The Honeymooners was a spinoff of The Jackie Gleason Show, that didn't fare too well against competing shows. The 39 episodes it managed to air before cancellation are today regarded alongside I Love Lucy as quintessential 1950s television and the foundation of the modern sitcom.
The Addams Family was not very successful in its original run, but a hit in syndication.
The Brady Bunch failed to crack the top 20 when it was on the air; it is now considered one of the most beloved sitcoms in history.
The original Star Trek was canceled after three seasons due to poor ratings. Then the studios started doing demographic studies, and it turned out the show they just cancelled was actually one of their top shows among the best demographics. The show was given loads of syndication reruns, which earned it loads of more fans over the years. Soon there were plans of reviving the series (which became the films), and the rest is history.
On a smaller scale, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was initially mocked for "not going anywhere" and people tended to watch the more "exciting" spaceship-set Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager instead... but it's since earned the best critical reviews of any Star Trek series and has become a kind of franchise Ensemble Dark Horse, with more people listing it as their favorite series now than when it aired. This is usually because of the fact that the setting was stationary, letting the creators add more depth and introduce serialized story arcs — common now, but rare at the time.
While Star Trek: Nemesis is still seen as one of the weaker Trek films to be produced, Trek fans that despise the more action-oriented J. J. Abrams films have elevated this film's status, focusing on Patrick Stewart and Tom Hardy executing otherwise poorly-written dialogue quite effectively, especially since Hardy's breakout performances in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises have put him on the map in his own right.
In universe, the high-warp engine designed by Henry Archer with Cochrane was thought to be a crackpot dream by many. Expanded Universe books reveal that initially, Starfleet was ready to go with the ion-warpdrive. In the Trekverse, the dilithium chamber warp drive has been the standard going into the 24th century.
Patrick McGoohan's sci-fi classic The Prisoner (1967) didn't last long on ITV, with a style so unconventional that the executives in charge were terrified of a second season being made. Some sources say that McGoohan only wanted the show to last 7 episodes, with the network wanting far more (somewhere between 26 or 37), and that they compromised on 17.
Monty Python's Flying Circus was badly received at first; the studio audiences were largely old ladies (hence the use of the Women's Institute Applause Stock Footage) who expected an actual circus and the show was put out at odd hours of the night. It has only gradually picked up its cult following.
Space: 1999, although enjoying some popularity at the time (1975-1977), has been a poster boy for poor writing, poor science, poor directing, poor acting. However, most of these criticisms are directed at the very different second season which was produced by Fred Frieberger, a figure noted for ruining good science-fiction shows. Despite the handwavium throughout the series, the first season is now remembered as being deep, thoughtful, and metaphysical. Despite a widespread perception of the show favoring special effects over story it can't be denied that the show had visual effects that still hold up even today. Many of its effects crew went on to even bigger things (such as Star Wars and Alien) further cementing Space 1999's place as the show that helped George Lucas and Ridley Scott discover good technical talent.
Fawlty Towers (the first season in particular) was lambasted by British TV critics, who did not find it inspired or funny at all. Gradually it became a cult series and eventually the most popular, critically acclaimed and often repeated British sitcom of all time.
WKRP in Cincinnati was originally an underdog property of MTM Productions (CBS changed the show's time slot a dozen times in four years, leading to its early cancellation), but the syndicated reruns catapulted the series to recognition as one of the greatest TV sitcoms of all time.
During the era of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), the show received poor ratings and drew much criticism, resulting in it eventually being put on hiatus for 15 years. The second and third seasons of McCoy's tenure are now widely praised for their gritty realism, complex plotting, and return to a more mysterious portrayal of the Doctor.
