acclaim it receives. In addition to starring future stars like James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen, it was also the show that made executive producer Judd Apatow into a powerhouse in Hollywood and one of the most influential voices in comedic films.


Source: HBO

Though it stands out a bit from the company of other shows on this list, we have a soft spot for what may be the best Western of all time. It's certainly the best televised form of the genre, particularly with the performance of Ian McShane as Al Swearengen. The show was cancelled after three all too brief seasons. At the time, HBO hinted at two televised films, but they never materialized.

Arrested Development

Source: J. Vespa/WireImage/Getty Image

Here we have another series that lasted only three seasons, surged in popularity after the fact, and was promised a return in the form of a movie. Despite several close calls, the film never materialized. Then in 2011, Netflix announced it was bringing the show and its cast back for a run of thirteen episodes, all of which will be available on the same day sometime early next year.

The Tick

Source: Evan Agostini/Getty Images Entertainment

"The Tick" wasn't just a Saturday morning favorite for kids, but also a great send-up (and sometimes indictment) of tropes in super-hero comics and their television adaptations. With a colorful cast of characters and clever writing, "The Tick" became a cult favorite but like every other show on this list had trouble finding an audience. It also had trouble finding a time slot, as Fox alternated between airing it alongside other kid fare on Saturday mornings and putting it in primetime. It was smart but accessible, a quality that should have made it a surefire hit but instead made it a quagmire for studio suits. It eventually became a hit on DVD and was brought back by Fox as a live-action sitcom starring Patrick Warburton, which was short lived but also eventually gained its own cult following.

Party Down

Source: Starz

Comedy nerds exalted the virtues of this show during its brief run on Starz, but low ratings combined with the departure of its two biggest stars – Adam Scott left for a permanent role on the NBC comedy "Parks and Recreation" and Jane Lynch left to star in Fox's "Glee" – led to the decision to cancel the series after two seasons. A film version is currently being written by the show's creators but has not been greenlit.

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