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- Mobile Suit Gundam performed so badly the first time around that the series was initially cut down to 39 episodes, only to be brought up to 43 to wrap up the series. When it was shown in reruns, the show became a hit (combined with model sells), giving a greenlight for a movie. When the movie became a hit, the rest was history.
- Similarly to Gundam above, Aim for the Ace!! performed very poorly in its initial run and was cancelled after a mere 26 episodes out of 52 planned. Reruns however turned out to be so popular, both a movie and a second tv show were produced.
- Lupin III (Green Jacket) had poor ratings and was cancelled, but due to popularity in reruns was later brought back as Lupin III (Red Jacket).
- Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z had an interesting history with American audiences. The first successful attempt to get it on Television after the Harmony Gold dub failed was the Ocean Dub of the first story arc of Dragon Ball, but was cancelled after one season. A little while later, they tried again, but with Dragon Ball Z, but was aired early in the morning and was cancelled midway through the Namek Saga. The Dragon Ball franchise didn't truly see popularity in the states until it started airing on Toonami. The reruns were so successful, that Funimation was tasked with finishing the English dub for not only DBZ, but also the original Dragon Ball.
- A variation: while new episodes of The Big Bang Theory have always enjoyed good-to-great ratings, many credit its seemingly endless climb in Prime Time dominance (roughly 18 million average viewers in season 6 and a minimum of 2 million new viewers each season) on its constant reruns on TBS creating new fans.
- The Addams Family faced heavy competition from The Munsters, suffered in the Nielsen ratings, and was cancelled at the end of its second season. Before too long, however, reruns propelled Addams Family into its current status as a pop culture phenomenon, surpassing Munsters in its appeal to modern audiences.
- Not that the Munsters were slouches in reruns, either.
- Arrested Development was acclaimed from the start, but it always received low ratings, and wasn't that popular, so it got cancelled after three seasons airing on FOX. After the whole series got put on MSN, and started airing reruns on HDNet and G4, it got many more fans and became a huge phenomenon. Years later, it finally got a fourth season on Netflix, and even has a movie in development.
- Breaking Bad was critically acclaimed since day one, but didn't have the best ratings on AMC for a number of years. Thanks to its skyrocketing popularity on Netflix, the show had a surge in ratings for the fifth season, and an even bigger leap when the final season aired. This also increased its critical acclaim, both because the show got better every season and because people found the little intricacies and Foreshadowing from previous seasons that they didn't see before. By the series finale it achieved its highest ratings ever, had one of the most critically acclaimed final seasons in history, and had become an internet phenomenon, seeing the show end in a blaze of glory, both critically and commercially. On top of that, Breaking Bad completely swept the awards season that its final season was eligible for, winning the SAG award for Best Ensemble, the TCA prize for Program of the Year, and the Critics Choice Award, Golden Globe, Writers Guild of America Award, and the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
- Firefly, to the point where it had a feature-film adaptation on the strength of its post-cancellation fandom.
- Gidget was cancelled by ABC in 1966 after only one season. However, reruns of the show which aired that summer garnered tremendous ratings. Despite the fact that ABC cancelled a hit series prematurely, the network did not reverse their decision, instead developing another vehicle for Sally Field, The Flying Nun.
- Gilmore Girls has maintained a strong following years after the show's end thanks to dependable daily reruns on ABC Family. It even helped establish that network as the successor to The WB that The CW wishes it could have been, with truly successful original shows like Pretty Little Liars enjoying a fanbase who came for the Gilmore reruns and stayed for the network's primetime. The success of reruns on Netflix prompted the service to revive the show in the form of four TV-movies.
- The Honeymooners lasted 39 episodes. Despite Jackie Gleason's status as one of the biggest TV stars of the 1950s, Honeymooners was one of those concepts which somehow just didn't fly. Now it's one of the most remembered and celebrated sitcoms of its era, with a more prolific rerun history than any other series ever broadcast.
- Judd Apatow struggled to find an audience with two sitcoms before jumping to the movies and hitting the jackpot. Freaks and Geeks, the teen sitcom which starred James Franco and Seth Rogen and in time became a syndication favorite, alienated critics and was a ratings flop in its initial airings in 1999, and Undeclared also lasted only a single season. Once Apatow became more successful, though, both shows were rediscovered and recognized as classics.
- My So-Called Life.
