They’re called Network Jumpers—shows that switch networks while still in syndication.  Why do TV shows switch networks? Does network jumping  usually spell the end for a show, or is there something else going on?

Everyone knows that when a show switches time slots and  days of the week, it’s on its last leg. But sometimes shows switch networks and end up being saved rather than canceled.

Network changes are rare, but can happen for a variety of reasons. Some moves happen because  the original network cancels a series, others occur because the show’s producers decide to move for financial reasons, or because major networks order series from companies under the same umbrella. Despite the variety of reasons, only 4% of TV shows in the U.S. have changed networks between 1999 and 2012.1

Ratings matter to networks, who shift shows around to make sure their top-rated shows get the biggest audience possible. When shows fall in the ratings, they are shuffled to the less-popular time slots and days of the week. Finally, after moving around a few times, most shows that go through this shuffle are ultimately cancelled. But because of the competition between networks, one network looking to fill a demographic will often pick up a series that’s struggling on another network. Sometimes this leads to a great run—and additional seasons—for the show.

Let’s look at a couple examples.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy The Vampire SlayerBuffy the Vampire Slayer had devoted fans in the ’90s and ran for five seasons on the popular WB network. Buffy anchored the Tuesday night lineup at the WB, but  moved to UPN in the wake of a negotiation dispute . The move garnered Buffy two additional seasons, but they just weren’t the same and the show never got back the viewership it had been at the WB network. It turns out the WB was right in thinking that the show had peaked and was on its way down hill. But there’s good news for all those devout Buffy fans out there: you can still follow the antics of your favorite vampire slayer via the comic book series.

Friday Night Lights

This fan favorite was just starting to gain traction when, in its second season, it moved from NBC to DirecTV. The show struggled with low ratings, so in return for paying some of the production costs, DirecTV added three more seasons to Friday Night Lights. Then, NBC would air the episodes several months later. This tactic added another three seasons to a show that was struggling. It never gained a large audience compared to other shows, but it was critically acclaimed for its deep characters. The show has appeared on many “best” lists and has won several Primetime Emmys. Friday Night Lights is proof that switching networks can work for some shows.

Cougar Town

CougartownThat brings us to Cougar Town, the latest show to get buzz for switching networks. The show graced us with its presence in 2009, and since then has had an uphill battle with schedule shifting. The show has appeared in several time slots on different nights of the week on ABC, but  has struggled through all of them. Now Cougar Town is moving to the TBS lineup in 2013. TBS ordered a fourth season of the popular show with 15 episodes. This move could be exactly what saves Cougar Town from cancellation. I know I’ll be watching to see what happens.

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