12 Hit Sitcoms That Were Nearly Canceled
If there’s one thing everyone knows, it’s that television executives often have terrible taste in TV. So it should be no surprise that some of the best sitcoms ever made faced some close calls and were nearly pulled from the airwaves. Here are 12 sitcoms that were too big to fail…that almost failed.
Friends ran for a ten seasons on NBC, but despite viewer interest, the show was almost canceled after its fourth season. While viewership was still at an all-time high, the show faced a high financial burden: compensating its star-laden main cast. The stars demanded a heavy salary to match the show’s success, but with so many of them, the show almost couldn’t keep up. NBC executive Harold Brook said, “The numbers were insane when it came time to renew their contracts.” If NBC couldn’t negotiate appropriate contracts, they were set to cancel the series. Brook added, “We had two promos made. One was the season finale, and one was the series finale.”
Parks and Recreation
Despite a massively devoted fanbase now, Parks and Recreation creator Michael Shur told Entertainment Weekly that he thought the show would be canceled nearly every season it was on the air. Shur explained, “So when we were moved to midseason, I thought that season 3 might be the end. And then I thought that season 4 might be the end. And then, of course, I thought maybe the end of season 5 was going to be the last year. So at least four times I’ve written what I thought might be a series finale.” This explains why Parks and Rec has so many high-emotion, bow-tie-ing moments in the series, Shur was always writing what he thought might be his last episode.
Initially NBC passed on the opportunity to air Brooklyn 99 when it was pitched, and instead sold show to Fox. It ran for five seasons there before being canceled due to a lack of viewership. NBC didn’t wait for long before they pounced on the opportunity to take back the show and air it themselves for three more seasons. NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt said, “I’ve been saying to certain people in the press that if we knew Andy Samberg was going to be cast in that show, we never would have sold it to Fox. We’ve been watching it closely ever since. … We jumped on it really quickly and are thrilled to have it and think it fits into our brand of comedy in many ways better than it fit into Fox’s brand of comedy."
Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and other cast members haven’t been shy about remembering how much Seinfeld floundered before it finally found its footing on NBC. The show was only ordered for four episodes initially and was going to end there until late night programming head Ricky Ludwin was able to convince executives to order four more episodes, which performed well enough to warrant a second season.
Fans know that Community was essentially beaten senseless by how much it changed production companies and creative heads during it’s run. In the fourth season, Dan Harmon was removed from the series, resulting in what is known as the awkward “gas leak year” of season four. The show saw the return of Dan Harmon in season five but endured the loss of Donald Glover. Despite the show’s unofficial slogan “six seasons and a movie” it looked like the prophecy would never materialize when NBC canceled the series after 5 seasons. But by the graces of God, the show was brought back for one final season by the short-lived Yahoo! Screen.
Due to its death sentence time slot against Friends on NBC, Fox canceled Family Guy in 2002 after its third season. However, Adult Swim bought the rights to re-run the show, resulting in its highest-rated time block for the channel. Around the same time, the first three seasons were released on DVD and quickly sold three million copies, prompting Fox to rethink its decision and bring the show back to its original home for a fourth season.
Futurama is sometimes known as “the show that won’t stay dead.” it originally aired on Fox from 1999 to 2003 until it was canceled the first time. Adult Swim then re-ran the show from 2003 to 2007. Four straight-to-video films were created and then sold to Comedy Central as the fifth season in 2008. In 2009, the show was revived again by Comedy Central for two more seasons. Now Hulu has picked up the show yet again to premiere in 2023.
The Office had a hard time getting off the ground when it premiered. For one thing, most people bet against the show as few thought it could recapture the magic of the British version. The show was apparently on the schedule to be axed, but according to writer Michael Shur, the head of NBC, Kevin Reilly, was extremely passionate about the show and begged higher-ups to keep it on the air. In season two, the show's popularity increased by 60%, largely due to Carrell’s new found star power from The 40 Year Old Virgin, which released between seasons.
By the end of season 2, Chuck’s ratings just weren’t high enough for NBC to justify a third season. However, once rabid fans of the series heard the rumors of their favorite Chuck-themed show’s imminent cancellation, they took to the internet to beg NBC to save their beloved sitcom. The #savechuck campaign was a success after the fast-food chain Subway stepped in at the eleventh hour to help finance the show in exchange for massive brand endorsement. The show was able to go on for another three seasons thanks to all the sandwich publicity.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney said he knew the show was in trouble after its first season ratings did not impress anyone at FX. Execs told McElhenny that the show would be taken off the schedule if they could not attach a big name to draw attention to the series. That’s right, without those first season low ratings, we may never have gotten Danny Devito’s Frank Reynolds. His attachment to the project is the whole reason the show was picked up for a second season.
Scrubs had a long and mighty run on ABC for seven whole seasons until it was canceled without a proper finale. Thankfully, NBC picked up the show and gave the series the heart wrenching wrap-up it always deserved, saying goodbye to JD forever and setting strong hopes for the future of our protagonists while revisiting characters from the past… Then they did a season nine that we’ll pretend never happened. A teaching hospital? C’mon!
New Girl very nearly missed out on having a proper finale season. When season six wrapped up and Zooey Deschanel had her second child, executives felt that due to scheduling the show wouldn’t be able to produce its seventh and final season. Series creator Liz Meriwether stepped in and negotiated a shorter eight-episode season that took place three years in the future. The pitch got everyone so excited that room was made for it in Fox’s midseason schedule.
For exclusive ComedyNerd content and more, subscribe to our spiffy newsletter:
Top Image: NBC