It frequently makes lists of the best TV shows of all time, it won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series four times, and it made stars out of Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Woody Harrelson, and Kelsey Grammer. But in its first year—1982-83—Cheers was almost canceled. It finished its rookie season ranked #74 out of 77 shows, in part because it ran opposite CBS’s monster hit Simon & Simon, and because sitcoms weren’t in vogue. But NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff liked the show, and it surprisingly earned multiple Emmy nominations in 1983. That boosted summer rerun ratings, and NBC kept it on the air…for 10 more years.
WKRP in Cincinnati
An ensemble comedy about a low-rated radio station, infused with rock n’ roll music, and rock n’ roll-inspired slang, and personalities, was a breath of fresh air on TV in 1978, but initially few people watched the show upon its debut. CBS scheduled it against ABC’s hit Welcome Back, Kotter and NBC’s Little House on the Prairie. Viewership was so low, CBS took it off the schedule after eight episodes, but received great reviews and scores of viewer mail, particularly from real-life disc jockeys who liked seeing their profession portrayed on TV. So, after a few months gone, WKRP was living on the air in Cincinnati once again, where it became a top 30 show and ran until 1982.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
What’s the longest running original comedy in cable TV history? FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Conceived as an extremely dark take on Seinfeld—in which a core group of bar-owning misanthropes learn nothing from their hilarious adventures each week, it’s set to air its 14th season in 2018. Stars Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day developed the show themselves as a vehicle to act in when they were underemployed as young performers, and FX put it on the air after liking a homemade pilot episode shot for under $100. Still, the first season of six episodes got such bad ratings that FX told them the cast It’s Always Sunny was through…unless they added a “big name” to boost ratings. An executive was friends with Danny DeVito, who agreed to join the show because his kids were fans.
How could a show about swimsuit-clad lifeguards running in slow motion—starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson—not be popular? Well, when it debuted on NBC in 1989, it finished near the bottom of the ratings. The network canceled it for that reason, and also because GTG, the studio that made it, went out of business. Creators, along with star David Hasselhoff, shopped the show around to other studios, and it was renewed as a show syndicated to individual stations. It went on to become the most popular show in the world, and ran for more than 200 episodes.