TV shows can run for years. Sometimes they get canceled while still in their prime. Other times, they drag on and on, losing whatever it was that made them special in the first place. We've all had that experience of falling madly in love with a show, only to become sad when it prematurely gets the ax. Similarly, we all know what it's like to give up on a program because it's just not going anywhere new anymore.
Sitcoms are especially prone to these problems. A really funny show that's forging new ground risks getting yanked off the air before audiences have had a chance to get used to its comedic rhythms and develop an appreciation for its innovation. Any time you're doing something deeply original, there's a chance that it will take a while to catch on. At the other end of the spectrum, sitcoms can have trouble maintaining their spark over the years. They can repeat jokes and scenarios, or resort to desperate attempts to liven things up.
Below are those sitcoms that were canceled earlier than they needed to be and others that need to ride off into the sunset. These aren't just any sitcoms, though. They're some of the most iconic ever to grace the nation's television screens. We'll tell you the stories of why their early demises were unwarranted, and present arguments for why they've hung around too long.
Here are 12 Iconic Sitcoms That Were Canceled To Soon (And 8 That Need To Go).
20 Canceled Too Soon: Arrested Development
Arrested Development has had an incredibly bizarre life. It initially ran for three seasons on the Fox network, picking up status as a "cool" cult show without ever breaking into the mainstream. In fact, it was pretty regularly one of the lowest-rated programs on the air at the time. Fox cut the number of episodes ordered for both the second and third seasons as a result.
Critics were baffled by how such a high-quality show could go so unloved. Then an amazing thing happened. Arrested Development came out on DVD and found an appreciative audience. Based on that triumph, Netflix revived it in 2013, and so far there have been two additional seasons. A happy ending indeed for the Bluths.
19 Needs To Go: Modern Family
Modern Family was a hit right out of the gate. As positive word-of-mouth grew, the show saw its ratings increase during the second, third, and fourth seasons. The show revitalized Ed O'Neill's career years after Married With Children went off the air and made stars out of Sofia Vergara, Sarah Hyland, and Eric Stonestreet.
At its peak, the program pulled in more than twelve million viewers a week, according to the Nielsen ratings. Recently it seems that audiences are getting fatigued with Modern Family. Season nine, for example, found it drawing only seven million viewers weekly -- a sizable drop. It's safe to say the program will never again be as popular as it once was.
18 Canceled Too Soon: Parks and Recreation
Despite low ratings, Parks and Recreation managed to hang on for seven seasons, thanks to raves from TV critics and the ongoing support of its dedicated fans. Series co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur wanted to go out while the show was still on top, as did star Amy Poehler. When they mentioned an exit strategy to NBC, the network jumped at the chance to pull the plug.
As any dedicated viewer knew, though, Parks and Rec was getting better all the time. It continually evolved into one of the sharpest pieces of political satire ever put on television. We can only imagine where the show might have gone had it been allowed another season or two.
17 Needs To Go: Will & Grace
Will & Grace was a big deal when it hit in 1998. The show dealt with LGBT issues in a way that had never occurred on broadcast television before. Over time, it earned a whopping 83 Emmy nominations. The sitcom aired for eight seasons on the peacock network, ending with a final episode that attracted a reported 18 million viewers.
Revivals of old shows are the hot thing right now. Will & Grace came back for a second round in 2017. Ratings have been decent, but nowhere near what they were before. That's likely because other shows have taken what it originally did to the next level. What once was cutting edge now just feels like a watered-down version of itself.
16 Canceled Too Soon: Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks is the stuff legends are made of. Produced by Judd Apatow and created by Paul Feig, the '80s-set show was an insightful look at what it was like to grow up in a decade where obsessing over Saturday Night Live, Star Wars, and Steve Martin comedy albums was considered uncool.
NBC bounced the show around so much that it could never grow an audience. The network canceled it after just one season, letting a cliffhanger ending go unresolved. Years later, Freaks and Geeks became a cult sensation, thanks to the eventual stardom of cast members Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segel. It's now considered by many to be one of the greatest comedies ever aired.
15 Needs To Go: South Park
South Park first aired all the way back in 1997. Since then, it has had twenty-two seasons totalling nearly 300 episodes. The show was a groundbreaking piece of animation -- one that contained crude, envelope-pushing humor and a penchant for targeting sacred cows. It spawned a successful 1999 feature film, subtitled Bigger, Longer & Uncut, in addition to a series of videogames.
