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The Network Jump: What’s the Longest a Show Has Lasted?


 

Deadline Hollywood Daily mentioned recently that Fox may pick up My Name Is Earl for a fifth season if NBC drops it. The show’s decline in creativity and popularity has been so huge that even NBC may not want it around, but more importantly, it’s not owned by NBC; it’s owned by Fox, and if it gets enough episodes for syndication, that won’t help NBC at all. It makes more sense for NBC to keep 30 Rock on the air despite low ratings; not only is it a better show, but its long run will benefit the company more than a long run for Earl.

Also, it doesn’t really fit in with NBC’s comedy strategy, which is now built more around white-collar ensemble shows like The Office and 30 Rock. It’s weird to remember that back in 2005, many people, including me, thought that Earl was the future of NBC comedy and The Office was in trouble. Fox could more easily find a place for it, at least for one season.

And one season is probably all it would get. Many shows get picked up by another network; few last for more than one season. Usually a show gets picked up by another network when it’s on its last legs, and the producers manage to convince some other network to take it for one reason or another. So Taxi, after four straight Emmy wins for best comedy, got canceled by ABC because its ratings tanked (it was a time-slot hit, entirely dependent for its ratings on following Three’s Company, much as its contemporary WKRP in Cincinnati struggled when it wasn’t following M*A*S*H). But NBC was changing its programming strategy and looking for a time-slot companion for its new show, Cheers, produced by many of the people who did Taxi. So it was natural for NBC to take Taxi for one more season, where its ratings were even worse. Similarly, Get Smart struggled and spluttered through one last season on CBS after NBC canceled it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a bit different because it wasn’t canceled by the WB; the producers just up and left the network. It managed two seasons on UPN, and probably could have had more if Sarah Michelle Gellar had been around, but it was a better fit on the WB. And then there’s the last season of Diff’rent Strokes on ABC, where due to contract issues they were forced to re-record the theme song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zedtaqvRvuc

The other kind of network jump is when a show gets canceled very early, but manages to interest another network enough to give it another chance. The most famous case is, of course, JAG. It’s hard to remember that that show was on NBC for one year, but it was; it got canceled, and CBS picked it up and ran with it. Or The Paper Chase, canceled by CBS but picked up by Showtime. (Speaking of shows getting picked up on cable, HBO, then a fairly new network, actually offered the producers of Taxi a chance to come to them after the ABC cancellation. HBO supposedly tried to sell them on a version of Taxi where the characters would swear like real NYC cabbies.)

But it’s hard to think of cases where a show got canceled by a network after a long run (four or more years, let’s say) and then moved to another network for more than a year or two. There must be some, but I can’t think of any at the moment; usually a move like that will stave off death for a year and no more. It’s the equivalent of a baseball team picking up an old, washed-up player for one season: it’s a placeholder until they can get a fresh show/player in there.


 

The Network Jump: What’s the Longest a Show Has Lasted?

  1. I think Stargate SG-1 might be a good example. It was five seasons on Showtime, then SciFi picked it up for another five years, created a spin-off that lasted five years, and is now generating a second spin-off. That said, it wasn’t clear to me if Showtime was going to cancel it when SciFi picked it up, or if it wasn’t some other kind of arrangement.

    • I was just going to reply to mention this show.

  2. I suppose you meant scripted drama/comedy types? Otherwise Letterman.

  3. SCTV is a strange case. the syndicated (Global) show was not really the same series as the NBC one, but they both ran for about three years, and are both rerun as SCTV.

  4. My Name is Earl was such a good show in its first season, but man is it crap now. I still watch it out of some misplaced loyalty, but I always regret it.

  5. Speaking of shows getting picked up on cable, HBO, then a fairly new network, actually offered the producers of Taxi a chance to come to them after the ABC cancellation. HBO supposedly tried to sell them on a version of Taxi where the characters would swear like real NYC cabbies.

    I wish to inhabit the alternate universe in which this actually came to pass, as it sounds like perhaps the most awesome thing ever.

    As to the question at hand, Sliders is another show that SciFi picked up after it had been canceled by Fox. I guess it only lasted 2 seasons for them, though (maybe because pretty much the whole cast abandoned the show). Nonetheless, I recall it being one of SciFi’s early attempts at being a viable place for dramas, along with Farscape and (ugh) First Wave. Ahh, Sliders, how childhood me loved you, in all your cheesy not-very-goodness.

    • C’mon… the best cheese vehicle for Jerry O’Connell had to be “My Secret Identity”. Derek McGrath was great in that show.

  6. Not a network jump, but “The Lawerence Welk Show” was canceled by ABC after 16 seasons and went on to continued success in syndication for the next 11 years. Similarly, “Hee Haw,” though it only had 2 seasons under its belt at the time, got the heave-ho in ’71 and kept on chugging in syndication for another 21 years.

  7. In Cdn TV viewing, there’s the network change of Red Green /New Red Green. And I am still avidly watching WB/CW’s Vancouver produced Smallville which ran on Global for its first season, then CTV’s A-channel, and now SunTV in Toronto.

  8. I actually hope NBC doesn’t cancel the show. I had kinda tired of it, but I’ve been watching it more this season, and I have been enjoying it. Last Thursday’s episode, for example, was particularly funny, and sweet too. (And featured an off-the-wall cameo by Bernie Kopell, always a welcome sight.) I admit it’s not as funny as 30 Rock or The Office, but it’s still pretty funny. (On the other hand, if the show were to move to Fox, it would instantly become it’s best live-action sitcom. I would say “only,” but I believe Til Death is still alive, and is supposed to be back on the lineup in the spring.)

    Also, while it wasn’t network to network, Baywatch is similar to JAG in that in ran for one season on NBC, then had a super-long life in syndication. In fact, I think the whole “long survival after network cancellation” thing probably works better in syndication. Charles in Charge also was canceled after one network season, but had four syndicated ones. And I believe “It’s a Living”‘s syndicated run was for a couple of seasons too. Of course, that would never happen today, since there’s not really such a thing as a syndicated sitcom anymore.

  9. I forgot: Smallville did also air on CityTV, after Global and before A-Channel. I can recall that there was also a duplicated first run airing on specialty channel Space during the A-Channel years. That’s three separately owned broadcast networks and an independent broadcast station (owned by Quebecor media), without including Space for this active, eight season, primetime series.

    • Surprised no one has mentioned the ultimate mix of retooling and being picked up by a new network – Good Morning Miss Bliss, which Disney promptly cancelled, but was picked up by NBC as Saved by the Bell.

  10. Speaking of Disney, there’s also Disneyland / Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color / The Wonderful World of Disney / etc., which has been bouncing around between broadcast, cable and syndication since 1954.

  11. I’m surprised no one had mentioned My Three Sons. It started out on ABC in 1960, moved to CBS in 1965 and lasted until 1972.

    • I thought of it immediately, but since the criterion was that the show had to have been canceled by the original network, I ruled it out since “Sons” moved to CBS of its own volition in order to be filmed and broadcast in color.

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