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Second Time’s A Charm: 12 TV Shows That Came Back From the Dead

From resurrected sitcoms to saved-by-streaming-services cult faves, here are a dozen series that got another chance at bat

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Photo by Justin Lubin/ NBC

If there’s one truism in the often unpredictable world of television, it’s that all shows will eventually come to an end. (Unless you’re The Simpsons, probably.) But often, a series is taken from fans before its time; take, for example, The Killing, which debuted on AMC in the post-Mad Men, cable-networks-gotta-have-prestige-dramas landscape. Based on a Danish thriller, the gloomy procedural got off to a strong start, but by the end of the second season, its ratings were low enough that AMC, er, killed it off. The network then decided to give it another chance, renewing it for a third season; when that, too, underperformed, The Killing was gone for good…or so viewers thought. Enter Netflix, who earlier this year announced that it had reached a deal with Fox Television Studios (which owns the series) to broadcast a fourth and final season, which will premiere on August 1st. 

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Of course, that’s not the only instance of a beloved series getting saved from certain death: Netflix’s first foray into picking up a gone-too-soon series happened last year, when it aired a new season of Arrested Development, which originally ran for three low-rated seasons on Fox. And in July, Yahoo Screen announced that it will air a sixth season of Dan Harmon’s beloved-but-troubled Community, which got the ax from NBC. This happens more often than you might think: Read on to learn about 12 series that were given a second — and in some cases, a third — chance, whether due to the work of devoted fans, a showrunner with a vision, or the magic of crowd-funding. By Amy Plitt

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‘Community’

Dan Harmon's innovative sitcom was ill-fated from the get-go: In its relatively short lifespan, Community was plagued with low ratings, cast shake-ups (including the very public departures of lead players Chevy Chase and Donald Glover), cancellation threats from NBC, and Harmon's own firing before the show's fourth season. Which led to not only even lower ratings, but critical bashing— Slate's Willa Paskin called the Harmonless fourth season "a kind of zombie Community…one missing its soul." Harmon returned to helm the fifth season, but it was no use: NBC canceled the show for good earlier this year. But Greendale's best and brightest will have a second life: Yahoo Screen made a deal to pick up the ailing show— and yes, Harmon is on board — making fans' dreams of “six seasons and a movie” that much closer to reality. 

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‘Family Guy’

Seth MacFarlane may be an Oscar-hosting, hit-movie–making Hollywood player now, but back when Family Guy first premiered on Fox in 1999, he was just some schmuck with an idea for a dysfunctional-family animated series. Though the bawdy series debuted strong after Super Bowl XXXIII, its ratings plummeted, and it was eventually canceled not once but twice: first after the second season ended in 2000, and again in 2002 after a third season aired. That could have been it for MacFarlane, were it not for the one-two punch of Adult Swim (where the series found a supportive home in syndication) and the cult success of the first season, which became the best-selling TV DVD of 2003. Fox execs took notice, and renewed the series for good in 2004. Now, a decade later, it remains one of the network’s top shows, and MacFarlane has a string of pop-culture successes — including the 2012 comedy Ted, and the long-running American Dad and The Cleveland Show — under his belt. 

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‘Futurama’

The Family Guy fracas isn’t the only time Fox has underestimated the staying power of one of its series. (Nor would it be the last — see also Development, Arrested.) Case in point: Matt Groening’s futuristic space sitcom, which debuted in 1999. Though Futurama spawned catchphrases, featured celebrity cameos — including Al Gore and the late Dick Clark as disembodied-head versions of themselves —  and was well-liked by critics, it wasn’t long for the network; Fox shuffled the show around before finally letting it go in 2003. The series was eventually picked up by Comedy Central, where it ran for three more seasons beginning in 2010, finally ending for good in 2013. But — good news, everyone! — the story isn’t over for Fry, Bender & Co just yet: The Planet Express gang will appear on a crossover episode of The Simpsons this coming season.

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‘Arrested Development’

So, about Fox underestimating its sitcoms… Arrested Development made a splash almost immediately after debuting in 2003, quickly racked up accolades for its subversive, irreverent portrayal of the Bluth family and turning Jason Bateman into a bona fide star. But critical acclaim and a devoted fanbase were barely enough to save the banana stand, much less the show: Fox axed the series in 2006 — which would later prove to be, as Gob would say, a huge mistake. Though creator Mitchell Hurwitz and producer Ron Howard talked about resurrecting the show in some form or another, it wasn’t until 2011 that a plan became clear. Hurwitz and Netflix made a deal to air new episodes in 2013, and the fourth season, which was more experimental in structure and story, premiered on May 26, 2013. Though its latest incarnation was less across-the-board well-received than its predecessors, the door was opened for future small-screen misadventures — and a movie, which Hurwitz has been angling to make for years.

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‘Veronica Mars’

From the start, Veronica Mars was unlike any other teen drama: Though its eponymous protagonist (played by Kristen Bell) had to deal with high-school politics and boy problems, it was no mere Dawson’s Creek redux. The series tackled issues such as class warfare and rape, with Veronica working to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder and her own sexual assault, among other crimes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the show’s criminally low ratings doomed it to only three seasons. But Veronica lived on thanks to the wonders of crowd-funding: Series creator Rob Thomas turned to Kickstarter in 2013 in the hopes of raising $2 million to produce a film version of the show; fans ultimately gave more than $5 million, and a Veronica Mars movie was released in 2014. The addition of a digital spin-off and a series of mystery novels suggest that future big-screen trips to Mars are a distinct possibility.  

