It all depends on the money, talent, and licensing control. Production contracts can be very complicated as there can be many players: the creators, producers, production companies, networks, writers, actors, etc.
Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on the TV series Damages:
Due to the low ratings and high costs, it was speculated early that
Season 3 might be the show's last. However, Sony reached an agreement
with DirecTV to share the cost of future seasons with its Audience
Network (formerly The 101 Network and originally Freeview). Other
outlets were also approached about sharing the cost of a new season.
However, no other network opted to pick it up, leaving Audience
Network the new broadcaster.
This is a typical scenario. In another case, cancellation may come from a network but the revival may depend on the creator/writers/actors. Here are several excerpts from Wikipedia's articles on Arrested Development:
During the series' third season in 2006, despite months-long rumors of
Arrested Development having been picked up by the cable television
network Showtime, creator Hurwitz declined to move the show to another
network. As Hurwitz explained, "I had taken it as far as I felt I
could as a series. I told the story I wanted to tell, and we were
getting to a point where I think a lot of the actors were ready to
move on." ... He also said, "If there's a way to continue this in a
form that's not weekly episodic series television, I'd be up for it".
Six years after the series was canceled by Fox, filming for a revived
fourth season began on August 7, 2012. The season consists of 15 new
episodes, all debuting at the same time on Netflix on May 26, 2013...
And from a Business Insider article on the revival:
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed during an investors conference
Monday the show will be getting a short one season stay on the
streaming website. ... A spokesperson expanded on Hastings' comments
telling the Wall Street Journal it would be "extremely difficult to
get the cast together" again for anything more.
As you can see in this case, most of the control of Arrested Development lies in the hands of its creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, but getting the actors back for more was also a challenge.
In another example, Terra Nova was a TV series that was cancelled and did not get picked back up because of its high production cost:
But according to The Hollywood Reporter, 20th Century Fox TV will now
try to sell it to other networks.
Fox canceled the series in March,
three months after its finale, with Netflix circling the property for
a brief period before abandoning the expensive effort.
As another example, Seinfeld was not cancelled, but ended because Jerry Seinfeld was ready to be done with the series. NBC would've loved to continue the series as its ratings were very high:
He refused NBC's offer of $5 million per episode, or more than $100
million total, to continue the show into a tenth season. Seinfeld told
the network that he was not married and had no children, and wished to
focus on his personal life.
The show became the first television series to command more than $1
million a minute for advertising–a mark previously attained only by
the Super Bowl.
Based on some of the above examples, here are your questions:
Can anyone explain how cancelled shows are able to come back on different networks?
- If the creator and actor contracts allow it, and another network wants
to cover the expense.
What I mean is, who owns the rights to the show, the network or the production company?
- Depends greatly on many factors.
And to that end, are the actors and creative contracted through the network or the production company?
- Depends on the contracts.
And perhaps most importantly, what is the time frame that a show has to return to a new network once it has been cancelled or discontinued by its current network?
- If a network owns the licensing control of a series, and they cancel
it, it is up to them whether they decide to sell it or not. If they
opt not to, then you will likely never see the show again. If the
creators or producers retain some licensing rights, and they want to
try to continue the series, they can try to shop it around. In a rare case with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt the series will get moved before it even has a chance to air. When NBC didn't push the show out like it was originally planned, creator/producers Tina Fey and Dave Miner called Netflix to see if they were interested:
Netflix is becoming kind of known for swooping in and rescuing
cancelled series, but the situation involving Tina Fey's new comedy
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a bit different, as this half-hour comedy
about a doomsday cult escapee wasn't technically cancelled by NBC and
hasn't even aired yet. But it's already found a new home and an extra
season over at Netflix.
[Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said] he got a phone call,
"We got a call from Tina Fey and from Dave Miner to come to New York.
We came up literally on the last day of production, watched some of
the shooting. Met with Tina and the team, heard what they were
planning, and said, 'Look, if you can work it out with NBC, we'd love
to do it.' And within 12 hours, we'd seen nine of the 13 episodes. And
within four days, the deal was done."