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Canceled Shows Rarely Find Success On A New Network: Warning to Last Man Standing and Brooklyn Nine Nine!

For as long as there has been television, there have been network heads looking for an edge to gain over their competitors.  The edge gaining strategies have run the gamut with reboots being the latest craze.  With the recent success of Roseanne, Fuller House and Will & Grace, there is more proof than ever that the more things change the more things stay the same.  But in the spirit of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, when trying to fill out fall line-ups, another network’s canceled show could become your next hit.  However, now that Last Man Standing and Brooklyn Nine-Nine are finding new homes on FOX and NBC respectively, we should take pause as history suggests that canceled shows rarely find success when switching to a new network.  If this is the new trend, it may fleeting.

The first show to successfully switch networks was back in 1952 when CBS stole The Jackie Gleason Show from the Dumont network. In the ensuing 66 years, there have been many efforts by networks to steal or reinvigorate a show.  Network switching was more common in the earlier days of television when there were only three or four networks, then in the last 20 or so years with 100’s of channel options. It stands to reason that with all the programming clutter, the quick hook by one exec might be the next hit from another.  The network wisdom being, with the right marketing and programming strategy, we can make a show a hit!  History tells us another story. It is rare for a show to successfully switch networks.  The most recent example is American Idol  (FOX to ABC) and while the bar has been lowered, calling it a success, despite already getting picked up for a second season by ABC, would an overstatement.

Tim Allen vehicle, Last Man Standing, a show canceled by ABC after the 2016-2017 season, has now officially been picked up by FOX. You may recall that the canceling of this show was smattered with controversy.  ABC stood by its decision of pulling the show for poor performance. Network President Channing Dungey at last year’s Television Critics Association press tour appearing said of pulling the plug on the show, “Politics had nothing to do with it.”  Tim Allen, an open conservative, was not convinced, nor where a legion of fans who started a Change.org petition threatening to boycott the network. (People)  Reboots aside, with the success of Roseanne, the television environment may be ripe for more shows with conservative-leaning characters.  With Brooklyn Nine-Nine getting picked up by NBC just hours after getting canceled by FOX, this could become a trend.

Television history tells us, however, that the success of a program after moving networks has been more miss than hit.  From 1946, when traditional prime-time TV really began, there have been more than 70 scripted series that have changed networks. The majority switch from one broadcast network to another (46) while there are some shows that switched from broadcast or cable to streaming or cable to cable.  Below are some insights gained that may help predict the future.

Trying to rescue a show that is on a downward trend rarely works

Of those shows that had been on the air 5 or more seasons and then switched only one, My Three Sons in 1965 lasted more than 3 additional seasons on the network it moved to.  In fact, of all the shows that switched from a broadcast net to a broadcast net, 56% had only one more season.

Switching Networks was really a tool of the 20th century

With the binging phenomenon clearly in play, networks (most specifically Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu) are giving shows a little more time to find an audience than in the past.  However, it seems that with few exceptions (Community going from NBC to Hulu and The Mindy Project finding a home at Hulu after it was canceled by NBC) finding a new network is “so last century”.  In fact, only  5 series have switched networks since the beginning of the 21st century.

Switching a second time just isn’t in the cards anymore

Only five scripted series (not including the Wonderful World of Disney) have aired on 3 networks.  The last time this happened was 1971. (The Danny Thomas Show.).

Below are some interesting stats from the programs that aired on multiple networks

Broadcast Network to Broadcast Network

  • 10% – Series that aired on 3 networks.
  • 85% – Series that switched nets during the 20th century.
  • 48% – Series that moved that only lasted one more season.
  • 26% – Series lasted 3+ seasons after the switch.

Network or Cable to Cable

More success when going to cable, maybe expectations are lower

  • 85%  lasted more than one season
  • 31% switched after only one season on its original network

Last Man Standing may be an outlier due to the nature and controversy surrounding its cancelation, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine appears to be a quality show with a cult following. If history is any indication, odds for success are against them. However, If there are any network president’s out there that want a few others to pick up, how about RiseLiving Biblically, Designated Survivor, The Middle and Timeless.  I’m not predicting that they’ll be successful but I’m certainly gonna miss them!