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‘Reading Rainbow’

Millions of Gen X-ers no doubt still get the Reading Rainbow theme song stuck in their heads from time to time, which may explain why the educational series is getting a second, web-friendly life. Fresh off his post-Roots success, LeVar Burton was chosen to host the series in 1983; he remained an affable, encouraging guide to the world of children’s books until the show was canceled in 2006. But Burton could never quite let go: He bought the rights to the series in 2009, launching an app (branded as RRKidz) in 2012, and remained convinced that a wider audience for the show was out there. But you don’t have to take his word for it: Earlier this year, Burton launched what became Kickstarter’s most successful campaign ever, raising more than $5 million to produce new content and webisodes of the series. (A hefty $1 million pledge from Seth MacFarlane didn’t hurt.)

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‘Dr. Who’

The idea of regeneration is built into Doctor Who’s DNA, so it’s fitting that it was successfully revived after a long period of inactivity. The Doctor first began his time-traveling adventures in 1963, and the series ran for 26 years (and through seven Time Lords) before getting exterminated by the BBC in 1989. Aside from a few books and a made-for-TV movie starring Paul McCann (Withnail and I), the Doctor lay dormant for the better part of 15 years. But then, in 2001, the character was resurrected in a few hugely popular webisodes, renewing interest in the show. Whovians rejoiced when, in 2005, the series was rebooted for good, with Christopher Eccleston stepping into the Doctor’s shoes; it's since had an arguably more successful run than before, with three actors taking on the Time Lord role (the latest, Peter Capaldi, officially begins his tenure in August), and its fandom bigger and more fervent than ever. 

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‘Star Trek’

It’s one of the most successful sci-fi franchises of all time, spawning movies, TV series, cartoons, and more; and yet, Star Trek almost didn’t make it beyond a few seasons. A massive Trekkie letter-writing campaign saved it after the second season, but it was no use — NBC canceled the original series for good in 1969. Ironically, that was probably the best thing to ever happen to Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest: The show’s cult following grew exponentially as the series was shown in syndication and Trek-centric sprang up by the dozens, eventually helping to get Star Trek: The Motion Picture greenlit in 1979. And thanks to the success of that franchise, Star Trek: The Next Generation (starring the always-smooth Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard) was back on primetime 20 years after the original was axed. A slew of sister series followed, as did a massively popular J.J. Abrams-sponsored "prequel" reboot of the films. Final frontier? Far from it.

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‘Damages’

Antiheroes have always had a home on FX — witness corrupt cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield, or biker-gang ringleader Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) on Sons of Anarchy. At first, Damages, which starred Glenn Close as master manipulator Patty Hewes, seemed to have found its footing on the network, racking up critical acclaim and plenty of Emmy nominations. But after three low-rated seasons, FX axed the series, leaving the cast and crew hanging. Luckily, DirecTV was looking to beef up its original programming, and reached an agreement to pick up the series in 2010; it ran for two more seasons on the provider’s Audience Network. 

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‘Firefly’

One in a string of beloved, culty projects created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog among them), the space-western Firefly aired for only one season. But in that time, it accumulated a devoted fanbase known as "Browncoats," which launched various campaigns — letter-bombing networks, organizing viewing parties, even placing an ad in Variety — to show their support for the series. Their efforts paid off: Whedon went on to write and direct the 2005 film Serenity, a continuation of the story. It was the first feature-length movie Whedon directed, laying the groundwork for his current status as Hollywood’s go-to guy for big-budget action films (see: The Avengers). 

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‘Cagney & Lacey’

At the time, it probably seemed like a weird concept for a series: a feminism-inflected drama about two female detectives solving crime in gritty, 1980s New York City. But Cagney & Lacey proved popular enough to be resurrected a whopping two times. The characters first appeared in a well-received 1981 TV movie, which led to the production of a serialized spin-off. That first season did poorly, however, and was canceled in 1982. It was then renewed in 1983, but canceled again after one season. At that point, fans — many of whom were older women — reacted, sending thousands of letters to CBS and demanding its return. The network listened, adding Cagney and Lacey back to its lineup in 1984; it went on to rack up plenty of Emmy and Golden Globe awards, before it was finally canceled for good in 1988. 

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‘Beavis and Butt-Head’

Huh-huh, huh, huh-huh-huh. In the mid-Nineties, Beavis and Butt-Head tapped into the psyche of bored teens everywhere — its protagonists were pretty much the embodiment of heavy metal-loving, girl-obsessed 14-year-old dudes. The series spawned spin-off books, T-shirts, and the 1996 film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. But apparently, one go-round of fart jokes, nose-picking, and crude humor wasn’t enough: The show was revived in 2011, with Beavis and Butt-head commenting on pop-culture touchstones like Jersey Shore rather than, say, Suicidal Tendencies videos. (We could make a joke about MTV not having music videos for them to comment on anymore, but…nah.) It lasted one season.

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