Forty years and about a week ago – June 3, 1969 to be exact – the last original episode of “Star Trek” aired on NBC, a date that will live infamy for Trekkies (or Trekkers as some prefer). The show, as everyone in the galaxy knows by now, would go on to thrive in syndication, spawning movies and TV spinoffs.
But with the first flick coming a decade after the show’s cancellation – it looked like a tribble had nested atop William Shatner’s head by then – there was a feeling the original cast lost prime years of plying the Final Frontier in the 23rd Century.
A show set in the 30th Century is having somewhat better luck: Comedy Central is reviving “Futurama,” ordering up 26 new episodes of the animated series six years after it was canceled by FOX. Meanwhile, TBS was in talks to take over the recently canceled "My Name is Earl," but a deal couldn't be worked out.
Thanks to a changing and expanding media landscape, there’s new hope on cable for cult favorites that couldn’t draw a big enough crowd, long enough for the networks.
“Futurama,” the brainchild of “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, benefited from repeats on Cartoon Network and Comedy Central. “Family Guy” followed a similar path – after FOX canceled the animated show in 2002, “Family Guy” did so well on Cartoon Network, FOX gave it a new primetime life three years later.
Another FOX cult hit, “Arrested Development,” wasn’t as fortunate: talks to send the irreverent comedy to Showtime fell through. A movie version, thankfully, is in the works.
Some shows need time to find a substantial audience, a rare luxury these days as the networks are scrambling to keep viewers. “All in the Family” and “Seinfeld” were far from instant hits.
Other shows will find a small, but loyal audience. The latest “Star Trek” movie, with Leonard Nimoy's return as Spock, is the franchise’s greatest hit – 40 years after its network Star Date expiration date.
Of course, it’s easier to bring back an animated show – there’s a minimal commitment for the actors, and cartoon characters don’t age.
But with more outlets and creative deal making – when are we going to see a major TV-series-to-web transfer? – there’s a better chance more fans favorites will live long and prosper after network cancellation.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.