Rescues prove TV cancellations are reversible: Is 'Designated Survivor' next?

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USA Today

Cancellation isn't quite the automatic execution it used to be for TV shows.

This month, NBC picked up Brooklyn Nine-Nine just a day after Fox laid it to rest. And Fox resuscitated Last Man Standing a year after ABC killed the six-season Tim Allen comedy.

Both were brought back by companies that own the series, which remains the most important factor in a network's decision to save a show.

Since program-ownership rules were relaxed in the 1990s, "We saw the networks gravitate toward content produced by their own studios," says Stacey Schulman, chief marketing officer for ad firm Katz Media Group. "So it's not surprising if shows in danger of being canceled go to other networks" that own them and profit from selling reruns to other outlets.

At the same time, viewers have used social media to amplify their protests, adding an influential voice.

Fans immediately took to Twitter to protest the Brooklyn cancellation after five seasons. Others staged so far unsuccessful online campaigns to find new homes for two canceled dramas, Fox's Lucifer and Syfy's The Expanse, and to persuade NBC to give a second reprieve to Timeless (which seems unlikely). The network resurrected it last year two days after its cancellation, partly due to fan fervor evidenced in USA TODAY’s annual Save Our Shows poll. (Timeless won this year's poll, too.)

Deadline Hollywood reported Monday that The Expanse's producer is talking to Amazon about saving the science-fiction drama. And Netflix is now considering a rescue of another canceled show, Designated Survivor, if it can wrest U.S. streaming rights. Kiefer Sutherland starred in the drama, which ran for two seasons on ABC, as a low-level cabinet member who became president after a terrorist attack.

Aside from its ownership of the series, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt credited  the network's long ties to star and former Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg, the show's producers and, especially, diehard fans for the rescue of the low-rated Brooklyn.

"It was really the explosion from the fans … which only helps," he said. "We love when the fans yell and scream and go to Twitter.  (But) we love even more when they watch the show."

Resurrecting a show serves as good, fan-friendly publicity for networks used to hearing complaints.

With the NBC-Universal partnership on Brooklyn, "All the ducks lined up," says Lisa Herdman, senior vice president at Los Angeles-based ad firm RPA. "NBC is the hero and the fans are all happy."

Network fit matters, too. Fox plans to promote Friday's male-skewing Last Man on its new Thursday Night Football.

“Social media is absolutely playing a bigger role. It gets louder and louder. But if the negotiation isn’t right for a particular network, that’s not going to matter,” Herdman says.

Other factors also have changed the dynamics in favor of second chances. More cable and streaming services mean more potential homes for shows with loyal fan bases, including some where the size of the audience is less important.

In recent years, canceled network shows have  jumped to cable (ABC's Cougar Town to TBS, ABC's Nashville to CMT, NBC's Southland to TNT). And streaming services have picked up others (Fox’s The Mindy Project went to Hulu, and NBC’s Community to Yahoo).  Some canceled cable shows also have moved elsewhere (A&E's Longmire to Netflix; FX's Damages to DirecTV).

Immediately after Brooklyn, Lucifer and The Expanse were canceled, fans sparked trending hashtags (#SaveLucifer, #SaveTheExpanse).

Although enthusiastic online campaigns are no guarantee of a show's survival, "They’re direct evidence of a fan base that does not want a piece of content to go away," Schulman says. Networks "used to say, 'We’re getting fan mail or hate mail.' Now, they can capture all of that in social media."

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