Last summer, Netflix had one of its biggest hits ever with the original series Stranger Things, a nostalgic, supernatural thriller set in the ‘80s. Co-creator Matt Duffer told Rolling Stone that the show had been rejected somewhere between 15 to 20 times by other networks. Duffer says executives couldn’t see how a show that was geared toward adults could have a cast comprised mostly of kids.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey created and then starred in 30 Rock on NBC for seven years. In 2014, the network announced that they’d committed to airing Fey’s next project, a dark comedy called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Starring Ellie Kemper (The Office), it was about a 30-year-old woman exploring the world after being locked in a bunker by a cult leader for the better part of two decades. And then just before the start of the 2014-15 season, when Unbreakable was set to air, NBC abruptly announced that it was canceling the show and had sold it to Netflix. It became a hit for the streaming service, and picked up an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Series for its second season.
When veteran TV writer Vince Gillian (The X-Files) created a TV series in the mid-2000s about a high school science teacher who becomes a crystal meth manufacturer and dealer to pay for his expensive cancer treatments, he first took it to FX. At the time, the cable network was best known for edgy dramas powered by dark, conflicted, anti-heroes, such as The Shield, Damages, and Rescue Me. And that’s exactly why FX passed on Breaking Bad: It, too, was centered on an anti-hero, and network executives felt like they had enough of that type of show. But AMC said yes, and the series went on to win four Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for star Bryan Cranston.
A difficult to categorize series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about a depressed woman who moves to a suburban California town to essentially stalk and win back her high school boyfriend. And each episode has three or four big song-and-dance musical numbers. Creator/star Rachel Bloom pitched the show to six networks and they all passed. Eventually, Showtime picked it up, but then parent company CBS decided to place it on another of its subsidiaries, the small broadcast network The CW. Earlier this year, Bloom won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical for her work on the show.
The Walking Dead
The most watched series on cable TV: AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead, an adaptation of a popular comic book series. HBO rejected the show, and so did NBC. The Peacock Network, however, was willing to work with creator Frank Darabont. Executives reportedly asked him “do there have to be zombies in it?” They also suggested he change the series to be about cops who solve a different zombie-related crime each week.