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Gone but not forgotten

Thanks to DirecTV, unjustly canceled shows get a second chance

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The cast of Smith is still angry about their show getting canceled.

Despite all the moaning and complaining that takes place on Internet message boards and blogs whenever a beloved but low-rated TV show gets canceled, the truth is there’s never been a better time to be a fan of shows that don’t last, thanks to cable, DVD and online outlets (both legitimate and questionable). The intelligent, forward-thinking show killed in its prime has become a genre unto itself; it even had its own brand, Brilliant But Cancelled, which was the designation used by cable network Trio to air shows like EZ Streets, Action and Now and Again. (Fittingly, Trio itself only lasted a few years before being axed by parent company NBC Universal.) There’s a certain cachet to loving a show that everyone else missed out on; the folks at Trio understood that, and now the powers that be at satellite service DirecTV seem to slowly be discovering the same thing.

It started last year when DirecTV stepped in to save acclaimed but little-watched NBC football drama Friday Night Lights, partnering with the network to produce a 13-episode third season of the show that would not have existed had NBC been required to shoulder all the costs. FNL’s third season aired in fall 2008 on The 101 Network, DirecTV’s in-house channel for original programming, and then on NBC starting this past January. Despite FNL’s NBC ratings being lower than ever, the arrangement proved beneficial enough for both parties that an agreement has been made for two more seasons of 13 episodes each.

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The FNL experiment proved one important thing: Air a show that people are passionate about, and you’ll get publicity. Following the FNL season finale, DirecTV aired all eight episodes of Wonderland, a drama from FNL creator Peter Berg that eked out only two episodes on ABC in 2000 before being cancelled. Much press coverage followed, and now The 101 has a steady stream of resurrected shows on its schedule for the next few months, all of which are unavailable on DVD.

This week sees the start of the four unaired episodes of Smith, a stellar crime drama that CBS nixed after only three episodes in 2006. With its feature film-level cast (Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Jonny Lee Miller, Simon Baker, Amy Smart, Shohreh Aghdashloo), dense plotting and dark, uncompromising tone, Smith was never particularly well suited to staid CBS, but its seven episodes are very much worth checking out for fans of noirish tales of the criminal underworld.

May will bring the DirecTV premiere of The Nine, a smart, character-driven show that first aired on ABC in 2006, nearly making it through its entire 13-episode order (four of those episodes will be showing for the first time on The 101). One of many twisty serialized dramas launched following the success of Lost, The Nine got buried amidst other similar shows, but it was a fine study of the effects of a traumatic event (a hostage situation during a bank robbery) on a disparate group of people, and featured nuanced performances from a uniformly strong ensemble.

An impressive seven previously unseen episodes of the 2005 ABC spy show Eyes will show up on The 101 in July, giving fans of the clever Tim Daly-starring caper dramedy a chance for some level of closure on various unresolved plot points, as well as another look at the crackling sexual chemistry between Daly and Laura Leighton.

All of these are thoroughly welcome arrivals, and if DirecTV’s subscribers take advantage of them, they could be the harbingers of things to come. Certainly there is no shortage of quality TV that never found a solid audience, and given the Friday Night Lights precedent, perhaps in the future these shows won’t always have to die out before their time.

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