When a series gets axed by its network these days, the first question fans raise isn’t, “Why, oh fickle gods of television, whyyyy?” but, “So…who’s gonna pick it up?” In an era when the Internet is giving TV providers a run for their money and crowd-funding sites are helping fans to give their favorite shows a leg up, death is sometimes only the beginning.
The latest show to rise—barely buried—from its grave is Community, Dan Harmon’s culty, relentlessly quirky comedy that has found itself staring down the barrel of NBC’s cancellation gun more than once. “Six seasons and a movie!” a throwaway line from a season two episode, became a rallying cry for fans. Community was an unlikely sell from the beginning; concerning the hijinks of a motley group of students at a very screwy community college, the series has spun itself around a tangled web of inside jokes, meta references and genre-savvy sight gags. It’s the perfect show for superfans, but a head-scratcher for those who’d just as soon sip the weak comic tea of überpopular shows like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.
This year, in the wake of low ratings, NBC chose not to renew the show. After a month in limbo, the Web stepped in: Yahoo! Screen, the search engine’s streaming service, announced at the end of June that it would revive the show for its long-prophesied sixth season. Can a film be far behind?
Community isn’t the first show to get the resurrection treatment, nor will it be the last. Here are a few more series that came back from the dead.
(Died 1989; reborn 2005)
If any show has potential for a second life, it’s one about a time-traveling alien who regenerates into a new body every time he’s on the verge of dying. The seminal British sci-fi series ran for 26(!) seasons, with seven different actors playing the titular Doctor, before the BBC discontinued production. A misguided, quasi-canonical 1996 TV movie aside, Doctor Who stayed buried for 16 years before showrunner Russell T. Davies dusted off the TARDIS with a brand new Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and a backstory explaining what the Time Lord had been up to the last decade and change. With three subsequent regenerations and a record-smashing 50th anniversary under its belt, the series is now the BBC’s hottest property, and a new actor (Peter Capaldi) has just taken up the sonic screwdriver.
(Died 2002; reborn 2005)
Before he was the Hollywood powerhouse behind The Avengers, Joss Whedon was the network-harassed cult sensation behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and this short-lived sci-fi masterpiece. Fox scratched its head about how to market Firefly, whose blend of space opera and shoot-’em-up western made it hard to categorize. Only 11 of 14 filmed episodes ever hit the airwaves—and out of order, at that—before the series was axed. A massive outcry from the show’s ardent fans and a boom in DVD sales led to an unprecedented development: Universal bought the rights from Fox to do a big-screen follow-up to the one-season series. The entire ensemble returned for the film, dubbed Serenity after the show’s spaceship. Much like the series, the movie was a critical hit but a financial flop. But you can’t keep a good Browncoat down: These days, the ship and its crew are still flying—in an ongoing comic-book series.
(Died 2003; reborn 2005)
It’s hard to believe that Fox ever canceled Seth McFarlane’s animated sitcom, which has now become almost as iconic as the eternally running The Simpsons. But the station gave Peter, Stewie & Co. the boot after four seasons. Family Guy proved hugely popular in syndication on then-fledgling Adult Swim, and DVD sales were off the charts. Fox brought it back two years later, and launched a second McFarlane show (American Dad). It’s been on ever since—for better or worse. Heck, it even spawned a spinoff—The Cleveland Show, which ran four seasons for no discernible reason.
(Died 2003; reborn 2008)
You and your cancellations, Fox! Matt Groening followed up The Simpsons with this darker, brainier series about a pizza-delivery guy who gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the distant future. The network dropped the show after four seasons of wacky schedule changes that didn’t do the ratings any favors. Like Family Guy, it found a second life in syndication on Adult Swim. Four straight-to-DVD movies hit shelves in 2008 and 2009; a year later, the series made a roaring comeback on Comedy Central. The improbable run ended last year, but voice actor Katey Sagal has hinted that the future of Futurama is still very much an open book.
(Died 2006; reborn 2013)
Mitchell Hurwitz’s sitcom about a family for which dysfunctional is too mild a descriptor was a critical darling from the word go. But larger audiences just didn’t seem to get it, and neither did Fox. The network jerked the show around for awhile before canceling it and airing the last four episodes in the same time slot as the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Seven years later, Netflix reopened the banana stand with the original cast intact, plus some major guest stars. Last week on The Tonight Show, star Will Arnett announced a fifth season and a movie are imminent. We’ll always say yes to more Bluths.
(Died 2007; reborn 2014)
Fans’ roles in the lives and deaths of their favorite shows has taken on a much larger role in the past decade, and never more so than in the surprising fate of Rob Thomas’s teen-sleuth series. Whip-smart and darker than advertised, Veronica Mars earned a devoted following thanks to its clever mystery plotting and a breakout turn by then-unknown Kristen Bell. The show ended on an unresolved cliffhanger when the CW ditched it after three seasons. Rumors of a movie circulated for years afterwards, until last year, Thomas turned to Kickstarter. The campaign worked like gangbusters: The $2 million goal was hit in half a day, smashing crowd-funding records. Pretty much the entire cast returned for the flick, which was filmed in short order and released earlier this year. Bell has hinted at a possible sequel, and Thomas has been writing a series of novels that pick up where the movie left off.
(Died 2010; reborn 2014)
No one can deny that this terrorist-bustin’ thriller had a very full life; the Fox series ran for eight seasons plus one TV movie (or eight days and two hours, in show time), enjoying high ratings and critical accolades. But damn, was it expensive to make. A short-lived idea for a big-screen adaptation that would cross over with Die Hard never came to fruition (gee, wonder why…), and a regular old feature film was bandied about but never got off the ground. But aware of American viewers’ endless appetite for a gun-toting Kiefer Sutherland, Fox brought back the series this year in 24: Live Another Day, a follow-up set in London. Could a tenth season be in the offing? Pop-culture speculators are currently having a field day.
(Died 2010; reborn 2015)
Before superhero shows for grown-ups were de rigueur, Tim Kring’s 2006 NBC series brought the superhuman-crime-fighter genre to network TV. Taking its cues from comic-book plotting, the show was fun but wildly uneven, rapidly degenerating in quality after its first year. The season four finale ended on a “To be continued,” but it wasn’t—and probably for the best, too. The show had long ago run its course. Nonetheless, Kring is bringing back the concept next year with a new series called Heroes: Reborn, which will take place after the events of the original and feature a brand-new cast of angsty superpowered types, with a few original series vets thrown in. Hooray … we guess?