- Newsradio was jerked around by NBC, being subjected to every trick in the book except for the Friday Night Death Slot. It was finally cancelled in 1999 due to the drop in quality resulting from the untimely death of Phil Hartman, who played one of the most important characters on the show. Through syndication, however, it was discovered by others and now is regarded as the great TV show it really was.
- The Odd Couple kept shifting timeslots while on the air, so only during summer reruns, when it was on at a consistent time, did it gain a significant audience. When the series finally ended and went into syndication, it got those consistent timeslots once again. Its popularity skyrocketed (just as Klugman himself had confidently predicted).
- Starting in 2013, Once Upon a Time has been doing better through DVR recordings and reruns than it does live.
- Party Down was not a major success in the ratings (due to it being an early foray into scripted series by Starz) but managed to become a huge success on Netflix Instant Viewing and got star Adam Scott a lot of notice for his performance. A third season was considered due to the cult success but Starz forgot to renew the cast's contracts in time, leading production to cease. A movie is in the works though.
- Police Squad! aired 6 episodes before ABC and the general public were fed up with it. Those 6 episodes survived a brief period of obscurity and became extremely well-regarded in reruns for their zany, unpredictable comedy. Eventually, the series spawned the movie The Naked Gun and its sequels.
- Sherwood Schwartz is very grateful for this trope, as daily syndication turned two of his first-run flops (Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch) into unlikely cultural touchstones for a generation.
- Star Trek: The Original Series is probably the Trope Codifier. Lasting only three seasons (five had been planned and were integral to the show's concept.), it was a modest ratings success until NBC developed the habit of switching its timeslot around. The extensive rewriting of scripts and lack of immediate success made many of its more talented writers leave, which caused the quality to slip noticeably in a short time. It was canceled after the second season, but quickly Un-Canceled following an extensive letter-writing campaign from its fans. The third season saw even worse ratings, and NBC canceled it for real. Shortly afterwards, American television industry discovered the use of demographics. When stations noticed that, according to the new standards of how ratings were calculated, Star Trek should have been one of the most successful shows on TV (and that NBC had killed what could have been their golden goose), they were rushing to throw on Star Trek reruns to attract the young demographic that it had been popular with. It didn't take many years of reruns before the show's modest fanbase grew into a force to be reckoned with. The rest is history.
- Step by Step: Although only getting average (at best) ratings, reruns of the 1991-1998 sitcom spent nine years on ABC Family's schedule -– far longer than reruns did in syndication.
- Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
- The Three Stooges' shorts are a rare example of this trope not to originate on television itself. When the short Stooges films first appeared as curtain-raisers to full-length features by Columbia, they were regarded as little more than a second-rate slapstick sideshow. However, when these short films began appearing on TV in the late 1950s (after Curly and Shemp's deaths), their popularity took off in a big way. Fortunately, Larry and Moe lived to see the Stooges become firmly established as comedy legends (both died in 1975).
- Twin Peaks gained notoriety in the press for being the most thought-provoking (to say the least) detective series on TV, but failed to gain a strong audience during its 2-season run. Like many of David Lynch's works, it has gradually carved itself a place in history.
- WKRP in Cincinnati was the unwanted child of MTM Productions to the point where Mary Tyler Moore herself said publicly that she wouldn't watch it, and CBS kept moving it around the schedule so much that the series only lasted four seasons. However, in syndication, it grew to be considered one of the great Sitcoms of all time.
- Veronica Mars.
- The Doctor Who 60s story "The Enemy of the World" for years was considered the odd one out of a season dominated by "Monsters of the Week" and the "Base Under Siege" plots. The only existing episode was part 3, a slow middle episode and one which didn't give an accurate picture of the entire serial. But that was all fans had to go on. Now, with all six episodes recovered, there has been a major fan reevaluation, and the story is considered fresh for its time in integrating political intrigue with Doctor Who.
- DWM pointed out that in their top 200 stories poll of 2009 it was the 30th rated story of the 60s at 139 overall, but in 2014 it was the 10th rated and at 56.
- The Game Show Press Your Luck was a modest hit by game show standards, lasting for three years in its original run on CBS. However, its status as a Cult Classic game show was cemented throughout The '90s, when it was rerun heavily — first on USA Network, then on GSN later in the decade. The fact that GSN still airs reruns in The New Tens says something for the show's status.
