Deadline Hollywood Daily mentioned recently that Fox may pick up My Name Is Earl for a fifth season if NBC drops it. The show’s decline in creativity and popularity has been so huge that even NBC may not want it around, but more importantly, it’s not owned by NBC; it’s owned by Fox, and if it gets enough episodes for syndication, that won’t help NBC at all. It makes more sense for NBC to keep 30 Rock on the air despite low ratings; not only is it a better show, but its long run will benefit the company more than a long run for Earl.
Also, it doesn’t really fit in with NBC’s comedy strategy, which is now built more around white-collar ensemble shows like The Office and 30 Rock. It’s weird to remember that back in 2005, many people, including me, thought that Earl was the future of NBC comedy and The Office was in trouble. Fox could more easily find a place for it, at least for one season.
And one season is probably all it would get. Many shows get picked up by another network; few last for more than one season. Usually a show gets picked up by another network when it’s on its last legs, and the producers manage to convince some other network to take it for one reason or another. So Taxi, after four straight Emmy wins for best comedy, got canceled by ABC because its ratings tanked (it was a time-slot hit, entirely dependent for its ratings on following Three’s Company, much as its contemporary WKRP in Cincinnati struggled when it wasn’t following M*A*S*H). But NBC was changing its programming strategy and looking for a time-slot companion for its new show, Cheers, produced by many of the people who did Taxi. So it was natural for NBC to take Taxi for one more season, where its ratings were even worse. Similarly, Get Smart struggled and spluttered through one last season on CBS after NBC canceled it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a bit different because it wasn’t canceled by the WB; the producers just up and left the network. It managed two seasons on UPN, and probably could have had more if Sarah Michelle Gellar had been around, but it was a better fit on the WB. And then there’s the last season of Diff’rent Strokes on ABC, where due to contract issues they were forced to re-record the theme song:
The other kind of network jump is when a show gets canceled very early, but manages to interest another network enough to give it another chance. The most famous case is, of course, JAG. It’s hard to remember that that show was on NBC for one year, but it was; it got canceled, and CBS picked it up and ran with it. Or The Paper Chase, canceled by CBS but picked up by Showtime. (Speaking of shows getting picked up on cable, HBO, then a fairly new network, actually offered the producers of Taxi a chance to come to them after the ABC cancellation. HBO supposedly tried to sell them on a version of Taxi where the characters would swear like real NYC cabbies.)
But it’s hard to think of cases where a show got canceled by a network after a long run (four or more years, let’s say) and then moved to another network for more than a year or two. There must be some, but I can’t think of any at the moment; usually a move like that will stave off death for a year and no more. It’s the equivalent of a baseball team picking up an old, washed-up player for one season: it’s a placeholder until they can get a fresh show/player in there.