TV Shows That Were Surprising Hits


Some TV shows are expected to be hits. They have flashy casts, a lot of promotion behind them and a ton of buzz. It wasn’t a surprise when “Lost” was a hit, for example. Then, there are the shows that surprise and delight us when they become hits. Some hits began life as midseason replacements.

Others struggled with ratings for a couple of years before taking off. Here is a collection of TV shows that became surprising hits.


“The Office”

While we could be talking about the original British version of “The Office,” we are talking about the American version in this instance. People were a little puzzled by the mockumentary starring Steve Carell in the first season. “The Office” felt too much like its British counterpart.

However, Carell then became a movie star thanks to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and the show became extremely popular on iTunes. Suddenly, “The Office” was a hit, and it would last for over 200 episodes.



The chronicles of “Seinfeld” have been well-cataloged, going back to the original pilot when the show was called “The Seinfeld Chronicles” and Elaine wasn’t even a character. It began life as a midseason replacement, and it was a rating dud for years. NBC would have been justified in canceling it, but the network had faith in the show. That faith paid off, of course, as “Seinfeld” is now regarded as perhaps the most iconic ‘90s sitcom.


“Saved by the Bell”

The initial success of “Saved by the Bell” is a bit surprising. It was a spinoff, or perhaps a reboot, of unsuccessful kids show called “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” that aired on Disney Channel for a season.

NBC wanted to keep an audience of kids who were growing out of watching cartoons, so they decided to take a gamble on Zack Morris and the gang. It worked, as the show lasted for several seasons and through two spinoffs.

The real surprise, though, is the long shelf life “Saved by the Bell” has had with people who grew up with it. There was even a pop-up restaurant in the style of The Max, the diner from the show, in Chicago and L.A.


“Mad Men”

It may be hard to remember now, but for years AMC was not a channel with original programming. It just showed movies, hence the name American Movie Channel. People were not used to going to it for TV shows when “Mad Men” debuted. We had no idea what to expect. What we got was a critical darling that turned Jon Hamm into a star.


“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Prime-time game shows were out of fashion by 1999. They mostly just aired in syndication. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” debuted in August as a way to fill some time in the late summer before the fall season began. Instead, viewers went wild for it. It was relaunched as an hourlong show in November and would eventually become so popular they aired it five nights a week and spawned a bunch of imitations.



Mind & Soul




Get Weekly updates

Subscribe now