As the old saying goes, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Well, there are few things worse for a TV fan than investing dozens of hours of your life invested in a show only for some network big-wig to give it the ax before it’s reached it’s proper conclusion. All of those loose ends and unresolved plot arcs are enough to drive a fan of a series to madness. Fortunately, getting canned doesn’t have to mean the end for a beloved series.
In modern times, dozens of classic shows have been given the reboot treatment. Recently, for example, we learned that the iconic Cheers spin-off Frasier will be resurrected from the dead. Then you have shows like Bel-Air, a modern reenvisioning of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as remake series like Dynasty, Walker, and Hawaii Five-O.
The thing about these reboots and remakes, however, is that they’ve only returned to our television screens after their original series have been off the air for many years, and the vast majority of them feature none of the original cast members. In this video, we’ll instead be taking a look at Classic TV shows that were canceled only to be immediately brought back from the grave.
In season 6 of this classic sitcom which featured the likes of Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Conrad Bain, the writers decided to add a couple of fresh new faces to the cast in an attempt to freshen the series up and open things up for future plotlines. First we had Maggie, an aerobics instructor played by Dixie Carter. Then you had Maggie’s son, Sam, a young kid played by Danny Cooksey who basically served as Arnold’s little sidekick.
At one point during this season, Maggie took off abruptly to California. Drummond and the kids then took off after her. At the end of the two-part episode “Hooray for Hollywood”, we’re formally introduced to Sam for the first time. At the end of these episodes, Phillip proposes to Maggie, and they get married – thus giving Arnold the little brother he always wanted as well as a new stepmom.
The introduction of Maggie and Sam, unfortunately, didn’t boost the shows ratings. Throughout season 7, Diff’rent Strokes was basically in a ratings freefall, and in the Spring of ’86, NBC decided to finally cancel the series. That’s when ABC stepped in and picked up the series for an eighth season which ended up being aired on Friday nights – a timeslot known for being the so-called ‘death slot’.
Despite giving the show a fresh coat of paint with a new title sequence and an updated re-recorded poppier variant of it’s theme song, Diff’rent Strokes, under the direction of ABC, was unable to pull itself out of it’s ratings lull. The writing was on the wall. Diff’rent Strokes had clearly run it’s course.
Before the series ended, however, one last addition was made to the cast. Jason Harvey was cast to play the semi-regular character Charlie, another one of Arnold’s school friends. While Charlie was a pleasant enough character, he wasn’t enough to save the show from the inevitable. After 19 episodes of the proposed 22-episode long season that the show’s creators intended, ABC canceled Diff’rent Strokes for good.
Dragnet originally aired on NBC from 1951 to 1959. After being off the air for almost seven years, the show’s creator and star, Jack Webb, relaunched Dragnet in 1966 with NBC once again chosen to be the network to air the rebooted series. Webb wanted Ben Alexander to join him onscreen again as Frank Smith, but Alexander was unfortunately already committed to an ABC series, Felony Squad, and that show’s producers refused to give him up.
Reluctantly, Webb came up with a new character to fill in for the role of his partner, Joe Friday. This time around, Webb’s longtime friend Harry Morgan was brought in to play Officer Bill Gannon.
Unlike the previous Dragnet series, this new incarnation of the series was aired in color. The series enjoyed fairly good ratings for four seasons, although it’s popularity was never quite able to match or exceed that of the 1950s original.
Just as he had done with the previous series, Webb eventually made the decision to voluntarily bring Dragnet to an end sometime during it’s fourth season in order to switch focus to producing and directing his other shows such as Adam-12. Instead of immediately wrapping up the series, however, Webb made sure that it received a cathartic and satisfying ending. Dragnet came to an end after running for seven seasons at the end of 1975.
After airing four seasons on NBC, the network decided to put an end to this quirky sitcom about a spunky live-in maid named Hazel Burke. But just as things played out with Diff’rent Stokes, Hazel was picked up by CBS for what would prove to be it’s fifth and final season. To try and connect with a younger audience, Don DeFore and Whitney Blake were dropped from the cast. Their departure was explained by saying that they had moved to Baghdad, Iraq, for George’s work.
Hazel and Harold, who apparently didn’t go overseas with his parents since he couldn’t afford to miss out on his schooling, ended up moving in with George’s previously never-mentioned-before younger brother, Steve.
