Five Mega-Hit Shows That Almost Didn't Make It Past the First Season

AK Easton
Yahoo! Contributor Network

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Network television programming executives may seem like they know what they're doing when they produce a hit show. But, in reality, many times they strike gold with a show that they wanted to cancel before it even got off the ground. Here are five shows that were almost executed by network execs that somehow earned a reprieve and then went on to become mega hits.

"Beverly Hills 90210": In 1990, the Fox network was still a fledgling entry into network television. When they launched the original "90210," network executives hated this show and its ratings were abysmal. They wanted to cancel it, but the network was so new they had nothing else in the works. They couldn't cut it from their lineup because they had nothing to fill the open hole. So, in an effort to boost ratings, they put it on in the summer months, hoping to gain some viewers. The strategy worked and "90210" went on to become a fan favorite and was on the air for 10 seasons.

"Everybody Loves Raymond": This is the rare show that went from a dreaded Friday night time slot to ruling the ratings on Mondays. Fortunately for viewers, some CBS exec saw something special in the family sitcom and fought to get the show moved rather than canceled. "Raymond" went on to not only become an incredibly successful show, with 210 episodes in all, but it also won several Emmy awards in the process.

"Friends" and "ER": The pilots for both of these shows were shot in 1994. When NBC execs viewed the finished product, they hated both of them. But, everything else on their development slate that year seemed just as bad. So, in what they thought was a doomed move, they put both on their Thursday night schedule. "Friends" went on to become one of NBC's most successful sitcoms of all time, while "ER" actually scored the most Emmy nominations in history with 123 nods and 24 wins.

"Seinfeld": When the show debuted, it was called "The Seinfeld Chronicles" and NBC disliked it so much that the network gave the creators just a four-episode order. (Most shows get at least a 13-episode order. If the show doesn't perform, that order is reduced or the show is canceled outright.) Jerry Seinfeld still has that letter from NBC with the four-episode order. It hangs on his wall ... probably next to the slew of awards the show won in its nine years on the air.

And here are a few other tidbits from behind the closed doors of the network offices that might surprise you:

NBC desperately wanted the creators of "Friends" to add an "adult" to the show. They suggested a cop that hung out in the coffee shop.

They also wanted to call the show something other than "Friends." One of their suggestions was "Six of One."

The creator of "Everybody Loves Raymond", Phil Rosenthal, desperately wanted to cast Patricia Heaton in the role of Debra Barone. The network suits at CBS had other ideas and kept insisting that he cast another actress in the role -- a blonde. Rosenthal was a nervous wreck as he stuck to his guns going so far as to tell the brass that he'd quit if they didn't let him cast Heaton. He was that convinced that the show hinged on the proper casting of such a pivotal role. Obviously, the suits caved and he won the battle. And more importantly, it seems he was right about the casting of Heaton. Patricia Heaton was nominated for seven Emmys, winning two, for her work as Debra Barone.

So while it may seem that a hit television show was a hit from the moment it made it to the network, many times this is not the case. Predicting the next big thing is clearly not an easy task for anyone, including television network executives.