The devastation fans experience upon hearing that their favorite TV show has been canceled is often indescribable. They often experience a range of emotions including shock, sadness, frustration, and, as many network representatives can attest, outrage.
Cancelling Brooklyn Nine-Nine
One perfect example was FOX’s May 10th announcement of its decision to end hit show Brooklyn Nine-Nine where loyal viewers took to social media in droves. Voicing their disapproval, they shared countless personal and profound reasons for why FOX was making a mistake and why the show should continue. Many described Brooklyn Nine-Nine a show that brought laughter to their homes. A tweet from a father whose daughter watched the show stated it was “one of the things that kept her spirits up following neurosurgery”, demonstrated its importance. Others loved it for its portrayal of perfectly flawed and relatable characters, as well as its inclusiveness and ability to have a positive influence on society.
Among the fans speaking out was famous singer and songwriter, Josh Groban, who joined in the social media chorus with a statement that pretty much summed up the sentiment of its fans: “I don’t wanna live in a world where Fox cancels Brooklyn 99 but keeps News.” For many, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was not just a show, it had positively impacted their lives in a way worth fighting for.
Despite this public outpour, FOX remained steadfast in its decision; however, other networks were listening. The show had been canceled for a total of 31 hours before NBC took action and picked it up. Later Tracey Pakosta, the Co-President of Scripted Programming at NBC Entertainment, was quoted as saying that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fanbase made a definite impression on key players in the network.
The Trend of Cancelling and Picking up Shows
Just how often does a show get canceled by one network and subsequently picked up by another? As the creators and cast of not only Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but also The Expanse and Lucifer can attest, it happens all too frequently.
Amazon’s rescue of The Expanse, a favorite science fiction show dropped by the SyFy Network, was again attributed to those who faithfully watched and had come to love the series. Many would agree that the actions taken by these viewers resulted in an amazing outcome. Support for the show was so great that fans sent the Head of Amazon Studios, Jennifer Salke, cakes to entice her to consider adopting the series. Further still, a GoFundMe account was created to fund a #SaveTheExpanse banner to be flown near Amazon’s LA Headquarters and both met and surpassed its goal of multiple thousands of dollars. These actions captured the attention, not only of Amazon Studios but of Jeff Benzos himself; the CEO of the multi-billion-dollar company shocked cast members when he announced plans to bring the show to Amazon Prime during a press conference that included many of the shows devoted fans.
Lucifer, too, was similarly canceled only to make a spectacular comeback. After being discontinued by FOX, the trending hashtag of the moment became #SaveLucifer. Netflix again saw an opportunity and acted accordingly; Lucifer now continues on the streaming service. Co-Showrunner, Joe Henderson, tweeted his appreciation for its salvation to his viewers: “Thank you thank you THANK YOU to all the #Lucifer fans. You brought us back.”
In yet another impressive example of the power the fans, many believe that NBC’s Timelesss was resurrected primarily due to the support of its fan base, in addition to producer negotiations. These ultimately led to its cancelation being reverses in just three days.
All You Need is Love?
If all it takes for a network to air a show is openly devoted fans, why are popular shows ever canceled? The answer is unsurprising.
TV networks need to amass a certain number of viewers to consider a show profitable. Many shows with a less large and devoted fanbase permanently end and are not revived. This is why although fans frequently take to social media when a show they adore ends, if there are not enough regular viewers, they will ultimately lose any hope at a happy ending. After all, social media activity does not always accurately portray accurate viewership numbers. For example, some areas of the world have viewers with only a small social media presence although they watch a television program regularly. Then on the flipside, others may be actively present on social media but don’t exist in sufficient numbers to support a show’s continuation.
In fact, before picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Lucifer, Netflix considered several things in addition to the online voice of its viewers. Financial factors are always vital contributors in any major network’s decisions; Netflix representatives have explained that by analyzing trends in the streaming popularity of past show material, they make predictions about how future seasons will perform. When there is not enough interest, it is unlikely that a show will come back, no matter how many hashtags, cakes, or banners are received.
Sense8: It Takes More Than Petitions and Messages
One such example is the show Sense8 which was canceled without revival after two seasons on Netflix. In a statement later released by the streaming service, it admitted that the protests and reactions of its avid fans would not be sufficient to resuscitate it: “We’ve seen the petitions. We’ve read the messages. We know you want to #RenewSense8, and we wish we could #BringBackSense8 for you.”
A third season will never air, although Netflix has commissioned a 2-hour finale in an attempt to offer a form of closure to heartbroken fans. This is much more than most canceled shows get, and ultimately it would not even be on the table without Netflix believing the finale would draw enough attention to be profitable. A Netflix representative revealed the cost of producing a whole additional season could not be justified by the lower-than-desired viewership trends seen for its past seasons.
Reasons for Cancellations are Complicated
Of course, viewership numbers, whatever they may be, are not the only reason for cancellations; FOX dropping both Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Lucifer/em> was also believed to be linked to the beginning of football season. Football programming takes up an excess of 30 hours of prime television, so space had to be made elsewhere. Networks also make adjustments in attempts to have a diverse variety of shows and to host shows that appeal to what they consider to be the preferences of their target audience.
