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Only Barely Renewed

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"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!!!!"
Drunken Bee (pimping for Friday Night Lights's renewal), Television Without Pity

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, Renewed Before Premiere.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Girl. The original run was barely renewed lots and lots of times, with these renewals getting it to 130 issues before dying. It has since had several continuations that have also gotten this treatment, each being cancelled before the cycle starts anew. Ironically, Joe Quesada has had a lot to do with Mayday Parker's continued existence.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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 was a Post-Script Season.
  • 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.
  • M*A*S*H performed incredibly poorly in its first season (placing 46th) and was almost guaranteed to be cancelled. Fortunately, the network had enough faith in the series to give it one more season (a possibly apocryphal story claims that the wife of the head of CBS was a fan). A combination of summer reruns gaining traction, and being given a primo time slot for season two (following the hugely popular All in the Family) catapulted the series into the top ten, where it would remain for all but one of it's remaining ten seasons.note 
  • Seinfeld initially went ahead despite resistance from most of NBC and Larry David himself. After the pilot aired, NBC was so ambivalent about the show that they only ordered four episodes for the first season (and that was because the executive in charge of NBC's specials who saw potential in the series had to do creative math to fund it and cut out a Bob Hope special for that year). 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 its 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 the 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 David Simon wrapped up the series and delivered a shorter season.
  • The original Star Trek got a third season only because of a massive letter-writing campaign (well, that and the fact that RCA owned NBC at the time, and RCA owned the patent for color TV. Since most people bought color TVs specifically for Star Trek, they realized RCA made more money in color TV sales than NBC lost because of Star Trek); 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 showrunners 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.
  • 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 knew 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.
  • 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 its 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 was initially set to air on Fridays but was moved to Thursday at the last minute. And then, after the Season 4 finale aired, it somehow got renewed for a fifth. After the fifth season, NBC flat-out cancelled the show — only to have Yahoo pick the show up for a sixth (and final) season on the last day before the contracts of the main cast members expired.
  • 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-received by critics and audiences) never had great 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. Also a factor; European financing from France's Gaumont studio and Sony's AXN network, which meant that NBC could easily stomach the ratings issues because the international distributors paid most of the costs and NBC only paid a spare licensing fee and could keep most of the ad revenue, along with Amazon paying NBC to having exclusive rights to stream it in-season and long after.
  • The teen Game Show Peer Pressure ran for three seasons, but the second and third season were just repackaged reruns of the first season with increasingly obtrusive editing; the "second" season applied Pop-Up Trivia and Clumsy Copyright Censorship, while the "third" season changed the name of the show to Pressure 2 (editing references to the word "Peer" in the title to try and Retcon it) to go along with its new In Name Only Spin-Off Pressure 1 (which was produced as a stopgap to replace Click, a Merv Griffin-produced children's game show from the same distributor that was usually paired with Peer Pressure, but had been cancelled after two seasons).
  • Thirteen weeks into its run in 1963, NBC was about to axe 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. Four years later, CBS revived Match Game in a retooled format that became even more successful.
  • 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 executives at The WB were long gesticulating about the fate of 7th Heaven, whether to renew the show or stop it at Season 10. A year before the launch of the new network, the show was canceled, but in May the next year it was unexpectedly revived for a final season at The CW. The last-minute decision caused Season 11 to have its budget lessened, actors departing or missing for episodes, and a reschedule from Monday to Sunday.
    • The network intended to cancel Reba after its fifth season as it 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.
    • 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.
  • Beauty and the Beast (2012) got terrible ratings in its second season, was the CW's lowest-rated series in 2014, and was yanked off the schedule to air the rest of its episodes in the summer. Somehow it still got renewed for a third season.
  • Due to poor viewing figures, Only Fools and Horses was almost cancelled after two series. However, it was repeated in a low-key time slot and achieved respectable ratings, which convinced BBC producers to commission another series. The show went from strength to strength thereafter and ironically was continually revived during the 1990s and 2000s owing to its status as a ratings winner.
  • Parks and Recreation had relatively low ratings for much of its initial run, in some cases airing as a mid-season replacement, leaving its standing a precarious one. It got renewed anyway largely due to the failure of many of NBC's other then-new shows, a small but passionate fanbase, and getting good reviews from critics. As a result, almost all of the season finales can function as a Series Fauxnale. Additionally, according to Word of God, this led to many of the relationship subplots being resolved much more quickly because the writers weren't certain if it would run long enough to resolve them later.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The first season did not make a splash (even when FX attempted to air an edited-for-content cut on Fox proper), and the network straight-up told the showrunners that they would be canceled unless they could shake things up by getting a big name to join the cast. Ultimately Danny DeVito signed on (reportedly because his kids already loved the show), and the show quickly became one of FX's biggest shows. Ultimately one of the rare examples where Executive Meddling ended up working far better than even the executives themselves may have thought.
  • Seaquest DSV: Nicknamed as "Voyage to the Bottom of the Ratings", the submarine focused show's fate seemed certain. Declining ratings due to deteriorating writing and sports pre-emptions led to season 2 almost being last, with the season finale blatantly supposed to end the series - the embodiment of "going out with a bang". Behind the scenes, the planned replacement series (described as being "just awful") fell through, leading to a last-minute renewal and an overall sense of "let's get past this as quickly as possible" in the truncated season 3. Even with the renewal and improving critical praise, the planned full 3rd season was cut in half and the show sank to a watery grave.
  • Westworld: While the first season was received well, the second season's viewer ratings and reception started to fluctuate. Though there were reports that the show was planned to have five seasons, the third season continuously suffered low viewer ratings and it's only before the last two episodes were aired that the show got renewed for a fourth season. Unfortunately, the fourth season met with terrible marketing and poor ratings which led to the show's cancellation.
  • While the first season of The Office (US) only had six episodes, it struggled, with weak ratings and critics regarding it as an unfocused, watered-down imitation of the original. The main reason it made it to a second season was Kevin Reilly, NBC Entertainment president at the time, had loved the second episode, "Diversity Day", and felt the series had enough potential to warrant another go. It helped that the few viewers that did watch the first season were largely high earning individuals, which gave the network the ability to attract advertisers despite the low viewership.
  • Everyone expected Fresh Off the Boat to be cancelled at the end of its fifth season - it had been moved to the Friday Night Death Slot and its ratings predictably tanked because of that, online buzz for the show had dissipated, much of the supporting cast had already left or had taken roles on other shows, and showrunner Nahnatchka Khan announced her intention to step down note . But at the very last minute, it got a surprise renewal, infamously to the chagrin of cast member Constance Wu, who was eager to move on to other projects. The show would be cancelled midway through the sixth season.
  • Saturday Night Live had two near-death experiences in The '80s. The first was after Season 6 (1980-81), when Jean Doumanian took over for Lorne Michaels as producer, only to have the show turn into a critical and ratings fiasco, leading to her dismissal after twelve episodes. Dick Ebersol, the NBC executive who helped launch the show in 1975, stepped in as producer and basically saved the show. Then after Season 10 (1984-85), Ebersol was let go and the show was officially canceled, but NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff decided to try one last ditch gambit and reached out to Michaels, who agreed to return as producer, so the show got Un-Canceled for good.
  • Doctor Who was nearly cancelled in 1985 by BBC1 controller Michael Grade, who openly disliked the series for its unimpressive production values and rapidly escalating amounts of violence. Following protests from the show's production staff, he begrudgingly turned the cancellation into an 18-month-long hiatus, after which the show's budget was slashed and its episode count was limited to 14 25-minute installments (divided among four serials) per season. Additionally, between Seasons 23 and 24, Grade moved the show's timeslot to Monday evenings to compete with Coronation Street, which analysts described as a deliberate attempt to tank Doctor Who's ratings. Sure enough, while the show managed to truck on for a few more years, it eventually got cancelled by Grade's successor and fellow Who detractor Jonathan Powell after the conclusion of Season 26 in 1989, not returning to regular airing until 2005.

