Some people have awesome ideas for a series but just don’t have enough funding to make them as they wish. They are forced to make compromises due to a limited budget, and find cheaper ways to make the shows. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out too well and the shows never make it to the screen. But other times, these series become huge, unexpected hits.
There are other shows that get pitched to network after network, only to hear the same negative answer every time. It can be hard to recognize a good idea and nobody really knows how the show will turn out. We don’t hear about all of these, but there are a surprising number of very popular and highly rated series that were rejected more than once before they finally got picked up by a daring network, only to skyrocket to success.
This should be a lesson to everyone on the importance of believing in yourself and persevering. These writers and producers kept on trying to turn their ideas into something, even if they had a very small budget or kept hearing the answer no. Here are some of the best TV shows that became surprise hits, going on to have high ratings, win awards, and acquire loyal fans, even if they had a rough start.
When Doctor Who first premiered in 1963, nobody expected it to stick around. It had a whole lot of marks against it, as a low budget show made just to fill an empty time slot. It was made as an educational science children’s show, and also just happened to debut the night after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And yet, not only was it a hit at the time, it was rebooted in 2005 and the new Doctor Who is immensely popular.
Although it is now a well known comedy series on Comedy Central, Broad City had very humble beginnings. The stars and creators, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, met in New York while studying comedy, and decided to create a web series. They premiered Broad City, a show about two twenty-somethings living in New York, online in 2010. It never went viral, but it caught the attention of the right people, including Amy Poehler, and in 2014, the sitcom moved over to television, where it attracted quite a following.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After seven seasons and a spinoff, nobody remembers the humble beginnings of Joss Whedon’s hit vampire series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But during those first 12 episodes, the budget was too tight for the production to even film on a soundstage, so they shot in a warehouse in Santa Monica, California. If you look closely, you’ll notice that they use one hall in every school scene. Later on, the show gained such a following that comic books and even college courses appeared on the subject.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a cult classic today, and is known as one of the most influential TV series in history. But it was almost cancelled after just one episode! The sketch comedy show premiered on the BBC in 1969, and by the end of the first season, the public was already laughing along. Monty Python was shot on a very low budget, but with their humor and creativity, the Pythons made the series a hit anyway.
Whose Line is it Anyway
Nobody could have predicted the success of Whose Line is it Anyway? After all, audiences had never rallied around improv shows before, and it was very inexpensive to make. It started as a radio show in the UK before moving to television, where it ran for ten seasons. Then, in 1998, ABC in the United States got hold of the idea, and broadcast a version with Drew Carey as the host. The show was surprisingly popular and ran for nine seasons. Then, in 2013, the CW picked up a reboot.
The first time that X-Files creator Chris Carter pitched the show to FOX, it was rejected. Carter revised his pilot a bit, and luckily, the network changed its mind the second time around, even though they still weren’t sure about the paranormal series. It clearly paid off, and the series gained a following with the help of the internet. What started as a gamble became one of the longest running science fiction television shows in history.
The Office (UK)
Created and written by comic geniuses Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office was first broadcast in the UK in 2001, and was nearly cancelled because of low ratings. The mockumentary style sitcom is about the day to day happenings in an office building, and it managed to hold on and eventually become one of the most popular British sitcoms of all time. Although only two seasons were released, it led to a spinoff American version, which became a hit of its own.
The Office (US)
Not every show that the UK sends across the pond becomes a success, but The Office sure did. Many fans of the British TV show were skeptical of the idea that the same sort of humor could work in an American office, but they were quickly proven wrong. The Office premiered in the United States in 2005 and held on for nine critically acclaimed seasons. The show was adapted by Greg Daniels and had a much-loved cast, including Steve Carrell, John Krasinski, and Jenna Fischer.
Lost in Space
Lost in Space was a 1960’s science fiction show, that was filmed on the exceptionally low budget of just $140,000 per episode. The series, which ran for three seasons, was about a family who struggles to survive as colonists in space, and still retains something of a cult following. It might look campy now, but it was quite a hit in the ‘60s, and Netflix even picked up a reboot which premiered in April 2018.
After the original pilot of Sherlock was scrapped, nobody truly expected a small screen version of the novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to actually work. It didn’t boast big name stars or the most advanced special effects so everyone was surprised when the first episode, A Study in Pink, became an instant success in July of 2010. Sherlock, which is now a four part series, has smashed all expectations and received overwhelmingly positive reviews and a wide fanbase.
The Outer Limits
This science fiction show had such a loyal fan base, that people were known to take a television set with them when they were not home when it aired so they wouldn’t miss an episode. Remember, this was long before the days of Netflix. Anyway, this show filmed in the 1960s with a budget of just $120,000 per episode. It has been called the creepiest show in history, and has even compared to the Twilight Zone.
