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13 Insanely Popular TV Shows That Networks Passed On

Not every popular TV show was greenlit on the first try. In fact, plenty of series that went on to captivate audiences and garner awards were flatly rejected by the TV networks they were pitched to - sometimes multiple times.

What are some beloved shows that networks passed on? Stranger Things, one of Netflix's biggest hits, was rejected between 15 and 20 times before finally landing on the streaming platform. Animation also met with this unfortunate fate. Adventure Time, a popular cartoon about the charming post-apocalyptic Land of Oo, was turned down by Nickelodeon before it made its home on Cartoon Network. FX, TNT, and HBO all turned down Breaking Bad before it found its ultimate home. 

Are the network execs at these studios kicking themselves for not noticing a hit when it landed on their doorsteps? Maybe, maybe not. One thing's for certain, though, it's a good thing that the creators of these iconic shows didn't give up, and eventually found homes for their projects.

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    Photo: AMC

    Who Passed On It: Multiple Networks

    Breaking Bad is one of the hottest shows in recent history - seriously, the final season had an average over 4.32 million viewers, and it's won a slew of prestigious awards. It's so popular and respected that it pretty much defined AMC as a network. However, AMC wasn't the only network to get a shot at airing the hit series. FX, TNT, and HBO all had the opportunity and passed it up. 

    FX rejected the series on the grounds that it was too similar to other shows that were airing at the time. TNT loved the idea, but worried about their jobs if they greenlit a story about a teacher turned meth producer. HBO was so completely uninterested that they couldn't even be bothered to send in a rejection.

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    Photo: Netflix

    Who Passed On It: Multiple Networks

    Stranger Things is one of Netflix' most iconic properties, but the series almost wasn't made at all. Ross and Matt Duffer, the twin brother duo who initially created the show, pitched it to between 15-20 different networks, receiving rejections at every turn. In some cases, they were met with total disinterest. Other networks suggested that they make major changes that the Duffers thought would kill the show's core concept, like making it more kid-friendly, or changing the protagonists into adults. Others were willing to consider buying the show, but only if someone with more experience and clout would direct it. 

    Eventually, the series was picked up by Netflix. Though the journey there was harrowing, the brothers took it as a lesson in perseverance. According to Ross Dufer, “those who love it so much that they can’t imagine doing anything else? They’re the ones who get up and put themselves back out there.”

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  • Photo: ABC

    Who Passed On It: HBO & NBC

    The Walking Dead is known for its gritty, uncompromising violence. With a lighter touch, it wouldn't be anywhere close to the same experience. But when the team behind The Walking Dead spoke with NBC and HBO about going forward with the show, they both wanted to tone down the violence. Producer Gale Ann Hurd refused this condition and decided to continue looking for a network that would respect the show's initial vision. They found that with AMC, who has been largely hands off, allowing the team the freedom they need to create the series as they wished. Clearly, AMC's respect for the creator's artistic freedom has paid off. 

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    Photo: HBO

    Who Passed On It: Multiple Networks

    HBO may have passed up on a lot of great series, but they've also given plenty of exellent series a chance. That's what they did for The Sopranos, which was rejected by just about every other network that had a chance to look it over. The premise was one that left many networks skeptical. CBS liked it, but felt that Tony Soprano's sessions with the psychiatrist were unncessary. David Chase had already endured a long, demoralizing TV writing career in which he was forced to take out all the parts of his scripts that he found interesting, so he wasn't willing to drop what he saw as an integral part of the story. Luckily for him - and for the many fans of The Sopranos - HBO decided to take a chance on the show, therapy sessions and all. 

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