Will Fox's "Glee" survive its changes? It has been done before.
Over the past few days, the news broke that Fox's "Glee" had let go of five original cast members only to promote five newer cast members to series regular status. It's just the newest indication that the musical series is going through yet another retooling.
Last season, the musical series made some big changes in storyline, setting and cast. Several new students joined the series and several characters moved on to their lives after McKinley High. It was also partially set in New York City to accomodate new storylines for stars Lea Michele and Chris Colfer.
Through it all, "Glee" held on to an average 8.26 million viewers per episode compared to Season 3's 8.71 million. Plus, in the end it was renewed for not just one, but two seasons.
But, how will fans react to the show when it returns? Will the ratings hold?
"Glee" isn't alone. With just over half of its 90-episode order completed and ratings on a sharp decline, "Anger Management" is now in the middle of the dreaded retool. The show recently booted co-star Selma Blair amid reports of friction with star Charlie Sheen.
Retoolings are happening elsewhere, as well. ABC's "Suburgatory" is changing for budgetary reasons. USA's "Necessary Roughness" is operating under a whole new premise this season. And NBC's "Community" has in fact been "de-tooled" — it recently re-hired its creator and previous showrunner after firing him. Meanwhile, Fox's "American Idol" is rebuilding from the top down.
The television landscape is littered with series that didn't survive a retooling, including "Up All Night," "Smash" and "Body of Proof." Retools, which at their most extreme can become a total reboot, are usually the result of low ratings but sometimes are driven by cast changes or the need for a creative jumpstart.
Generally, they are regarded as a show's death knell. Yet, there have been shows that have undergone changes and actually thrived.
Here are seven shows that actually beat the retool curse:
"The Hogans": Star Valerie Harper left after the first season of "Valerie" in 1987 when salary talks went south. The Season 2 premiere episode was hastily rewritten to kill Valerie off in a car crash and Sandy Duncan replaced her as the family's matriarch. The show's name was changed to "Valerie's Family" and changed again to "The Hogans" in a later season to completely divorce itself from former star. Meanwhile, viewers held on and Jason Bateman gained hearthrob status. Despite the drastic changes, it aired for four seasons on NBC and then jumped to CBS for another two seasons.
Also read: Matt Smith Leaving "Doctor Who"
"Smallville": Debuting in 2001, The series that re-imagined Superman's youth made some major plot and cast changes on Season 5, including growing up and the introduction of Lois Lane (Erica Durance). The retooled season would see a ratings increase over Season 4. Season 8 marked the departure of four major cast members (Kristin Kreuk, Michael Rosenbaum, Laura Vandervoort and John Glover). Yet, it continued on for two more seasons with its tenth and final year reenergizing the fandom.
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": Originally hosted by Regis Philbin, the ABC game show became a runaway hit and aired for three years on the network. In 2002, Meredith Vieira hosted the syndicated version, which would undergo some changes. In 2008, the rounds were timed. In 2010, the clocks went away, the number of questions was reduced and the lifelines changed. Yet still, after 11 seasons, the show continues on with Cedric the Entertainer replacing Vieira in September.
"Doctor Who": Much like its titular character, the iconic BBC science fiction series is designed to survive a retool. It was re-launched in 2005, more than two decades after the original went off the air, with showrunner Russel T. Davies in charge. This incarnation featured a young doctor, sleek production and an hour-long format. Through several Doctors and a regime change from Davies to Steven Moffat, the series continues to thrive. And next season, yet another Doctor will replace Matt Smith.
"Newhart": After a very successful first season about New Yorkers who move to Vermont to run an inn, showrunner Barry Kemp and star Bob Newhart were unsatisfied with the series. Over the course of the second season, Newhart's Dick Loudon went from innkeeper to local TV show host, several characters dropped out and less time was spent in the inn. It continued on for a total of eight seasons.
"Happy Days": In the beginning, the comedy focused on Ron Howard's character, Richie Cunningham, and his relationships to his family and friends. But, fans were drawn to Henry Winkler's cool Fonzie character, who increasingly became the center of storylines as the actor rose to co-lead billing on the nostalgic comedy. Howard left after seven seasons and Fonzie became the main focus of the series. It would air for a decade.
"Ellen": What happened to "These Friends of Mine"? Some of those friends just disappeared without explanation when the series was renamed "Ellen" in deference to its star, Ellen DeGeneres, on the second season in 1994. Two friends would leave after Season 1, another would leave after Season 3. Regardless, the ratings warranted renewal for a total of five seasons and more than 100 episodes. It wouldn't be until the biggest retooling of all – switching the previously straight-appearing character to lesbian in the fourth season — when things began to go badly. Although it would lead to a short rise in the ratings and plenty of media coverage, it proved to be a tough act to follow and the comedy was canceled after Season 5.