Fan-Power: Saving Shows From Cancellation
With the internet providing an abundance of viewing modes today, television series are being binged more than ever. These shows are made to appeal to fans and, therefore, make money. Although, since there are so many television channels and streaming sites, the amount of content has increased and we now live in the “new, new TV golden age”<sub>1</sub> – an era that has been slowly developing since the 1980’s, when television finally began creating “program(s) for demographics instead of mass numbers”<sub>2</sub>. It’s a time in which, Alan Sepinwall fears, there may be “too much good television”<sub>1</sub>.
However, with great content comes great responsibility – to your fans that is. Loyal followers of TV shows do not like being taken off guard with series cancellations. A good example is the uproar from fans when Fox cop-comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, was taken off the air. The show’s cast agreed that their most recent season (five) – before being cancelled – was “our strongest” yet, with Melissa Fumero, aka the show’s Amy Santiago, admitting “there’s still a lot of story to tell”<sub>3</sub>. Chelsea Peretti, who plays Gina Linetti in the show, said cancellation news spread to the cast “like wildfire”<sub>3</sub>. If the news was fire, the fans were gasoline – especially the adults aged 18-49, whose loyalty made Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Fox’s highest-rated live-action comedy series this season”<sub>4</sub>.
Even with such a large following, the show’s license fee was too expensive for Fox, at “around $1.9 million an episode”<sub>4</sub>. But that wasn’t going to stop a total social media take over, fuelled by outraged and saddened fans, who were sure their viewership was enough to keep the show going. Within an hour of the news breaking, it was the topic of discussion on a variety of platforms<sub>6</sub>, with the show sitting at number one on the trending Twitter topics by that same afternoon<sub>5</sub>.
Fans argued that a show this funny, sweet, inclusive and that dealt with real-world issues while featuring a diverse cast, didn’t deserve to be taken off the air. Not only that, but their following equated to a successful series, even on the numbers side of things. Whilst Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s live ratings were average, it’s Live+7 ratings were “very good” according to the show’s co-creator Dan Goor<sub>7</sub>. The Live+7 rating refers to the number of viewers within a week of the episode airing<sub>6</sub>. Goor also added that their popularity on streaming sites such as Hulu makes their fan-base quite substantial<sub>7</sub>, but it does all come back to turning a profit and popularity doesn’t always equal success. For example, the show’s fifth season didn’t air on Australian Netflix until September 2018 – by then, the show had already been cancelled, picked back up, and the cast had already begun filming the next season. Therefore, no live or Live+7 ratings would’ve came from Netflix Australia.
It’s likely Fox judged the show’s popularity on these ratings and assumed the following was declining. It seems they didn’t consider this delay for international steaming sites, the lag between seasons, the changing segment times the show aired on television, or any number of reasons why the hit series wasn’t seeing a monetary return. Looking at profit alone, the network may have predicted that Brooklyn Nine-Nine could become too expensive to continue running.
But this isn’t the first show to experience such an injustice. Clearly Fox’s predictions were wrong, as so many fans speaking out on the show’s behalf proves it’s continued popularity. Thankfully NBC picked up the show, just 31 hours after the public learned it was to be cancelled<sub>7</sub>. When the tweet announcing the NBC take over went public, Dan Goor said it was all thanks to the fans<sub>8</sub>. Terry Crews, who plays the show’s Terry Jeffords, also thanked fans, saying “there’s never been a greater example of the difference between (how a network judges) ratings, and what people are actually watching”. In a recent interview<sub>3</sub>, Andy Samberg, otherwise know as Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Jake Peralta, backed the show in, hoping for many more future seasons.
The whole situation make one ponder just how powerful fans can be. Obviously, yes, they control the shows ratings by choosing to watch. But with such an uproar on social media, they managed to convince a large-scale network – that had originally sold off the show to Fox in the first place – to pick Brooklyn Nine-Nine back up, in it’s sixth season, in just a day and a half!
Other shows, like Lucifer, Chuck and Medium<sub>12</sub> faced a similar fate when their respective networks threatened to take them off the air. However, they too had fans to thank for an uproar that caused the shows to be picked back up. Some film sequels/series have also been made possible by fan engagement. Television personality, Ellen DeGeneres, is to credit for the 2016 Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory. It was her constant mentioning of the successful first film on her social media and popular talk show that got the ball rolling for its follow-up. Once she’d put the idea in her fan’s minds, the whole idea for a sequel began to gain more traction until Pixar finally decided to make it a reality.
