and he runs and he runs and then dives and TOUCHDOWN PANTHERS WIN WOOOOO!!!!1111!!!! YES! I WANT TO GO BUY SOMETHING NBC ADVERTISES! WOOOOO!!!!
Some shows are lucky to still be around — or were, before the axe finally fell. Their ratings were middling or poor or even awful, but the critics liked it, or it had been starting to show signs of a cult following, or it was supposed
to be huge and they're reluctant to give up on it just yet, or the show is nearing an episode count needed for syndication
, or everything else that premiered that year did even worse, or somebody at the network just liked
the darn old thing; at any rate, it just barely got renewed by the skin of its teeth. In industry-speak, these shows are referred to as being "on the bubble," and if it's a show that seems to be on the bubble every single season, will sometimes garner the name "bubble series," taken from the fact that a soap bubble can pop at any second.
This generally means the network won't value the show too much, so expect the next season to have fewer episodes, budget cuts, conspicuously missing characters
to save on salaries, or be shuffled around on the network's schedule.
Usually this marks the final season of a show — even the final partial season. Better plan on only running thirteen episodesnote instead of the usual 22-26
. In the best case scenarios, it leads to a massive hit and a very good career move for the network execs responsible.
The opposite of Screwed by the Network
: here, the network tries in vain to sustain a show that the audience just can't get into, instead of the other way around. Compare Adored by the Network
- Arrested Development, which was a critical smash but was watched by roughly nobody, only barely got a second season — and then got a third season by an even slimmer margin — then finally, to no one's surprise, was gone. Fans still debate whether Fox deserves respect for sticking with a failing show for so long, or criticism for not giving it much of a chance in the first place.
- The first season won the Emmy for best comedy just before the back nine was ordered. It was nominated for the Emmy for season 2 and 3. That may have been the reason it hung on. In an outtake on the season 2 DVD David Cross goes on a long rant about how Fox should learn how to market an Emmy winning comedy. It is awesome.
- Both How I Met Your Mother on CBS and My Name Is Earl on NBC only reluctantly got confirmed for third seasons at the last minute. Ditto Friday Night Lights for its second.
- Scrubs. Seasons five through seven were only barely renewed by NBC, and generally wound up airing as a mid-season replacement. Season seven (intended to be the final season) was shortened by the writer's strike and aired out of order. ABC (who actually owns the series) stepped in and aired the eighth season (considered by most to be an improvement over six and seven), which officially wrapped up JD's storyline.So five seasons "on the bubble" between two networks.
- The eighth season was still Screwed by the Network. They continually changed up timeslots, showed new episodes back to back, rarely did re-runs of the new episodes and when they did, they weren't back to back, or they were out of order.
- Season 9.
- The first season of Cheers was adored by the critics, but rated incredibly poorly (the first episode rated dead last in its timeslot). NBC stuck with it anyway, and following its surprise success at the Emmys, the ratings immediately picked up, and up and up.
- Seinfeld initially went ahead despite resistance from most of NBC and Larry David himself. It wasn't until season three that it showed any promise at all, and season four that it was legitimately successful.
- Joey was a spinoff of Friends and got renewed because it was the only NBC show in the 2004 fall season to pull in decent enough ratings to warrant a renewal (the pilot was watched by 18 million viewers), but on the other hand NBC screwed the show in its second season by putting it up against American Idol causing it's ratings to drop and then suddenly canceling it out of nowhere.
- Angel was borderline as of the end of its fourth season. In an attempt to jumpstart the ratings, the producers changed the show's direction completely and brought over the popular character Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It wasn't enough, and the fifth season was the last.
- Joss Whedon said in an interview that an attempt to avert this trope led to the show's cancellation. WB's refusal to renew the show until the last possible minute created problems for the cast and crew, as it left them no time to seek new work if the show weren't renewed. Joss requested a quicker decision for the staff's sake, and WB decided to cancel.
- Gunsmoke was originally meant to be cancelled after 1966-1967 season, after nearly 11 years on the air. However, the wife of CBS president William S. Paley, who was a devoted fan of the show, simply wouldn't hear of it. After persuasion from her and many other fans, Paley decided to renew the show, placing it in Gilligan's Island's timeslot, which ended up cancelling the beloved sitcom at the last minute. Gunsmoke would continue to air for another 8 seasons, a record-breaking run totaling 20 years (and that's not even including the 1952-1961 radio series).