Any song that isn't a massive hit on the charts, but still gets significant recurrent airplay after the fact and stands the test of time as a famous song. For instance:
- "Who Let the Dogs Out?" by the Baha Men only got to #40, yet its cultural pervasiveness far outshone its relatively low peak.
- "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" by Big & Rich only got to #11 on the country charts and #56 on the pop charts, but it is their most-downloaded song and the one song by which most would recognize them.
- Clint Black's cover of Eagles' "Desperado" didn't even crack top 40 on the country music airplay charts, yet it's still one of the most famous songs in his catalog. It probably helps that the original Eagles version was not a single.
- Fort Minor, the hip hop side project of Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, had a top 5 hit in 2006 with "Where'd You Go?" The follow-up, "Remember the Name," stalled at #66. For the next several years, the latter track would gain new life from use as a sports anthem and its inclusion in multiple movies, whereas the former largely faded from public consciousness.
- Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom" has held up much better than its #21 peak suggests, due to it being one of the quintessential "fad songs" of the 2000s.
- Billy Joel's Piano Man was a only a minor hit at first, reaching #25 on the charts in 1974. It practically vanished from radio play overnight. It was not until the success of The Stranger in 1977 that the song was rediscovered and become the classic it is today.
- Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was a #9 hit in 1981. While one of their better showings, it was far from their biggest hit; that would be the #2 "Open Arms" a year later. In the middle of the 2000s, the song was starting to be used more and more in media, notably on an episode of Family Guy. Then, it was used at the end of The Sopranos, and sales of the song soared. It kept a very high profile and established itself as a generational anthem, especially after it became the first song ever covered by Glee. It has sold over six million copies in the U.S. alone, by far the most of any 20th-century song.
- Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was never released as a single, yet received extensive radio airplay as time went on and ultimately become one of the most famous rock songs of all time. Same with "Kashmir," to a lesser extent.
- The Romantics' "What I Like About You" was only a moderate success at the time of its release, hitting #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was only towards the end of the 1980s, after the song was licensed to appear in television commercials, that it grew to become one of the most popular rock anthems of all time. Their 1984 hit "Talking in Your Sleep", which hit #3, still gets a decent amount of airplay.
- Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" only got to #28, yet it is one of his most famous songs.
- The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" was a big hit on alternative radio, yet made no noise on the pop side and fizzled out at #76. Its reputation increased dramatically as the decade went on, often appearing in top-10 lists for the decade, ultimately becoming one of the most acclaimed rock songs of all time.
- Kenny Chesney has two. His cover of Mac McAnally's "Back Where I Come From" has eclipsed the original, even though Mac's version was a single and Kenny's wasn't. This is due to both popularity in concert and occasional radio play. There's also Kenny's 1999 single "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy", which only got to #11 but is far more popular than some of his #1 hits due to fan demand.
- Billy Ray Cyrus's "Some Gave All" was never officially released as a single, and charted very low due to unsolicited spins as an album cut. However, it is one of his most popular songs, and is often played on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
- "Whiskey River" by Willie Nelson was not one of his bigger hits, only getting to #12, but it's also one of his most famous. (It's also an example of Covered Up, as Johnny Bush released it six years prior.)
- Juice Newton's 1982 hit "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me" only got to #30 on the country charts, but it's one of her most popular songs on the classic country format. This is probably because it fared much better with pop and AC.
- The same is true of "Let Your Love Flow" by the Bellamy Brothers. It only got to #21 at country in 1976, but as it was also a #1 pop smash and a Top 10 hit in many countries, it has remained popular on classic country.
- Martina McBride's "Independence Day" only got to #12, but it's one of her Signature Songs. The low peak is due in part to some stations refusing to play the song given its theme of domestic abuse.
- Reba McEntire has "Fancy" and "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia", covers of Bobbie Gentry and Vicki Lawrence respectively, that only got to #8 and #12. Yet they are by far the two most well-known of her output in The '90s, and two of her most famous songs overall.
- Many Country Music stations play "Work Song" by Corbin/Hanner on Monday mornings and "Finally Friday" by George Jones on Fridays. However, the former never came anywhere close to the top 40, and the latter was never even a single.
- Lee Greenwood had 7 Number One hits on the country music charts, with 5 other songs hitting the Top 5 - none of which was "God Bless the U.S.A." (which peaked at #7 in its initial chart run). That song has become an iconic patriotic anthem for the United States.
