I see a lot of fans complaining about the fact that networks don’t really give shows a chance to find their audience.  If a series doesn’t perform well out of the gate, it’s usually curtains for that production.  Some will argue it’s only fair.  After all, television is a business and if a show can’t succeed, then why waste the time and effort?

Well, the following shows premiered to lacklustre ratings but, for whatever reasons, were kept on the air.  And – whaddya know – they ended up not only finding an audience, but flourished.

Submitted for your personal: 9 shows that survived terrible early ratings to become legends of television!


Although CBS was planning to cancel the show after its first season, Proctor & Gamble threatened to withdraw its advertising from the network’s daytime programming and won it a reprieve.  In the second season, it became a top ten show after following the popular Beverly Hillbillies.

Run: 5 season, 158 episodes and one reunion special, 15 Emmy Awards, ranked as one of TV Guide’s Top 50 Greatest T.V. Shows of All Time.


It premiered to “lukewarm” ratings and poor reviews but the gang at WJM stuck it out and, by its second season, it was a top ten show.

Run: 7 seasons, 168 episodes, 29 Emmy Awards, ranked #6 on the WGA’s 101 Best-Written T.V. Series of All Time.


Despite its highly controversial premiere, the ratings for its first season were so low that it flirted with cancellation.  But, after building an audience with its summer reruns, it captured #1 spot in the Nielsen ratings on its return, a top ranking it would hold for six consecutive years.

Run: 9 seasons, 208 episodes, 21 Emmy Awards, and ranked #4 on T.V. Guide’s Top 50 Greatest T.V. Shows of All Time.


It’s first season saw it pull in ratings so abysmally low that CBS almost cancelled it. Almost.  Instead, the show came back for a second season and, following its new lead-in, All in the Family, became a top ten show.

Run: 11 seasons, 256 episodes, 14 Emmy Awards,#25 on T.V. Guide’s Top 50 Greatest T.V. Shows of All Time, it’s finale was watched by 125 million viewers.


After a couple of middling seasons in the ratings, the show finally hit its stride in its third season.

Run: 7 season, 176 episodes, 5 Emmy Awards.


This ground-breaking police drama had the distinction of being the lowest-rated show ever renewed for a second season.  While its ratings were never gangbusters, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences took notice, nominating the show for 98 Emmy Awards.

Run: 7 seasons, 147 episodes, 26 Emmy Awards, ranked #14 in T.V. Guide’s Greatest T.V. Shows of All Time.


With a premiere ranking 74th out of the 77 shows aired that season, Cheers seemed doomed to failure but, by some miracle, it survive the axe.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Run: 11 season, 270 episodes, 28 Emmy Awards, was a top ten show for 8 of its 11 seasons, ranked #18 on T.V. Guide’s Top 50 Greatest T.V. Shows of All Time.


Another show that got off to a slow start, and an extended one at that.  After two low-rated seasons (the first comprised of a mere 5 episodes), it bounced back – sort of – in its third season by climbing up to become the #42 ranked premiere on television.  But NBC stuck with it – and it finally found its audience.

Run: 9 seasons, 180 episodes, 10 Emmy Awards, ranked as the #1 Show of All Time by T.V. Guide.


The ratings for its first year were so low that it would have certainly been cancelled – if not for the two Emmy Awards it won in its fledgeling season.  Though never a ratings juggernaut, it remained a critical darling throughout its run.

Run: 7 seasons, 122 episodes, 4 Emmy Awards, 3 Peabody Awards.

15 thoughts on “May 12, 2014: 9 shows that survived terrible early ratings to become legends of television!

  1. Interesting. I’ve watched all but two of those shows.

    What the whole Stargate franchise has taught me is that A) all good shows come to an end–Every single one. B) not all horrible shows with cruddy ratings will be canceled the first season or even the fifth. C) The Television industry is an extremely complicated animal. & D) Not all ratings are the same.

    Craig Engler from Syfy has written an article about shows and advertising. It’s very complicated! And he was trying to break it down for the average viewer.

    As fans we’re told ratings matter. I’d say most people would say that a show’s success depends on this. But it is so far from being this simple. I now know live ratings hold greater weight than others such as dvr and website ratings. It’s actually more about how many people are watching ads.

    There are exceptions to the rules. As a viewer it can be extremely frustrating. I see many fans personalizing choices the networks make. It FEELS personal. We become attached to these characters. “Why do they hate intelligent writing?”

    The industry is on the verge of a metamorphosis, I believe. With more people watching shows on line there needs to be a change. Maybe the next Gates or Jobs will figure it out. For now, though, I remind myself that I get so much for free. The shows that I love were made without me having to spend a dime. Sure, I pay for cable. However most of my life I didn’t. And so many great shows are on the major four networks so you don’t need cable.

    Remember when it was just the major three? Then this company known as Fox thought they could join in. I remember all the grown ups saying how ridiculous this was. Fox would fail. My girls don’t know a world without four major networks.

    I knew Fox would succeed. I remember thinking I’d always known just the three and it was time for a change.

    Again, it’s time for a change. I can feel it in the air. What type? I don’t know. But I’d love to see more foreign influence. I’d love to see something more global. I love that I can watch things on BBC America.

    But, like Jon Snow, I know nothing. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

  2. I watched all but the last two. All great shows. I guess it is important to have a good lead-in.

    My most memorable Dick Van Dyke Show was when Richie demanded to know why his middle name was Rosebud. He was happy to learn he was named after a ton of bickering family members… Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulyses David. I still remember it!