The problem with something like South Park is that, the longer it goes on, the less it maintains its counter-culture edge and the more it becomes part of the establishment. In other words, it loses the ability to shock. Even hardcore fans admit that the last few seasons have been wildly inconsistent in quality. At this pace, the longer it goes on, the bite it once had will continue to fade.
14 Canceled Too Soon: Taxi
Taxi had the dubious distinction of being canceled twice. During its four-season run on ABC, the show -- about a handful of colorful NYC cab drivers -- won three Emmys as Best Comedy series. It also earned great reviews and solid ratings. Nevertheless, the network decided to give it the ax in 1982, to the surprise of just about everyone.
HBO floated the possibility of picking up Taxi after ABC dropped it, but ultimately opted not to. NBC stepped in, even giving the show its same time slot, Thursdays at 9:30. A year later, the cast members found the show canceled once more. Despite being tossed by two different networks, Taxi was named one of TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
13 Canceled Too Soon: Gilligan's Island
It's hard to believe, but Gilligan's Island only aired for three seasons. Despite that brief run, the show has become one of the most iconic sitcoms in the history of television, living on through several TV movies and spinoffs, including a mid-'70s animated series.
The story of its cancellation is rather sad. Although ratings dropped somewhat in the third season, CBS promised everyone that it would renew the show. Then the network decided to make a last-ditch effort to save the long-running Western Gunsmoke by moving it to a different time. CBS axed Gillian's Island and gave Gunsmoke its slot. The cast members were reportedly devastated by the news that they were out of work.
12 Needs To Go: The Big Bang Theory
When it premiered in 2007, The Big Bang Theory was right on the cusp of the "nerd" revolution that was about to take place in America. Things that had once been marginalized -- like intense interest in superheroes and science fiction -- were coming into the mainstream in a big way. The show felt incredibly timely.
Now in its twelfth season, the joke has run its course. Critics of Big Bang often gripe that the show feels as though it's repeating the same jokes over and over, with only slight variations. The idea of nerds as heroes also no longer has the freshness that it once did. It's surely time for Sheldon and the gang to call it a day.
11 Canceled Too Soon: 30 Rock
Despite significant acclaim, multiple Emmy awards, and general pop culture pervasiveness, 30 Rock was never a particularly big hit. In fact, during its third and most popular season, it was only the 69th most-watched show on major network television. It cast a large footprint, despite having mediocre viewership.
While the quality of 30 Rock could be hit-or-miss, it never failed to take chances. Even when it did have a weak episode, that was usually because it took risks that simply didn't pay off. Too many shows are afraid to take risks at all. There still seemed to be plenty of places for Liz Lemon and her colleagues to go when the show signed off in 2013. It's too bad we won't get to see what those destinations would have been.
10 Needs To Go: Family Guy
Family Guy is kind of like a zombie, in that it passed away and then came back to life. After a strong ratings start, the show began to suffer when the Fox network moved it to a more competitive time slot. It was moved again, to an even tougher slot opposite Friends. Ratings dropped further, leading to the inevitable cancellation.
Popularity of reruns on the Cartoon Network and a super-successful DVD release caused Fox to rethink its decision. A few years after it went off the air, the show was back on with all new episodes. Family Guy is getting a little long in the tooth, though. Its 17th season, which ended in May 2018, earned an average of 3.5 million viewers, whereas in the first season, it attracted 12.8 million.
9 Canceled Too Soon: Soap
The '70s sitcom Soap was incredibly controversial in its day. A parody of daytime soap operas, it featured Billy Crystal playing an openly gay character -- something you just didn't see back then. At times, it incorporated bad language. Some ABC affiliates refused to air the program. Religious groups protested it or encouraged their followers not to tune in.
Of course, all these things made Soap a huge hit. The network nevertheless abruptly canceled it after four seasons, despite the fact that creator Susan Harris had a fifth all mapped out. A lot of plot threads were left dangling. Incidentally, Soap launched a very successful spinoff, the much tamer Benson.
8 Needs To Go: Veep
The accolades given to Veep are beyond impressive. It has been nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmys six times in a row, winning three times. Star Julia Louis-Dreyfus has also been nominated six times, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She has never lost.
