The curse of cancellation


As a rather big fan of television I tend to watch a lot of shows and try a lot of different things. A downside of this is that I tend to fall in love with shows only for them to be cancelled too soon into their run.

It seems that in recent years TV channels have been in a rush to cancel any show that doesn’t hit a certain criteria, largely high viewing figures, regardless of how dedicated fans are to the show, or indeed the quality of the show. Shows don’t seem to get the opportunity to build up an audience. It seems that quantity of viewers is valued far over the quality of the show, and this is worrying.

Some of the shows which are cancelled early deserve to be – some of them have been absolutely horrendous (No Ordinary Family comes to mind). Others have the marks of television genius, and have been cancelled far earlier than they should have been. The list of cult shows which have been cancelled far too soon includes Firefly (one season), Veronica Mars (three Seasons), Arrested Development (three seasons, with a fourth on Netflix) Freaks and Geeks (one season), Deadwood (three seasons), Pushing Daisies (two seasons) and Twin Peaks (two seasons). These shows have become cult shows precisely because of their worth, but this quality was seemingly ignored because they didn’t pull in enormous ratings. The question for me remains; why are executives so focused on ratings figures? I understand that ratings are inexplicably linked to advertising revenue – one of the main concerns for television channels – but revenue also comes in from merchandise and DVD sales – and as far as I can see, a dedicated fan-base is more likely to buy things that appeal to their fandom.

Screenrant calculated that in on average between 2009-2012, “65% of new network television series” were cancelled. This raises the question of why executives green light shows, pour extreme amounts of money into them, only to cancel them after one series, mostly before the show has completed it’s full run?

do no harmDo No Harm is one of the shows that has been cancelled in the 2012-13 period, in the middle of its American run. Message boards exploded with frustration as fans expressed their anger at the lack of promotion, and the poor time slot given to the show. These kind of circumstances could damage even the best of new dramas, and cancelling the show before it had even aired a handful of episodes certainly seems like jumping a little too early. It was given no chance of gathering momentum, and now people will surely be turned off by the fact that they can only watch the one series of the show.

One of the biggest travesties in TV cancellation by far is Firefly. It seemed doomed from the start, as FOX broadcast the shows first season in the wrong order, and then cancelled the show after eleven of the fourteen episodes were aired. Perhaps no one particularly influential in the channel’s executive board championed Firefly, and as a result this incredible show never got the time it needed to build an audience. The dedication of fans to this cult favourite was evident in the multiple events organised to try and save the series. Eventually the series got its resolution in the feature film Serenity, but it still feels like it should have had much more screen time.

However, there is at least a little hope for these cult shows. Firefly fans got Serenity made, the Veronica Mars’ movie is due in cinemas in 2014, and Arrested Development got a final series, made by Netflix. Unforgettable was cancelled after one season, only to be renewed when another channel expressed interest in picking it up. If fans are dedicated enough, and the actors are passionate, then these shows have the opportunity to grow elsewhere. However, until channel executives change the way they think about television debuts and their worth, then outstanding programmes will continue to be cancelled when some inevitably don’t pull in extraordinary ratings after one airing.


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Studying for my PhD focusing on Eighteenth Century Pirate Literature. Writer 2011-2013, Culture Editor 2013-2014, Editor 2014-2015, Culture Exec 2015-2016, Writer 2016-2017. Longest serving Edgeling ever is a title I intend to hold forever.


  1. avatar

    Does a cult show only become a cult because its so short though? If given their proper length they’d probably become a pretty good show like a lot of the stuff that goes on.

    I also believe the opposite problem exists in that far too many shows continue without an aim and get lost 7/8/9 seasons it.

    Nice article though 🙂

    • avatar

      I don’t know, I think that there are some long running shows (Supernatural comes to mind) that have been long running but still have a cult type following. Its an interesting thought though. I agree with you that shows can run on far longer than their natural course, a lot of time because they achieve the ridiculously high ratings, despite bad content, so its a two pronged problem.

      And thanks 🙂

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