There’s also been cases where fan backlash has captured the network’s attention, but not enough to revive the original show. The cancellation of the popular Sense8 series caused outrage among fans and was then awarded a 2 hour wrap-up episode as a result. Raven’s Home, the spin-off from the now cancelled popular 2000’s predecessor, That’s So Raven is another unique example. Fan uproar wasn’t enough to bring back to show in 2007 when its fourth season became its last. Although, viewer loyalty was still present 10 years later as fans were thrilled to hear about the spin-off and have given the show a positive reception – it’s second season aired this year. Even reviews from The Post<sub>10</sub> and Common Sense Media<sub>11</sub> have labelled the spin-off a success among fans. Other older shows that saw successful reboots after years off the air include Will and Grace, Twin Peaks, Fame, Baywatch and Arrested Development<sub>12</sub>.
Still, there are often cases when even the fan’s protesting has no effect on the network’s decision. Despite several fan petitions and a huge call for it, Vampire Academy was denied a sequel. Popular Fox series, Last Man on Earth, was cut short after only four short seasons, even with its 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans took to social media to express their disappointment but still Fox stood by its decision to end the show.
In the same respect, fans are also comfortable chiming in when a show has been on the air for too long. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is still growing in terms of character development and relationships, so fans are excited to see what’s next. Whereas, the eight-year-old zombie series, The Walking Dead, seems to have run its course (according to fans). Whilst there have been no rumours of cancellation and the producers are still talking in terms of years ahead, it’s clear to see the series is declining<sub>13</sub>. In season seven, the show killed of beloved characters Glenn Rhee and Abraham Ford and has seen a decline in ratings ever since. The Walking Dead is also losing viewers due to it’s protagonist, Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln).
The writers anchored the show following Rick’s arc<sub>13</sub> – a problem in itself since this takes screen time away from other important character’s and events relevant to the plot. Worse still, Lincoln has decided to leave the series due to family matters<sub>14</sub>, meaning the network faces a ninth season with no lead (and barely a single character fit to replace him due to the show’s focus on Rick). Some publications argue it’s “time to kill of the whole show”<sub>15</sub> and fans are seeming to agree. One Facebook user stated “if Rick goes, I go,” and others admitting “every good thing must come to an end – one follower of the show even begged “please end the show at the end of season nine and put us all out of our misery.”<sub>16</sub> It’ll be interesting to see how the ninth season pans out next year – will fan engagement have the same impact it has had before? If fans can pull a show back on air, can they reverse it and push a show to end?
So, where is the line? Yes, television is made to be watched, but how much of a role do fans really play and what does it take to make a network change their mind? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
- The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever”. Alan Sepinwall (book)
- Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture (quote)
- TVLine’s San Diego Comic Con interview with eight of the show’s main cast (video)
- “‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Saved: NBC Picks Up Comedy After Fox Cancellation”. Nellie Andreeva, Deadline (online article)
- “Fans are furious about ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ being canceled, but it could get picked up by Hulu”. John Lynch, Business Insider Australia (online article)
- “Why ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ fans are taking its cancellation so hard”. Emily Yahr, The Washington Post (online article)
- “Brooklyn Nine-Nine Boss Teases the 99th Episode and the Show’s Future”. Tim Surette, TV Guide (interview/online article)
- @djgoor Twitter announcement (tweet)
- “Brooklyn Nine-Nine season 6 definitely WON’T be the last season ever”. Sam Warner, Digital Spy (online article)
- “TV Review: ‘Raven’s Home’ brings back charm of ‘That’s So Raven'”. Georgia Davis. The Post, Athens (online review)
- “Raven’s Home”. Emily Ashby. Common Sense Media (online review)
- TVLine website (online galleries)
- “‘The Walking Dead’: What the Hell Happened to This Show?”. Noel Murray. Rolling Stone (online article)
- “Andrew Lincoln Explains Why He’s Leaving ‘The Walking Dead’”. Ellis Clopton. Variety (online article)
- “The Walking Dead without Rick? It’s surely time to kill off the whole show”. Luke Holland. The Guardian (newspaper article: online)
- “The Walking Dead: After Andrew Lincoln departs, can the show survive the death of its main hero?”. ABC News (online article)
What do you think? Leave a comment.