- Rascal Flatts' cover of "Life Is a Highway" from the soundtrack to Cars was never officially a single, but some stations played it anyway, giving it a #18 peak on the country charts. It has also remained a popular cut after the fact, getting more recurrent airplay than even some of their Top 5 hits.
- [adult swim] is where animated shows go to get reborn. In addition to its most famous example, Family Guy (as discussed below), it's perhaps the reason why Futurama got four DVD movies and a Comedy Central revival; Home Movies only lasted half a season on UPN but eventually got another three and a half as an Adult Swim original. This even happened to an anime once — The Big O received terrible ratings in Japan, but it was Cartoon Network that funded a second season.
- Clerks: The Animated Series was grossly mismanaged by ABC, which ran only two episodes (and not even in the proper order). Runs on Comedy Central and [adult swim], plus a fairly thorough DVD, have made it a Cult Classic.
- Family Guy was actually cancelled by Fox, then brought back as a result of this trope, after which it got the probably inevitable Hype Backlash.
- King of the Hill was reasonably popular during its run on Fox, but suffered from Executive Meddling as the network constantly shuffled its timeslot and forced writers to abandon its ongoing storylines. Thanks to reruns on [adult swim] it's gained a devoted following years after its cancellation.
- Many Looney Tunes animated shorts that weren't fully appreciated or respected in their original big-screen showings were kept alive with The Bugs Bunny Show (and its countless spinoffs), and obscure characters such as the Tasmanian Devil and Michigan J. Frog have joined Bugs and Daffy as comedy legends.
- And not just Columbia or Warner Bros., either. If any motion picture company had a theatrical short to its name, an anthology series was sure to spring up. Anyone for The Pink Panther (United Artists), Tom and Jerry (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), Casper the Friendly Ghost (Paramount), or Woody Woodpecker (Universal)?
- Batman Beyond was positively received, but it was never considered as good as predecessor Batman: The Animated Series. Reruns on Cartoon Network and later The Hub have helped boost its reputation, especially among those who like the darker side of DC Animated Universe.
- Despite continuing with, and even improving upon, the high production value of its predecessor Beast Wars, Beast Machines was decried by Transformers fans for various reasons, including depicting certain characters inconsistently with their established personalities, the "epic novel" style of how the story unfolded which made it harder for newcomers to jump into the show through a random episode, and being much darker than Beast Wars. As time passed, though, and the Unicron Trilogy came and went with lukewarm reception, hostility towards Beast Machines has died down and the show has received more positive light since.
- Rugrats, which was in re-runs from 1993-1997, steadily gained in popularity until it returned with new episodes and evolved into the Cash Cow Franchise it became.
- During the original run of KaBlam! on Nickelodeon, the show managed to get forty-seven episodes across four seasons, but suffered from low ratings, and didn't have much of a fanbase (it was Love It or Hate It at best in the '90s). The show gathered a bit of a cult following and gained a number of fans once it began airing on the Nicktoons TV channel in 2002. Since then, it's been considered one of the best Nicktoons of the 1990s.
- Like KaBlam!, Invader Zim was such a popular series during its reruns that Nicktoons TV finally released the unaired episodes of the series.
- The Jetsons lasted just one 24 episode season on ABC from 1962-1963 during the early 1960s boom of primetime animated sitcoms, but it became a favourite Saturday morning offering for over 20 years afterwards on all 3 major networks, despite recycling those same 24 episodes over and over again. An early 1980s surge in popularity finally got new episodes made for syndication from 1985-1987, along with a handful of full length movies.
- When SpongeBob SquarePants initially debuted, it wasn't as successful as it would later become and was mostly overshadowed by Rugrats leading to the show almost being cancelled after its first season but got renewed at the last minute. As of 2002, the reruns and episodes that hadn't already aired scored so high in the ratings that it was eventually Un-Cancelled and became the most successful Nicktoon ever.
- YouTube user Benthelooney was unpopular during his original run of videos, and had support from very little fans to keep his videos going (His original intention was only to make videos once in a while). When more people found out about the user via his rants on Cartoon Network, he was ruthlessly criticized. However, this was also when he started to gain a wider fanbase. Ben Tannehill ended his rants segments in 2011, after running out of topics to talk about but the outcry from fans was so monumental that the series was Un-Cancelled in 2012, where he blossomed in popularity and became one of the most popular ranters on YouTube.