  • Bob Dylan's debut album sold around 5,000 copies in its original release, and he only really got a chance to do another album because John Hammond, who'd signed him, had a lot of clout at Columbia Records and insisted he get another shot. The follow-up album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was much more successful and received a platinum certification (shipment of a million units).
  • Similar to Dylan, Bruce Springsteen's first two albums had been Acclaimed Flops, and Columbia Records only agreed to let him do a third album on the understanding that it needed to be a genuine hit. After almost two years of work, he ended up delivering on that expectation with Born to Run.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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. The 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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. Finally, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 finally acquiesced to not use the skateboard peripheral anymore after it too barely got renewed, but it was an Obvious Beta full of Game Breaking Bugs.

    Western Animation 
  • Justice League and Justice League Unlimited were the patron saints of this trope. Season 1 sparked some fears that the show was weaker than what the shows spun off of, largely because they ignored the canon of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series (which are part of the same universe as Justice League). 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. This makes it a case of what was supposed to be the Grand Finale actually saving the show both times it happened.
  • Chowder's third and final season was renewed for 20 episodes, but later shortened to only 9. Fellow Cartoon Network series The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack got an even shorter third season of only six episodes and, unlike Chowder, didn't even get its final episode advertised.
  • Black Dynamite: After the first season saw low ratings and mixed critical reception, it was renewed, but the budget was cut, new episodes were moved to Saturdays, and they were given very little promotion.
  • Word of God states the second season of Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Production (renamed New Looney Tunes) was produced as a direct result of the executives at Warner Bros. loving the pitch for the first season's final episode "Porky's Duck-livery Service", despite the show having seen middling success.
  • The Owl House was renewed for a third season before the second season had started airing, but despite the show getting high praise from both critics and the audience, it was confirmed that it would be its final season and only consist of three 44-minute specials rather than a full ~20 episode season like the first two, because the show's excessively Darker and Edgier tone "did not fit the Disney brand". Thankfully, those three specials were enough to wrap up the overall narrative.
  • The original run of Futurama was handled in a messy mix of this and Screwed by the Network. While the show launched with impressive early legs (its pilot debuting with 19 million viewers) and remained a critical darling with a cult fanbase, Fox quickly became known for its inexplicable indifference to the series, giving it diminishing amounts of advertisement and poor time slots, placing season 4 premieres after sport events, making it increasingly hard to catch. Matt Groening went on record claiming that he and the production crew ended up approaching each season after their first like it was their last, as after completing the current order, they'd be left in increasingly long periods of silence before Fox would suddenly give them a renewal notice, up until the completion with season 4 where Fox responded with nothing, not even a proper cancellation notice. Groening has often implied that Fox executives who had problems with his other show, The Simpsons (which was untouchable, since it made so much money for the studio) took out all their frustrations on Futurama instead, leading to its shabby treatment by the network. It took successful syndication on [adult swim], a series of Direct to Video movies, and a full Channel Hop to Comedy Central for Futurama to get any further television seasons.