Being Human is a mix of comedy and horror. Sound intriguing? It actually took a while for the production team to come up with the idea. The creator, Toby Whithouse, was approached to come up with drama series about a group of friends who buy a house together, and it took him months to add the supernatural elements and put together a storyline he was happy with. Even though this series shot on a meager budget of $786,000 per episode, it lasted for five seasons.
Back in 1989, when comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David had a test screening of their new sitcom, the response was not positive. They called it “too New York,” and weren’t laughing at the humor that Seinfeld found in everyday life. NBC ordered just four episodes of the show in the beginning, later boosting it to a season. And now, years later, Seinfeld is not only one of the best sitcoms of all time, it’s one of the best television shows of all time.
With the immense budget that films and TV shows invest in special effects, it’s hard to imagine a series spending just $64 an episode on special effects. But Blake’s 7 did just that, back in 1978. It was a science fiction show with an unbelievably low budget, but it went on to influence the genre to this day. Elements first introduced in the series can be seen in today’s hit sci-fi shows from Firefly to Star Trek.
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is one of the most viewed shows on television. The fantasy drama show was based on the book series called A Song of Ice and Fire, and premiered on HBO in 2011 to scathing reviews. Even the showrunners for the series hated the pilot episode. Now, seven seasons, dozens of awards, and tens of millions of viewers later, Game of Thrones has become a massive success, and public anticipation for the release of each episode is unmatched.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers
It took Haim Saban nearly a decade to succeed in bringing the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers to television sets in the United States. Based off of the Japanese series Super Sentai, the idea was rejected by every single US network, until finally, Fox Kids decided to give it a chance. Many were skeptical, but the Power Rangers took audiences by storm, launching a franchise. Nobody can deny the success of the series, which led to a number of spinoffs, toys, games, and films.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The story goes that Star Trek: The Next Generation star Patrick Stewart, who had moved to Los Angeles for the series, thought so little of it that he didn’t unpack his bags for six months. The sci-fi series was a low budget syndicated show that nobody expected to go anywhere. It was so low budget that the cast was said to have stolen food from other sets. But the series became a huge success, eclipsing the original series and winning 20 Emmy Awards in its seven season run.
Breaking Bad did not have a very promising start. It was turned down by a lot of people before creator Vince Gilligan got the go-ahead from AMC. Not many people watched the first season and its ratings were a disappointment. But it grew slowly in popularity, and when Netflix picked it up in 2011, people discovered it and began binge watching. Nobody had seen anything like it before, and they couldn’t stop. By the final season, Breaking Bad was one of the most highly rated, widely viewed shows on television.
Long before the 2017 Wonder Woman film smashed box offices, back in 1975, nobody was sure if viewers would tune in to see a female superhero. The production team of the original series, including Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman, expected a backlash. But audiences loved Wonder Woman, and despite the initial hesitation, the series ran for three successful seasons. It is lauded for bringing a female superhero to the screen, and paved the way for future incarnations of Wonder Woman.
According to the executive producer of science fiction black comedy Misfits, the show’s meager budget actually helped boost creativity, instead of hindering it. The British series is about a bunch of young convicts who gain supernatural abilities during an electrical storm, and was made with a budget of less than $400,000 per episode. To put that in perspective, the average cost of a one-hour drama series is around $4 million. Misfits still managed to receive very positive reviews and was on the air for five seasons.
The pilot episode of the hit romantic musical-comedy-drama was rejected by eight different networks in one day. Rachel Bloom, the show’s creator and star, was convinced that it was never going to make it to TV. But it was finally picked up by the CW, and became a hit, and Bloom herself went on to win a Golden Globe Award for best actress in a TV comedy. Her dedication and perseverance worked, and the unique show, which gained a group of dedicated fans, will ultimately have four seasons.
Did you know that hit sitcom Friends almost didn’t happen? When the pilot episode was shown to test audiences, it scored a 41 out of 100. The producers went ahead and made it anyway, and it went on to become a huge hit. It ran for ten seasons and became one of the most watched television shows of all time. In addition to numerous awards, Friends is listed on many top 50 lists and has had an undeniable impact on pop culture to this day.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
When the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia began filming, star and creator Rob McElhenney was making ends meet by working at a restaurant. It was so low budget that he had to rush off to work after shooting. 12 seasons later, the popular and critically acclaimed sitcom has made its mark, winning several awards and gaining a cult following. The comedy follows a group of friends who run a bar in Philadelphia and get themselves into all sorts of humorous shenanigans.