A subtrope of Vindicated by History
that deals specifically with television. Some shows keep going for decades until one can't help coming across an episode of it while flipping through channels. Other shows get only one or two seasons before cancellation, but those one or two seasons are so awesome
that eventually someone decides to give them a repeat broadcast ... and that repeat becomes an established tradition of reruns for that particular show. Each passing generation will then give the show an appreciation that it wasn't given in its day.
to Vindicated by Cable
Contrast Better on DVD
, which saves those 15- or 20-season mammoth shows from becoming Deader Than Disco
- 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).
- 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 HD Net 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 won the Golden Globe in Best TV Drama over 2013 as a glorious cherry on top.
- 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 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's death), their popularity took off in a big way. Meanwhile, Larry and Moe had lived to see the Stooges 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 Nineties, 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.
- [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 brought back as a result of this trope, after which it got the probably inevitable Hype Backlash.
- 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.
- 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 Sponge Bob Square Pants 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.