Shows may also be dropped in spite of wide viewership if a cast member behaves in ways which embarrass their network. An example of this is the racial tweets of ABC’s Roseanne star, Roseanne Barr, which resulted in her show being swiftly canceled. One of CBS’s most successful series, Two and a Half Men ended up with a new lead after one of the lead actors, Charlie Sheen, continued an embarrassing pattern of scandals. Unfortunately for the network, ratings eventually tanked, which many attribute to this switch. While the show lasted an additional few seasons after Sheen’s firing, the show ended at the conclusion of its twelfth season.
Improved Opportunity for Modern Shows
The good news for shows that surpass all hurdles to continue elsewhere is that many of the barriers that prevented previous television series from being successfully transferred from one network to another no longer exist today. The flip-flopping is not inconvenient for viewers due to the wide availability of digital platforms and streaming services.
Audiences also no longer have to watch shows at a specific time due to DVR and online streaming so scheduling conflicts are less of a concern to networks than in previous years. As famous director, David Fincher so aptly describes it, “The world of 7:30 on Tuesday nights, that’s dead. A stake has been driven through its heart, its head has been cut off, and its mouth has been stuffed with garlic. The captive audience is gone.”
Consequently, picking up shows is less as risky; in fact, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, and Netflix often see dropped shows as a potentially golden opportunity. High-quality canceled series often already have multiple past seasons that can bring in a profit as well as an established fan base who will eagerly watch future material.
Arrested Development, Fuller House, and Gillmore Girls
Arrested Development was picked up by Netflix in 2011 after being canceled by FOX and was virtually guaranteed to become a success. After all, during its original 2003-2006 airing, it had received half a dozen Primetime Emmy Awards and a Globe Award, and it earned coveted spots on Time’s “All-TIME 100 TV Shows” and Entertainment Weekly’s “New TV Classics” lists. The show had countless die-hard fans and Netflix enjoys profiting from the show in no small part due to its impressive past. What was FOX’s loss has become Netflix’s gain.
Netflix’s Fuller House a show developed to continue the story of Full House, which initially aired on ABC back in 1987, capitalizes on the nostalgia of its past. Jeff Franklin created both series (though he was recently fired) and Fuller House has enjoyed four seasons in partnership with the streaming giant so far. With an already fully-developed crowd that followed the original series throughout the 80s and 90s, it is likely that several more are soon to come.
Similarly, Netflix’s purchase of Gilmore Girls, an already established show with a convenient cliffhanger ending in its last original season, resulted in the creation of four longer episodes that were met with great success. Netflix has expressed interest in continuing its story further, in hopes of pocketing an even heftier profit.
Some Things are Better Left Undone
Unfortunately, where there is an opportunity, there is also the potential that things don’t go as planned. Some shows escape permanent cancellation only to be canceled again soon after.
Breaking In is a perfect example; The show was canceled by FOX in May 2011, picked up in August of that year, and was canceled for its final time in May of 2012 as it was unable to gain a sufficient following. Then again, Unforgettable was canceled after its first season on CBS, uncancelled, canceled again after the third season, and later picked up by A&E for a fourth, proving shows can still succeed despite many believing otherwise.
Are There Flaws in Show Ratings, and Therefore, Cancellations?
To networks, viewership matters, and quality dictates viewership. Times are changing and as audiences begin to view TV more and more often through less traditional platforms, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon as well as file-sharing, shows have not received their due credit as this data is regularly missing from viewership metric calculations.
Focusing on individuals who only watch TV in front of a television or on the network’s website leaves out a massive chunk of the general population. For these reasons and more, the ways decision-makers have measured viewership, and thus value, has been criticized as flawed. This is only just starting to change. Nielsen ratings, which networks and their advertising partners use to estimate show views, only began to measure data from on-demand, streaming, and mobile sources in 2015 and 2016. In 2017 it added data from platforms Hulu, Live TV, and YouTube TV to its metrics. Then, in 2018 Nielsen announced advances to provide programmers and advertisers with additional viewership data from Smart TVs. These efforts are providing better indicators of a show’s actual popularity and monetary potential.
As writer Emily Steel of the New York Times pointed out in 2016, shortly after several moves by Nielsen to address different types of viewership: “The stakes are high. Some $70 billion in advertising dollars are traded in the United States each year based on Nielsen’s ratings, and hundreds of television programs live or die based on that viewership data.”
A Change That is Good for You
Hopefully, networks will continue to work with Nielsen and update their practices to remain relevant to their viewers and lead to fewer cancellations of excellent shows. This will spare all involved the rollercoaster of emotions caused by the cancelation of a great show.
However, in the case of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, stars remained not only gracious but grateful to the network that gave them their start. As star Melissa Fumero wrote in a May 20th tweet, “Thank you @FOXTV for giving us 5 incredible seasons.”