    I remember All in the Family causing a stir when Archie flushed the toilet. You didn’t see it (thank goodness) you just heard it off screen. But it was a first for something like that. I mean, good grief, Lucy and Desi still slept in twin beds. How Little Ricky ever got born I’ll never know… 😉

    I use to wear dresses like Diane in Cheers.

  3. Dude! You forgot The Great Bird’s “Wagon Train to the Stars” aka “Star Trek”. Sure the original series didn’t seriously take off while it was airing but look what that turned into. 🙂


    After a couple of middling seasons in the ratings, the show finally hit its stride in its third season.

    it probably didn’t hurt that michael j. fox starred in back to the future about that time.

    i hear that M*A*S*H got a second season because some CBS executive’s wife liked it. so, in some cases that helps. i heard that quantum leap stayed on as long as it it because brandon tartikoff (head of NBC for the first few seasons) liked it.

    and hill street blues was saved (after the second season, i think) by a letter writing campaign. they had the woman who started it as an extra in an episode.

  5. Also people not watching shows because if they invest in it it will become cancelled…. I know I do that…. although I got myself invested in ‘The Tomorrow People’ damn! As a rule I usually don’t start watching until it has got into the second season or even third.

    Sad but true.

    Kriss 🙂

  6. One show that comes to mind is House. Well the first 7 episodes of Season 1, it didn’t rate great, but suddenly that show that rated about 7 million for its first 7 episodes was hitting close to 30 million as the show went along and frequently stayed between 15-20 million. A huge contrast to how it started.

    Anyway I personally think the Nielsen viewers can be brutal at times, once they lose interest in something theyre never coming back. I still to this date believe SGU deserved to rate a lot higher than It did, rating under 1 million in Season 2 was bull.

  7. Anyways, speaking of anime. I love this battle from Fate/Zero between arguably the 2 strongest characters in the series. The music and everything else is just perfect. Arguably Gilgamesh could have ended the grail war quite quickly if he was being serious, but Beserker with his Mad Enhancement thing, and his sheer ability make a decent fight

  8. This new fashion of short 13 episodes seasons or worst , seems fatal to me , they forcing the loop in the way that viewers are familiar with the characters and settings.
    The TV medium is different to films is more of a long distance race, affection should grow here in a slow manner. TV Executives want to prefabricate, severe cases of love at first sight, when in all instances that occur rarely.
    To make matters worse we have these same executives do not enjoy the same kind of TV we love.
    The TV set is in my living room on my home, and just for this the characters end being familiar. Familiar is only some inchs near family and is why we care about them and explain it to a generation of executives who are not committed on their friends or their families just only interesed in selling advertising. In an era where the customer really does not matter and we know that.
    Is Impossible. Pears with apples.

  9. Interesting ABC schedule, looks like The Blacklist vs Scandal on the Thursday 9pm slot. Greys Anatomy takes the cursed 8pm Thursday slot which OUAT in Wonderland and others have failed in. Agents of Shield moves to 9pm(Good move). And its looking like Agent Carter is held for midseason.

    Not much else of note there, Black-ish took Mixologys post Modern Family slot that really doesn’t work for new shows, I can see this one being canceled by May. Modern Family doesn’t seem great at launching new stuff. Nothing put in the 9:30 slot after Modern Family has worked in years.

  10. With the exception of “Homicide” and maybe “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (other than reruns), all those shows were integral to my television experience growing up. It’s funny that there’s not a lot on even now that can compare to some of them.

    Good memories.

  11. @gforce haha I should have.. It’s so crazy to me that someone would feel the need to ask me a personal question then basically tell me I’ll burn in hell when I answer them. Some people are raised in barns.

  12. I watched about half of those shows growing up, and my favorite episode of all the shows you listed was the Dick Van Dyke episode It May Look Like a Walnut. It was kind of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers storyline.

    I’ve also been rewatching Get Smart lately (currently on season 2). Don Adams and Barbara Feldon did so well on the comedic timing in that show; it really made the schtick work.

    It got me thinking…if you re-did Get Smart with Stargate actors, who would you pick? Richard Dean Anderson and Amanda Tapping? David Hewlett and Jewel Staite? Robert Picardo and Torri Higginson?

    Who would be the Chief? I think Don S. Davis would have been perfect, but unfortunately, that is not an option.

    @for the love of Beckett:

    I’m glad you had a laugh! I received the tool late this afternoon and will be replacing the ball joints tomorrow. This repair has been a little bit of a trial as this is the first major work that I’ve done on this truck (my last truck was a 1/2 ton and this is my first 3/4 ton pickup). It required some specialty tools that I didn’t already have in my inventory. But I’ve got the tool now, so it should be smooth sailing tomorr…
    Uh oh. I think I just jinxed myself.

  13. Those were terrific shows. Knew there had to be more than one example. I watched all but three, live or in reruns. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Joe. 🙂 How often do shows get scooped up by other networks after cancellation? Yeah, I really like Believe that much. The actors have such great chemistry that this diverse family of fugitives on the run is believable. You feel like you’re watching authentic relationships, and humorous disagreements, too.

    @ whoviantrish — Totally agree. Television is long overdue for a major change, but will we like it? My brother, who’s worked in broadcast engineering for 20 years, can “see” the end of TV as we know it. All content/programming will be on demand and exist on virtual stations/branding. That is, if the Internet is still controlled by a free democracy. :-/

    Also for Trish, as a descendant of a long line of redheads, had to laugh at the rube with the St. Peter comment. Heaven wouldn’t recognize someone with altered hair color? And where in the Bible did he read that? 😀 His God is too small.

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