5 Family Guy
“Family Guy” started in 1999 and was canceled after the 2000 season. But the execs apparently didn’t have anything better to fill the slot so they gave it another season. But in 2002 it was officially canceled and taken off the air. DVD sales went through the roof and spurred Fox to bring the show back in 2005. One of the best scenes in all of television came when the patriarch of the family, Peter Griffin, lists off all 29 shows that Fox canceled between the time they canceled “Family Guy” and brought it back.
4 Arrested Development
Perhaps the greatest indication that a show was canceled too soon is that fans were able to convince the powers that be to bring it back. That almost happened with “Arrested Development.” The original three seasons ran from 2003 to 2006, but after the launch of video streaming services it found a new audience that thrilled in the witty, unrelenting humor of a wealthy family that lost everything. It almost swayed the powers that be, but in the end it was Netflix that decided to green-light 15 additional episodes released in May 2013 as a denouement to the brilliant comedy.
3 The Unit
From 2006 to 2009 “The Unit” showed the hidden side of special forces life. Based on the book “Inside Delta Force,” the show offered a peek at not only the spec-opps military, but how they dealt with life at home. The tense, realistic action, deep characters, complex drama and real-world themes made the show compelling. But productions costs doomed it during the Great Recession and only four seasons were ever made.
2 Freaks and Geeks
Judd Apatow, James Franco, Seth Rogan and Rashida Jones all have successful careers today and all started out on “Freaks and Geeks.” The show lasted only one season, but it served to embed itself in the collective fabric of modern culture. It featured the misfits of a high school in 1980—even though the show was on in 1999—and their struggles to fit in with the world that was against them. The characters were complex, thoughtful, funny and mostly realistic.
Back in the days of 2002 when Y2K was still a recent memory, the world wasn’t ready for the brilliance of Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western. Even today the basic premise sounds silly: a group of western smugglers in space struggling to keep their independence from the tyrannical Alliance. But Whedon’s writing paired with the perfect acting brought humor, empathy, depth and excitement all in the same show. The show was unceremoniously canceled after the first season. Fan outcry led to the 2005 film “Serenity,” which served to sum up the series.