In the ever-evolving world of entertainment, even the most beloved shows can find themselves on the brink of cancellation. It’s a precarious dance between network executives, ratings, and the demands of the industry. In recent years, Netflix has received a lot of brickbats for cancelling shows unduly and not giving them a shot at concluding their storylines.
But it isn’t just streaming platforms that end up axing fan favourites. Even show executives with years worth of experience sometimes bungle things up for lack of a crystal ball to gaze into.
While shows like Community and Arrested Development have become the poster children for the ‘almost cancelled too soon’ genre of shows, even phenomenally popular shows like Friends had unsteady runs.
From negotiating fair pay to rallying fan movements, here are the iconic comedy series that bet the odds and lived to see another season.
Six popular shows on Netflix that were almost cancelled before their time:
Friends followed the lives of six friends living in New York City, navigating careers, relationships, and hilarious misadventures. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer, the show became a cultural phenomenon during its ten-season run. Despite certain storylines not ageing very well, it remains a big hit on streaming platforms like Netflix, appealing to newer generations.
However, even Friends faced potential cancellation after its fourth season due to the salary demands of its main cast. Network executive Harold Brook mentioned how the salary negotiations caused the network to plan for cancellation, “We had two promos made,” Brook continued. “One was the season finale, and one was the series finale.”
The show’s popularity prevailed, leading to groundbreaking contract negotiations. Each cast member went from being paid $22.5k per episode in the early seasons to a staggering $1million per episode in the last two seasons, cementing their status as the highest-paid TV actors of that time.
Comedy goldmine and treasure-trove of pop culture references, Community centred around a bunch of misfits attending Greendale Community College and their quirky misadventures. The show embraced meta-humour like no other comedy at the time, making it a cult favourite. With a brilliant ensemble cast including Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase, and Jim Rash.
Throughout its six season-run Community’s future seemed uncertain. After its fifth season, when it was initially cancelled by NBC. But devoted fans rallied behind the series, and Yahoo! came to the rescue, providing the opportunity for a sixth season to wrap up the storylines. Abed’s wish for “six seasons and a movie” became a rallying cry for the show’s dedicated fanbase.
The show got a second wind after its debut on Netflix during the pandemic lockdowns. The ever-growing fanbase ensured a comeback. Dan Harmon has finally announced that an official film is on its way, and we are eagerly awaiting the fulfilment of the prophecy.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine revolved around the lives of the detectives in the 99th precinct of the NYPD. The show blended comedy with heartwarming moments and socially relevant commentary on issues like police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and normalised queer love, all the while boasting a talented ensemble cast, headlined by Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, and Terry Crews.
Surprisingly, NBC initially passed on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so it was picked up by Fox where it ran for five successful seasons. However, after Fox cancelled the show, NBC picked it up again, allowing the comedy to continue for three more seasons.
Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation took viewers on a comedic journey through the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, with its merry band of eccentric characters navigating bureaucratic challenges. The show starred Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Adam Scott, and Aubrey Plaza, among others.
Despite the critical acclaim, the mockumentary-style political satire faced constant uncertainty throughout its run. Series co-creator Michael Schur revealed that he believed the show might be cancelled after nearly every season, leading to the incorporation of ambitious storylines into each season finale.
“So when we were moved to midseason, I thought that season three might be the end. And then I thought that season four might be the end,” Schur told Entertainment Weekly. “And then, of course, I thought maybe the end of season five was going to be the last year. So at least four times I’ve written what I thought might be a series finale.”
Seinfeld, often hailed as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, showcased the daily lives of four self-absorbed friends living in New York City. Led by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, the show’s ensemble cast included Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards. It has some of the most iconic scenes that have become the basis for future comedic homages.
However, even Seinfeld had a rocky start, with NBC initially ordering only four episodes. Thanks to the rerunning of the pilot and increasing ratings, the show secured a second season.
Seinfeld ultimately ran for nine seasons, with a series finale that saw one of the lowest traffic situations on American roads, ensuring Frank Sinatra’s ambulance could reach Cedars-Sinai Hospital in record time, as he breathed his last!
Featuring a stellar cast portraying the once-wealthy, dysfunctional Bluth family, Arrested Development garnered six Primetime Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award. The show followed the absurd antics of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and his eccentric family and became one of the sharpest critics of capitalism and wealth inequalities in the form of comedy.
Arrested Development walked so Succession could run.
Despite critical acclaim, Arrested Development struggled with low ratings and viewership on Fox, leading to its cancellation after its third season. However, the show’s passionate cult fanbase caught the attention of Netflix, which picked up the series for its fourth season.
Netflix continued the Bluth family’s story with a fifth season, but uneven writing failed to capture the original magic of the show. But it still remains one of the best comedies of all time.