What does it take to keep a TV show from being canceled?

Reviving Shows

The cast members of "Arrested Development" went their separate ways when the show was cancelled after three seasons, despite attempts by fans to keep it on the air.
The cast members of "Arrested Development" went their separate ways when the show was cancelled after three seasons, despite attempts by fans to keep it on the air.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Letters, petitions and gimmicks have helped save some TV shows, but that's not always enough. Despite a rabid fan base that organized a letter-writing campaign, online petitions, an online community and even banana baskets sent to FOX executives, "Arrested Development" was canceled after only three seasons. Ratings were too low, despite six Emmy wins. There was a possibility that Showtime would pick up the series, but in the end it came down to creator Mitch Hurwitz and the cast. In a 2006 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hurwitz said, "In truth, I had taken it as far as I felt I could as a series. I told the story I wanted to tell, and we were getting to a point where I think a lot of the actors were ready to move on." The lesson there? Sometimes it's just time for a show to end, despite the most passionate appeals from fans.

While direct fan action has helped keep some shows on the air, there have been a couple of cases where fans have been able to save their favorite shows just by being fans. When a show that didn't perform ratings-wise has stellar DVD sales and very high syndication ratings after it's canceled, sometimes the network will take another look at producing new episodes.

"Family Guy" is a classic example of indirect action saving a show. Shortly after FOX canceled the series in 2002, the first 28 episodes came out on DVD and sold more than 400,000 copies in just the first month. When Cartoon Network's Adult Swim picked up the series in syndication the next year and ratings spiked, FOX took notice and relaunched the series in 2005. "Futurama" followed suit just a few years later. 20th Century Fox saw the comedy's high ratings on Adult Swim and produced four direct-to-DVD movies. Sales of those DVDs convinced Comedy Central to begin producing new episodes of "Futurama" in 2009.

So what does it take to save a TV show from being canceled? A rabid fan base goes a long way. In the end, though, even the most valiant fan efforts can be thwarted if the talent or producers are ready for the show to end, or ratings stay too low.

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