While the contemporary criticisms of Season 16 and 17 for being too silly remain agreed upon (although with some grudging admission that it was amazing they got anything on the screen at all with all the strikes, budget problems and lead actor mental health issues), "City of Death" was much hated by the fanbase when it aired for being too farcical and stupid, despite doing very well with the general viewing public. Nowadays, it's one of the most beloved and fondly remembered Classic serials and frequently makes top ten lists. Its witty dialogue (courtesy of Douglas Adams), almost romcom feel due to the high level of UST between the Doctor and Romana note as the actors started a Romance on the Set while making the story, prominent and gorgeous location shooting, in-story time paradoxes and dynamic, sexy villains have all been highly influential on the Steven Moffat era.
"Pure historicals", stories set in historical periods with the presence of the TARDIS crew being the only science fiction element and usually dealing with questions like the morality of interfering with history, were considered by contemporary audiences to be dry and boring and got progressively more and more unpopular as the series progressed. Ratings tanked especially hard during "The Gunfighters", the story which all but killed the format. There has always been a minority calling for the return of this format, but today it is generally agreed upon that the First Doctor's pure historicals tend to be his best stories. They tend to have rather more mature and witty writing than the show's early attempts at science fiction, don't suffer from Special Effect Failure to the same extent, and have less Early Installment Weirdness than many of the surrounding stories, despite the fact that being a historical is itself Early Installment Weirdness. Pure historicals usually cited as amongst the First Doctor's best include the rather mythologised Missing Episode "Marco Polo", "The Romans", "The Myth Makers", "The Massacre of Saint Bartholemew's Eve", and "The Aztecs" (often given as a contender for his very best story). "The Crusade" and "The Reign of Terror" are less popular, but have more defenders than the contemporarily highly popular sci-fi serials "The Web Planet" and "The Chase". The only pure historical that is generally considered bad is "The Gunfighters", although that's a special case: 1) fan lore held that it was an awful story due to an especially damning write-up in the review book Doctor Who: A Celebration, which was around before home video, so fandom took its opinion as gospel (although its loving write up in the later review book The Discontinuity Guide is eroding its reputation), and 2) it's a comedy and to some extent a Musical Episode, so was always going to be a Love It or Hate It story.
Doctor Who has a lot of Missing Episodes which tend to get regarded as 'classics' simply because they can't be watched, but no-one really cared about "The Enemy of the World" — it's a bit of an Out-of-Genre Experience in that it's a spy story focusing on a human Diabolical Mastermind and with no monsters, and the recons made the story seem silly and difficult to follow (not helped by the fact that it's about a Criminal Doppelgänger and Impersonating the Evil Twin). Additionally, the only episode to survive in full was a comic-relief one with many deliberately-silly scenes. But when the whole thing was suddenly discovered in Nigeria, fans suddenly were able to see the surprisingly good action scenes in the first episode, and observe the character acting from Patrick Troughton that made the story make sense, and suddenly reappraised it as one of the best Troughton stories. DWM pointed out that in their top 200 stories poll of 2009 it was the 30th rated story of the 60s, but in 2014 it was the 10th rated.
Police Squad! challenged the attention spans of American viewers in the early 80s. Only 4 episodes initially aired, but a few years later it became a cult phenomenon and inspired its creators Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker to revive it in the feature film The Naked Gun.
The first season of Cheers was the lowest-rated sitcom in 1982. Critical acclaim allowed the show to survive into a second season, which became a smash hit and effectively vindicated season 1.
The post-Diane years were also criticized due to it no longer feeling as fresh, as the Sam and Diane storyline no longer existed. Critical opinion was mixed to the point that when the series ended in 1993, many critics were happy to see the series finally end. Many fans thought the show had lost its flavor after a few years, even if it was still popular, the quality wasn't as well received as the first few seasons. However, ever since a new generation of people have started watching the show (being included on Netflix has certainly helped), the latter seasons are now viewed as just as good as, if not better 'because' it doesn't have the lingering Sam/Diane storyline. This is because many people like the new focus placed on Woody, Cliff, and Norm, helping develop their characters all the more. The finale is also now looked at as one of the best finales in television history.
