Whenever “cancellation season” (aka early to mid-May) rolls around, there are plaintive cries for someone, anyone, to “save” a beloved show. But who has TV history shown us to most often be listening?
Yes, Netflix tends to be the “go-to” savior, based in large part on the streaming giant’s early-years penchant for stocking its shelves with new seasons of cancelled, established shows. Yet it has been almost three years since Netflix rescued a freshly cancelled U.S. series (Lucifer, which Netflix itself “un-cancelled” after Season 5). So it’d be wise to not put all “Save our show!” eggs into that one basket.
TVLine looked back on more than 60 instances of shows that after being cancelled came back in some form (be it new seasons, a closure-offering TV-movie), dating back to at least the late 1950s and as recently with this month’s resurrection of Sanditon. And while it’s a common knee-jerk reaction to count on Netflix (or Hulu, or Amazon…) to ride to the rescue — which indeed happened in 24 percent of the cases — the fact is that slightly more often, in 26 percent of the comebacks, it was the original network that wound up “saving” its own cancelled show.
That said, a network is more likely to “un-cancel” a show that it doesn’t own, by striking a deal for a lower licensing fee with, for example, Warner Bros. TV (which then in turn typically trims its show’s budget). But if the cancelled show was produced in-house, you can assume that any interest/means to “save” it — for example, by moving it to the company’s sister streaming service — were already explored and dismissed.
In the list below, TVLine reviews the variety of saviors that have stepped up over the past 60 years, noting some well-known examples of their rescue efforts — and how much you should hope for any of them to give your forsaken favorite a new home.
The Network That Cancelled It in The First Place!
Out of the 60-plus cases that we studied, 26 percent of the cancelled shows that came back in one form or another (additional seasons, TV-movie) got “saved” by… the same place that “killed” them.
Heck, CBS cancelled Cagney & Lacey after both of its first two seasons, but ended up airing the crime drama for seven years. The more contemporary examples, meanwhile, include CBS’ Jericho (famously saved by a “nutty” fan campaign), NBC’s Chuck and — one of the most recent and well-known examples — NBC’s Timeless, which was un-cancelled for a second season and also got a satisfying “Christmas movie” wrap-up.
THE LAST TIME AN OUTLET ‘UN-CANCELLED’ ONE ITS OWN SHOWS: Lucifer, when Netflix in June 2020 announced that Season 6, not Season 5 (as previously announced), would be the final season.
Ah, the mighty Netflix, “savior of all!” — or at least, that has been the perception.
Yes, the streaming giant during its library-building nascent years rescued or revived AMC’s (twice-cancelled!) The Killing, Fox’s Arrested Development and The WB/The CW’s Gilmore Girls. But at the time it greenlit Lucifer Season 4 (following the devilish drama’s three-season Fox run), Netflix had gone three-and-a-half years without saving a freshly cancelled show (A&E’s Longmire).
Most recently, the streamer gave YOU a new home, after the low-rated Lifetime series generated much greater buzz during its Netflix run — but before the basic cabler ever formally “cancelled” it.
THE LAST TIME NETFLIX ‘SAVED’ A NEWLY CANCELLED U.S. SHOW: ABC’s Designated Survivor, saved by Netflix in September 2018.
Amazon or Hulu
Though not quite on par with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have done their share of rescuing.
Amazon famously gave Syfy’s The Expanse a stellar new home for three seasons, gave the British PR comedy Flack a new Stateside home after a singular season on Pop TV, and recently dusted off the third season of Audience Network’s nearly forgotten Loudermilk.
Hulu meanwhile picked up Fox’s The Mindy Project for another three seasons, and resurrected Veronica Mars for a fourth (if polarizing) season.
THE LAST TIME AMAZON OR HULU ‘SAVED’ A NEWLY CANCELLED U.S. SHOW: Syfy’s The Expanse, saved by Amazon in May 2018.
A Rival Broadcast Network
Instances of one broadcast network salvaging another broadcast network’s castoff dates back to at least 1958, when ABC gave CBS’ one-and-done Leave It to Beaver a new home for five more seasons. Much more recent examples include Brooklyn Nine-Nine (from Fox to NBC), Last Man Standing (from ABC to Fox) and Kids Say the Darndest Things (which premiered Season 2 on CBS nearly a year after ABC axed the variety-show revival).
More often than not, a broadcast network rides to the rescue in large part because it had been producing the cancelled show anyway — as was the case with ABC Studios’ Scrubs (which went from NBC to ABC after seven seasons), NBCU’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, 20th Television’s Last Man Standing and CBS Studios’ Darndest Things.
Of course, the most successful example of a show jumping from one broadcast network to another is JAG, which after one season on NBC got picked up by CBS, where it ran for another nine seasons as well as spawned 39 total seasons (thus far) of NCIS series!
Other examples of inter-network moves include (but are not limited to) My Three Sons to CBS (after ABC balked at the expense of producing the family comedy in color), and Taxi from ABC to NBC.
THE LAST TIME A BROADCAST NETWORK ‘SAVED’ A RIVAL’S NEWLY CANCELLED SHOW: ABC’s Kids Say the Darndest Things revival, saved by CBS in December 2020.
Once in a blue moon, it will be a cable network that offers a new home to a cancelled show.
That was the case with The Game (which went from The CW to BET), Cougar Town (which moved to TBS after a three-season ABC run), SouthLAnd (which ran for five seasons on TNT after NBC reneged just two months ahead of its Season 2 launch!) and, most recently, Nashville (which earned an encore at CMT after a four-season ABC run).
Other examples of cable “saviors” include but are not limited to USA Network picking up CBS’ Airwolf, A&E renewing CBS’ Unforgettable for Season 4 and Pop TV flipping the script on Netflix by giving its One Day at a Time reboot a fourth season.
THE LAST TIME A CABLE NETWORK ‘SAVED’ A NEWLY CANCELLED U.S. SHOW: Netflix’s Tuca & Bertie, saved by Adult Swim in May 2020.
Any of the New(er) Streaming Services
The newer streaming services not named Netflix, Amazon or Hulu have not really gotten into the “rescue” business, but instead can serve as a “lifeline” for shows produced by outlets under the same corporate umbrella. Such was the case with NBC Universal’s Peacock streaming service hosting a third season of NBC’s A.P. Bio, and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max inheriting the likes of Doom Patrol, Titans and Harley Quinn ahead of DC Universe’s pivot away from original programming.
In other words, don’t count on these newer services to take a flier on anything that’s not already a part of the same corporate family.
THE LAST TIME ONE OF THE NEW STREAMING SERVICES ‘SAVED’ A NEWLY CANCELLED U.S. SHOW: Disney+ “saved” Star Wars: The Clone Wars by renewing it for a seventh season in July 2018 — though that came more than four years after its post-Cartoon Network “farewell” run on Netflix.