So why does it need to go? Even before its renewal for a seventh and final season, there were signs that Veep should quit while it was ahead. The most recent season earned some rare criticism because Selina Meyer lost her bid to become national leader. Given the core premise, it's hard to imagine the series could have maintained interest this way.
7 Canceled Too Soon: Newsradio
NewsRadio had it all -- an impeccable ensemble cast, sharp writing, and a stable of lovably eccentric characters. It also had a lot of drama going on behind the scenes. NBC moved the show around eleven times over the course of five seasons. That made it hard to nurture an audience, because no one ever really knew when it was going to be on.
Creator Paul Simms was furious about this and didn't hesitate to let his animosity toward the network fly in interviews. That probably didn't do the show any favors when it came time to consider renewal. In the end, NewsRadio slumped off the air, despite continually delivering some of the brightest workplace comedy of the modern era.
6 Needs To Go: The Simpsons
The Simpsons has been on the air longer than some of the people reading this list have been alive. It debuted thirty years ago, in 1989. Very few shows in the history of television have had such a long run. It might be the most iconic of all iconic sitcoms. Certainly, it has been a groundbreaking program that launched dozens of memorable characters and even more catch phrases.
Keeping up the level of quality for three decades is just about impossible. There are still good episodes of The Simpsons, but few, if any, people still think the show is great anymore. As much as we all admire this animated classic, it's hard to deny that its best days are in the rearview mirror.
5 Canceled Too Soon: Sports Night
Sports Night, set behind the scenes of a fictional sports news program, was created by Aaron Sorkin, a man whose work is almost always associated with high quality. Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, and Josh Charles starred in the series, which ran on ABC from 1998 to 2000. After floundering in the ratings, the network yanked it, despite critical raves.
Then Sorkin abandoned it, too. Showtime believed that Sports Night had great potential and offered a $37 million deal to take it over. Sorkin decided not to accept, because he was also writing and producing The West Wing at that time and felt he couldn't properly commit to both shows. Ironically, the 11 million average viewers who tuned in would be enough to make the show a massive hit these days.
4 Canceled Too Soon: Police Squad!
After the phenomenal success of their movie Airplane!, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker were hired by ABC to create a sitcom employing the same kind of rapid-fire zany humor. They came up with Police Squad! -- a spoof of TV cop shows starring Leslie Nielsen. For whatever reason, audiences who loved the ZAZ team's film didn't tune in for their show. The network only ran four of the six produced episodes.
Against all odds, Police Squad! got a second lease on life when the guys turned it into a movie. For whatever reason, people gravitated toward it on the big screen despite having ignored it on the small one. The movie was a smash hit. Two sequels followed.
3 Needs To Go: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It may seem unfair to put It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in the "needs to go" category. After all, it still gets good ratings and remains beloved by fans. Considering it's been on the air for thirteen seasons now, that's a pretty impressive feat.
That's also why the makers might want to consider packing it in. Any sitcom, no matter how good, will have trouble maintaining its hilarity level the longer it goes on. In the case of It's Always Sunny, the program has meant so much to so many people that it might be best to go out on a high note. Running the show into the ground and having it become a pale imitation of itself would be a sad thing for the viewers who have remained faithful for so long.
2 Canceled Too Soon: WKRP in Cincinatti
If you know anyone who works in radio, they'll likely tell you that WKRP in Cincinatti was a hilariously accurate representation of what it's like to be in the business. Upon its debut, the program didn't find a huge audience. However, it built one over time, thanks to real-life DJs talking it up, plus the fact that co-star Loni Anderson quickly rose to stardom.
WKRP got better as it went along, but the network kept changing its time slot. That had the effect of making it hard for the audience to find. CBS canceled the show after the fourth season, even though it was in the top ten according to the Nielsen ratings. Questions from the cliffhanger finale were left unanswered.
1 Canceled Too Soon: Community
It might seem weird to suggest that Community was canceled too soon, given that it somehow managed to stick around for six seasons, despite perpetually low ratings and the constant threat that it wouldn't be renewed. Here's the thing, though -- fans were famously promised "six seasons and a movie." We're still owed that movie.
After five years on NBC, the show moved to the now-defunct Yahoo Screen for its sixth and final season. Even though Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown all left, the show was starting to get back some of the mojo of its earliest, most celebrated seasons. Newcomers Paget Brewster and Keith David were great additions. Seeing where Community would have gone could have been fun.
What canceled sitcom do you miss the most? Give us your thoughts in the comments.