Anne Beatts — who in the 1970s had teamed with boyfriend/writing-colleague Michael O'Donoghue to bring sadistic edge to the early seasons of SNL — created in 1982 a teen sitcom called Square Pegs. The material presented in Pegs (more adult in nature than the average 12-to-19 demographic offering at the time) resulted in public alienation and ratings disaster. A fandom grew around the show over the course of the decade — enough to propel lead actress Sarah Jessica Parker to stardom.
Twin Peaks, despite heavy promotion and initially glowing reviews, failed to maintain its audience as its content progressed into more and more unusual territory. Season 2 entered fell hard into Seasonal Rot after the murder that drove the series was resolved (at the executive's request) and the show became rudderless. There was a bad case of Trapped by Mountain Lions from then on, with the Packard storyline spinning its wheels and James's storyline contributing nothing but eating up space. Cooper and Audrey breaking up was another factor (behind the scenes conflicts playing heavily into it) and even if one wasn't interested in the relationship; setting the pair up with new unpopular relationships just killed more time. Twin Peaks is still seen as one of the most influential sitcoms of all time, however, and critical reception of the second season has softened in the new 10s. Though the season still has its problems many fans emphasize the positives more and more: the characterization managed to stay strong throughout, and the Windom Earle plot (the backbone of the second half of season 2) was an entertaining storyline that managed to bring the color back in the shows cheeks, especially with the well received finale. The similarly well received Revival has definitely helped soften fan opinion on season 2 as it can be seen as a weak middle to the Twin Peaks canon rather than the series ending on a weak note.
FOX's Space: Above and Beyond debuted to middling ratings and mixed reaction from critics and viewers when it premiered in 1995. The show, which centered around a group of outer-space Marine pilots fighting to stop an invasion by an otherworldly alien force, was roundly criticized at the time for being "Full Metal Jacketin space". It was cancelled at the end of its first season (due to pressure from parents' groups over the violence in the show), and appeared to disappear from the ether... that is, until stations like the Sci-Fi Channel and Space Channel (in Canada) started airing marathons of the show, and audiences began to watch it in droves. It then picked up a cult following for blazing trails no other sci-fi series had done up to that point: highly serialized plots that relied on minor stories and comments from previous episodes, a realistic treatment of military politics, CGI used as a narrative tool, gender and ethnic diversity, and permanent cast and story changes. It was even ranked in IGN's list of Top 50 Sci-Fi TV Shows. Today, the show is considered to be one of the defining sci-fi series of the 1990s, and helped shape the current wave of serialized sci-fi shows (like Battlestar Galactica).
Premium cable channel HBO has its fair share of belated success stories:
Mr. Show was a show with sensibilities that didn't click with mid-1990s mainstream; its viewership was very small. Sketch comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, who created the series, are now two of the most influential artists in their field, popularizing the brand of comedy found in Mr. Show. The series is a smash hit on DVD.
The Wire spent its five seasons for the most part ignored, a minor-league show overshadowed by the likes of The Sopranos. A while after Wire ended, Barack Obama (a huge fan) became the U.S. president and his public appearances increasingly referenced the show. It is now showing up on numerous critics' lists as one of the greatest television dramas ever made, even occasionally outdoing the show whose shadow it was stuck in.
Carnivāle had extremely high production values and was honorably daring in its thematic scope, but suffered a disastrous barely-viewed two seasons and as time went on showrunner Daniel Knauf found himself at war with the network. The second season ended on a cliffhanger that was destined never to be resolved; nevertheless the show continues to garner enormous posthumous acclaim.
Deadwood was a series HBO was really proud of, but low ratings versus too high a budget forced them to cancel it after the third season. With heavy promotion in the DVD market, audience acclaim has skyrocketed.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, believe it or not, was never a ratings giant. Only after the show found success in reruns and Will Smith became a Hollywood superstar did it become recognized as one of the most popular sitcoms of all time.