- NewsRadio was in this position every single year of its five seasons.
- It's completely possible that without the entire drama where Buffy the Vampire Slayer moved to UPN, Gilmore Girls would have received a bare renewal for the second season as it was barely holding on in its original timeslot leading off Thursdays against Survivor and Friends. Thankfully it became a shoo-in after that in their new Tuesday timeslot for the next six seasons, replacing Buffy, which stuck in the same slot on UPN for two seasons.
- The last season of Charmed. Not only did they have to undo the ending of the previous season, which could have been a final ending, but budget restrictions meant not being able to have Leo in most of the episodes.
- Both the fourth and fifth seasons of The Wire barely happened. The fifth possibly only because the creator wrapped up the series and delivered a shorter season.
- Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were the patron saints of this trope. Season one sparked some fears that the show was weaker than what the shows spun off of, largely because they ignored the canon of the Batman and Superman animated series that preceded them. At the end, they re-worked the show to reflect that canon better and felt that this was their swan song, so wrapped up with a big three-part season finale where they blew everything up. Then they got the call that they were renewed for another season and retooled the show into Justice League Unlimited. The producers thought that this would be their last great story and wrapped up dangling threads from Superman: The Animated Series as well as some in the previous Justice League, capping it off with a Fully Absorbed Finale with Batman Beyond. Then they got the call that the series was so good that they got one more season and the final finale was strong enough that fans think it deserved more. The show was basically Only Barely Renewed for three seasons and is considered one of the best shows in Western Animation!
- The original Star Trek got a third season only because of a massive letter writing campaign; but the third season is not considered that great by many fans. Forty years later, Star Trek: Enterprise barely got a fourth season because the show runners convinced the studio that they could do it cheaply; in fact the eventual series finale was originally written to cap the third season. Fans tremendously approved the final season— including many who feel it actually grew its beard that season, too late to be saved.
- Spider-Girl. This was barely renewed lots and lots of times, to the point of only dying after 130 issues. It has since had several restarts that get Only Barely Renewed for a little while, before being cancelled and the cycle starts anew.
- Ironically, Joe Quesada has had a lot to do with Spider-Girl getting to continue its run.
- [adult swim]'s truly bizarre Xavier: Renegade Angel somehow has a second season.
- All evidence indicated Dollhouse wouldn't get a second season—poor ratings, lukewarm critical reception until halfway through the season, Fox's decision not to air the planned season finale (it was released on the DVD), the fact that it was a Whedon/Minear production on Fox, and so on. It got renewed anyway; but the second season was the last.
- The second season may have been simply because the execs were Genre Savvy enough to know they'd get complaints if they canceled it after only one season.
- Chuck season 3 was on the blade of a knife, and wasn't announced with all of NBC's other properties. It was renewed (after Sending Stuff To Save The Show) with a lower budget, shorter season, and a Product Placement deal, as a mid-season replacement, though it actually got more episodes ordered when much of NBC's new fall material failed. Season 4 was never really in doubt since S3's ratings were good by NBC standards, but it only initially got 13 episodes. Most of NBC's new shows again bombed, while Chuck was doing reasonably well, so it got 11 episodes for the spring. Throughout the spring, however, its ratings kept sinking lower and lower. It's been picked up for a 5th and final season, but it'll only be 13 episodes and the show's moving to Fridays from the 8pm Monday slot it had always held. Many speculate that Warner Bros., who produce it, cut NBC a deal too good to pass up in order to get the show enough episodes for syndication.
- The only reason the remake of V got a second season was because all of the other new dramas on ABC that year bombed.
- ABC later cut the order to just 10 episodes.
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack got a third season. However, it only consisted of 6 episodes, and was quickly burned off.
- In a video game example, there's Tony Hawk's Shred. Its predecessor Ride sold very badly because of its insistence on a skateboard peripheral that didn't work properly. People didn't think Activision would bother with a sequel after this debacle, especially because competition from EA's Skate series was making the series look tired. Somehow, the series did get renewed for Ride's sequel Shred which ignored fan demand not to use the skateboard peripheral, and the series is on its last legs as a result.