These kinds of radical, hail-Mary-like show-changing moves are typical of a series that is on it’s deathbed. In a last-ditch effort, producers decide to shake things up to see if the new changes will appeal to a wider audience, but more times than not, they only accomplish alienating their fan base and driving what remains of the series into the ground.
Not surprisingly, Hazel was canceled abruptly after airing it’s fifth season.
Leave It To Beaver
The Leave it to Beaver that we all know and love almost failed to launch. After airing it’s first season on CBS, where it received disappointing Nielsen ratings, the network canceled it. That’s when ABC decided to save the day by picking up the show. And while, it never managed to enter into the top 30 list of television shows, it’s ratings were still solid enough to warrant keeping it around for a five-season run. By the beginning of the 1962-1963 season, however, the show was beginning to show signs of running out of steam. Jerry Mathers desired to retire from acting at the end of the sixth season so that he could attend a regular high school. Because of this, the series ended on June 20, 1963.
My Three Sons
This Peter Tewksbury-directed series premiered in black and white on ABC in 1960. The first five seasons aired on this network, but following the 1963-1964 season, it made the jump to CBS, where it made the transition to color. The program went on to air for another six seasons before coming to an end in 1972. Interestingly, this is one of the few TV shows that jumped ship to a rival network only to experience a boost in the ratings. My Three Son’s continued to appear in the top 30 list of most-watched TV shows right up until it’s 12th and final season.
The Bionic Woman
This action-adventure series about a lady hero played by Jaime Sommers who was equipped with top-secret superhuman cybernetic augmentations, got it’s start as a spin-off of the Six Million Dollar Man. Despite it’s relatively short run, The Bionic Woman proved to be enormously popular throughout the world. Not only did it perform well in the US, but it also enjoyed a wide audience in the UK, where it became the only sci-fi series to achieve a number 1 position in the ratings during the 20th century.
The first three seasons of the program aired on ABC. It then was canceled only to be picked up by NBC for it’s fourth and final season. Years after it was officially canceled, The Bionic Woman returned for a series of three spin-off TV films which were produced between 1987 and ‘94.
This action crime drama series has been included on numerous lists of the greatest TV shows of all time. It starred Telly Savalas in the titular role of Kojak, a New York City Police Department who had a knack for solving seemingly unsolvable crimes.
Kojak aired on CBS for five seasons from 1973 to 1978. After being canceled, Telly Savalas reprised his role as Kojak for a total of seven television films. In March of 2005, decades after the last Kojak TV film aired, a new Kojak series premiered on USA. This reworked version of the show featured African American actor Ving Rhames as the title character.
Many of our viewers might not be very familiar with this series, seeing as how it only aired for two seasons in the mid-1950s. It was an anthology series based on the activities of clergy members representing several different denominations. The first season aired on ABC in 1955. It was then canceled by the network due to low ratings but was renewed for a second season that aired in syndication from 1956 to 1957.
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
This sitcom, which was based on the 1947 movie of the same name, which in turn was based on a novel by R.A. Dick that hit bookshelves in 1945, premiered on NBC in 1966. The network canceled the show after it’s first season aired, but ABC swooped in and saved it, airing one last season in 1969.
The Joey Bishop Show
Here we have another sitcom that was saved from the ax of network cancellation by a rival network. The series, which starred entertainer Joey Bishop in it’s lead role, aired on NBC from 1961 to 1964. After the network decided to can it, The Joey Bishop Show was picked up by CBS where it aired it’s fourth and ultimately final season.
The series, was actually a spin-off of The Danny Thomas Show which also got it’s start on one network only to hop over to another. The Danny Thomas Show debuted on ABC in 1953 but got picked up by CBS in 1957. It remained a success for the network in terms of ratings until it’s cancellation in 1964.
Before we sign off, we’d just like to mention that a modern example of a show getting canceled only to be immediately brought back after fan outcry is the supernatural drama series Manifest which premiered on NBC in 2018. After sliding in the ratings, NBC canceled the series after airing three seasons in June 2021. The series was then added to Netflix where it topped the viewing charts, thus persuading the streaming service to renew it for a fourth and final season which is set to premiere on November 4, 2022.
Can you think of any other shows that were canceled only to be immediately brought back, and are there any shows that abruptly ended without wrapping up it’s plot arcs that still have you feeling some kind of way? Let us know in the comments.