Freaks and Geeks lasted one season and was seemingly forgotten once it was over. The show has since skyrocketed in popularity.
Malcolm in the Middle was initially building up momentum as a must-see sitcom, but because of FOX's constant switching of timeslots and the resulting nuisance in trying to find Malcolm, the series suffered ratings failure. Eventually general disinterest (though there was a small cult fandom) forced the writers to wrap up the show's loose ends and call it quits. Since the show ended, the actor who played the father, Bryan Cranston, went on to star in Breaking Bad, one of the most critically acclaimed dramas of all time. Many people have watched the show to see Bryan. In reruns the series is very popular.
Richard Hatch was hated by the viewers because his approach to the gameplay was seen as unethical. Nowadays, he's considered one of the best players to ever play the game, and aside from a few others like Rob Cesternino, Vecepia, and Cirie, invented most of the strategies commonly used in the show today, and is often considered one of the best people to ever play the game. (Apart from Rob Cesternino, who was actually eliminated because he was Genre Savvy.)
Jerri Manthey was loathed when The Australian Outback aired, and was called a "black widow" due to her scheming to get further ahead in the game. Outside the game, she was often characterized as a manipulative shrew on shows like Blind Date, which played it for laughs. In All-Stars, she came back and became more sympathetic, but was booed at the reunion show, which led her to leave during the broadcast. In the intervening time since then, she became much more favorably looked at as further seasons showcased villains who stooped to far greater lows to achieve what they wanted, and her brand of scheming became an integral part of the game. Come Heroes and Villains, she shows up and realizes that she looks like a lightweight compared to people like Russell and Parvati, becomes one of the most likable people on the Villains tribe, and is finally cheered in that seasons' reunion.
Firefly underwent such serious Executive Meddling during its original run that it was cancelled after only 11 episodes managed to air. Today, Firefly as a whole is now hailed as a sci-fi classic.
Arrested Development aired for only three seasons before being cancelled. The show was well received and won six Emmys and a Golden Globe, but it got low ratings which were mostly due to its time slot constantly being switched and its lack of advertising. But a year after it was cancelled, Time magazine listed it as one of the best 100 TV shows of all time, and it has since achieved a cult following. There has been talk of an Arrested Development movie ever since the show was cancelled, and most of the cast has expressed a desire to be in said movie.
Fifteen new episodes saw a Netflix release in 2013. Mitch Hurwitz annouced that more Arrested Development would be coming in some form. Netflix has expressed interest in producing more episodes as well.
30 Rock was adored by critics and has won tons of Emmys, but only pulled in mediocre ratings. Nowadays, it's viewed as one of the greatest sitcoms of the 21st century and finds newfound fans every day through Netflix and reruns.
Veronica Mars impressed critics and a small fandom but never achieved decent ratings in its initial run. CW Network cut the show short when the third season concluded, and for years remained a minor curiosity until fairly recently hitting it big.
Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign by Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell, a feature-film continuation was released in 2014.
Pushing Daisies got only about one season's worth of episodes in all when it was on during 2007-2009 (due to a writer's strike) but is now recognized as a unique, wonderful tv show by people and Bryan Fuller has confirmed a revival of sorts recently.
The Comeback received lukewarm reviews when it initially aired and was cancelled after one season. It has since then attained a cult following, has been recognised as one of the best shows of the 2000s, and is considered to have been ahead of its time. The show was uncanceled nearly a decade later.
Power Rangers gets this for many seasons, mainly due to nostalgia factor after a "bad" season passes. During Samurai (which is regarded as one of the worst seasons ever), many, many fans looked back at previously disliked seasons (Turbo, Wild Force, and Operation Overdrive are the most commonly cited) with a more positive reception. This is called a trend because it happens all the time in the franchise — for example, Samurai became vindicated after Super/Megaforce gradually decreased in quality, with many fans grumbling about how Samurai at least had a story. And once another "bad" season passes after the end of Super/Megaforce, that season will probably viewed more positively.