- CSI NY seems to have been this for season 8. It wasn't confirmed as renewed until the last possible moment and got 18 episodes for season 8. Season 9 was even closer-CBS said it was very close as to whether to renew it or CSI: Miami. Ultimately, it came down to CSI NY being cheaper to produce and wanting to use it to help with a night of New York themed shows.
- Nikita was the lowest rated show on the CW for most of it's second season, it got renewed regardless, it's rumoured to be because of international sales.
- The ratings dropped even lower in the 3rd season, but it still got renewed for a final 6 episode run.
- Community got renewed for the fourth season despite lukewarm ratings from the third season. Catch is, it only got a half season's worth of episodes ordered....and will be moved to Friday nights with a lead-in consisting of Whitney. Huzzah?
- Community later had the start of its season delayed to put it on Thursday nights (while Whitney went to Wednesdays) due to the failures of Animal Practice and Guys With Kids. So maybe there could be a happy ending after all.
- After the Season 4 finale already aired, it somehow got renewed for a fifth. It's actually probably a good thing that NBC's ratings have been suffering recently, as Community was probably only renewed because they had to cut a lot of their new shows that had been failing.
- Power Rangers has done this on at least five separate occasions, most notably in 1998, when the drastically-budget-cut Power Rangers in Space was so popular that it revitalized the viewership figures that had been on the decline for the past few years, and again in 2002 when Disney bought the rights and almost put it into reruns, but renewed at the last minute by moving production to the cheaper New Zealand. At one point they actually did stop production and put it into reruns, after which the (North American) franchise creator promptly bought the rights back and moved it to another network, which has at time of this writing not had any by-a-hair renewals.
- Blackadder had a relatively successful first season, but not enough to consider renewing. The BBC eventually allowed a second season on the proviso that it would have a drastically reduced budget. The seasons from the second onwards are generally considered far superior to the first.
- Hannibal was given the 9 o'clock Thursday slot, which is notorious at NBC for getting bad ratings, often resulting in the untimely death of the shows (for context, the show Hannibal replaced in the time slot was Do No Harm, which had the lowest premiere ratings in TV history). Predictably, the show (while well-recieved by critics and audiences) never had that great of ratings, and there was much speculation that it would either be cancelled or moved to a different network before NBC eventually decided to renew it due to large DVR numbers and an incredibly passionate social media fanbase.
- Tabletop RPG example: Exalted had been suffering from increasingly poor sales for years, with a particular low point being the disastrous reception of the Dreams of the First Age boxset. After a while, the release schedule was cut down dramatically, with one book even containing what was likely a note implying the official discontinuation of the line. Many of the freelance writers went into extreme damage control, releasing reams of free setting and mechanics info in a desperate attempt to keep interest in the line from flagging long enough for them to get a last few books out. Said books proved to be tremendous successes (with the last jumping to the top of sales listing within days), allowing the line to be secured for the issuing of a third edition.
- The teen Game Show Peer Pressure had three seasons. In reality, the last two seasons were simply the same episodes but with increasingly obtrusive editing (the "second" season applied DVD Commentary and Clumsy Copyright Censorship, while the "third" season completely changed the name of the show and edited the audio to try and Retcon it)
- Thirteen weeks into its run in 1963, NBC was about to axe The Match Game. Seeing nothing left to lose, writer Dick DeBartolo decided to juice up some of the fill-in-the-blanks as comical and lightly suggestive statements. Viewers picked up on it, and the show ran to September 1969.
- The merger of the WB and UPN into The CW led to several cases of this, as executives decided it would be better for the network to find its legs with proven properties instead of rolling the dice with new series.
- The first two seasons of Supernatural went through this. Season 1 aired on the WB during its last year before it was reformatted into the CW and the decision to keep it wasn't made until long after the finale had aired. Likewise, its ratings for the second season were pretty low even for the CW's early standards and the decision to renew it hadn't been made until long after Season 2 wrapped up.
- Similarly, the CW intended to cancel Reba after its fifth season as the network decided to laser in on the young, trendy, urban audience. However, they realized that the show had already been renewed for a fifth and sixth season the year before, and the "kill fee" they'd have to pay producers for breaking this contract would have cost more than actually making a sixth season. It got renewed for a 13-episode sixth season, ignored as much as possible, and disappeared soon after.