Parks and Recreation received a so-so reception when its first season initially aired. As the show became more popular, the first season's reputation skyrocketed.
Community is certainly headed in this direction. It ran for five seasons on NBC to critical praise and a cult following, but so-so ratings (on good days), before being canceled and revived by Yahoo Screen. It's shaping up to have a legendary reputation when it ends.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon wasn't very well liked during its first run, it was supposed to run for 52 episodes but low ratings reduced it to 49 episodes, and some people outright hated it for its bad CGI and the massive changes they made to both the characters and the story. Gradually, people began to see it for what it is, and not only enjoy it, but outright claim it to be the best adaptation of Sailor Moon there is. It became especially well regarded after Sailor Moon Crystal came out, which was plagued with animation failures, over-reliance on the manga's story, and characterization problems. Now, people hail the live-action series as a great series with well developed characters, interesting storylines, and like it for what it is, flaws notwithstanding.
Choujinki Metalder had suffered massive ratings failure amongst its target demographic of 5-7 year olds when it first aired in Japan, due to its darker story line compared to its fellow Metal Heroes shows and wound up being cut down from 52 episodes like the rest of the Metal Heroes series to just 39 episodes, but nowadays, thanks in part to the show's footage being used for VR Troopers and many of the Japanese audience now being older, the show is by far the most popular Metal Heroes series to date amongst American and older Japanese fans, with Metalder being considered an Ensemble Darkhorse that many Toei Hero fans want to see return in their works.
Big Brother's 15th season in the U.S. became this after 16 aired. During its time, 15 was seen as having been marred with controversial comments from the cast, accusations of racism and homophobia, editing that favoured a disliked showmance, and a starting twist that was far too predictable. However, after seasons 16 and 17, a lot of fans begun to appreciate season 15's overall gameplay, such as the MVP changing to allow the audience to put a player up (Thus causing drama in the house as everyone tried to find who the MVP was), eviction votes that weren't determined four days in advance (keeping suspense), split votes causing more drama and paranoia, and a cast who was actually somewhat complex and weren't afraid to rock the boat. This happened after season 16 and 17 featured large alliances that never ever splintered until the end, mostly unanimous votes that were determined the second the veto was or was not used, legit stupid players afraid to make big moves, and somewhat boring winners.
Arrow's third season (or at least the first half of it) is looked at far more fondly after the trainwreck that was its fourth. The fourth season was gradually overtaken by relationship drama, the fight choreography decayed significantly, there was less and less effort made to even ground the show back into reality, and then there was Laurel's death; the less we say about that, the better. Not only that, the once beloved Olicity ship took a massive nosedive in popularity during this season because of terrible writing, both of the relationship and of Felicity Smoak's character, who got so much unnecessary focus that people started joking about how Oliver was a supporting character on his own show. As a result, the once despised Lauriver ship also had this invoked on it (especially after Laurel's death), to the point that it's now shipped by everyone in the fandom who isn't a hardcore Olicity shipper, even those who don't particularly care about shipping at all.
Nathan Barley was a remarkably well-casted, well-written sitcom and well-promoted Black Comedy sitcom by two big names - Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker - that just died on its arse on broadcast in 2005. The reason for this is that the entire thing is an evisceration of a specific kind of moneyed "Shoreditch twat" hipster, and the banality and puerility of much of then ascendant Internet culture, but broadcast at a point before social media, broadband Internet and things like YouTube really took off, meaning it was downright incomprehensible to people who weren't already familiar with the subject matter. Ten years later, and it turns out that the series was actually prophetic; everyone knows someone like the titular Barley, the "Shoreditch twat" stereotype is well known and the things it lampooned as ridiculous or stupid are now all mainstream.
The much-maligned ninth season of Roseanne gets this at the very end, with the explanation that it was all a fantasy she retreated into after Dan's death.