So Your Favourite Show Has Been Cancelled: DOs and DON’Ts for Surviving the Aftermath
It’s happened to all of us. We open our hearts to a new and exciting program, one with an intriguing premise and unique characters, and become its number one fan within weeks. We are shy at first, but soon enough we are writing AU fan-fictions and posting on forums like the rest of the hooked fan base. Quiet moments of the working week are spent contemplating possible story lines, character development and casting news, thoughts you can’t wait to share with your (probably bored) spouse/partner/pet. This is not to say the show is perfect, far from it, but any imperfections are felt tenfold, as if the writers and producers had physically gut-punched you with their inability to satisfy your increasingly detailed wishes and commands. Then, the unthinkable happens.
It starts slowly, with the show moving to a new time slot, usually late at night before the game-show repeats begin. Advertising drops off, and billboards disappear. The real death knell for the struggling program is, however, the last ditch attempts by fans to save the show. For every success (Chuck) there are ten failed bids for the continuation of ‘unpopular’ programs (Pan Am). Finally, after some belabored last gasps at 11:30 on a Wednesday night, the show disappears, never to be seen from again (except the DVD collectors edition). Perhaps the show was too expensive. Maybe the network thought it was ‘too edgy’ for the audience. Most likely though, it simply wasn’t popular enough. Big name networks tend to ignore the vast online presence of a large number of beloved shows (Parks and Recreation, anyone?), and look only at the Nielsen ratings, or whatever ridiculous and out-of-date system the nation uses to calculate ratings. If you are lucky, the creators will know long enough in advance so they can craft a satisfying series finale, but more often than not you will be left with a frustrating cliffhanger that will never be resolved.
This has happened to me more times than I wish to remember, so much so that I no longer watch series until I am sure they are given a second season pick up. I’ve been hurt too many times. I’m surprised Taylor Swift hasn’t written a song about the intensity of this heartbreak. However, there are ways of dealing with the pain. Below are some of the most common methods of working-through PTCD (Post-Traumatic Cancellation Disorder). Much like acne-treatments, antihistamines and country musicians, though, some are more useful to you than others. This is why I have organised the following list into DOs and DON’Ts. Enjoy!
Don’t Watch the Inevitable Remake
I loved Primeval.
The UK version was equal parts funny, tragic and romantic, with some truly awfultastic CGI thrown in. It’s true that the show has not been ‘officially’ cancelled, but its been years since the last series, so I assume the worst. Then, out of the blue, I see advertisements for something called Primeval: New World. A semi-sequel to the program, it has a whole new cast, but featured an appearance by my favourite character from the original. It is like a faint glimmer of light appearing in the darkness (not to exaggerate). I eagerly Googled the program, and immediately that light was snuffed out by the cold, wet hand of Canada.
Overseas remakes. Look, I’m not going to be all doom and gloom and say they never work, but they never work. Yes, The Office. Well done on naming one of the very few British made programs to translate well to American audiences. However, I argue that The Office (US) isn’t even close to The Office (UK). I like both, by the way, but I recognise key creative differences. After woeful reception of the first few mirror-image episodes, the US version made the premise its own and thus became a huge success. If a remake is the same message in a different font, The Office (US) is the same core idea, but written in a completely different language, new font, and in all caps.
When your show is cancelled, it is only natural to want to watch the remake. It will be the same characters, in similar situations. Surely you can stomach it being in a different accent? If that were all it was then I am sure you could, but we constantly underestimate our attachment to people and places. You might love Lady Cop Character UK, but the US version, even with the same lines, JUST ISN’T THE SAME. By no fault of the remaking nation, we compare their characters to the ones we already love; and they will come out worse every time.
Trust me, you are better off without those comparisons, at least in the months following the cancellation.
Do Watch Shows From the Same Producers/Creators/Actors
You didn’t really think I would make an article about cancellation and not mention Joss Whedon? While not the most maligned producer/creator in history, he does have a reputation for making excellent programs that only last one, maybe two seasons. His most recent effort, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a flawed show that I nevertheless adore, started strong and is now hemorrhaging viewers, leading Whedonites like myself to have Vietnam-style flashbacks to Dollhouse.
An excellent and in-depth sci-fi series, Dollhouse suffered from indie-fanbase syndrome, whereby the nice families in nice houses with nice televisions that serve as the foundation of Nielsen ratings just didn’t tune in. Thus, cancellation. (Don’t you dare do this to S.H.I.E.L.D, networks. The show needs time to get rid of the irksome characters and focus more on Fitsimmons, May and Coulson.)
When the cancellation happens, however, it might serve you well to look through the backlog of works by its creator. You have no idea how many people I’ve talked to that bemoan the loss of Dollhouse and then, in the same breath, mention that they have never watched Buffy. It isn’t the case with all producers/writers (depending on who has creative control), but a great deal of them tend to gravitate toward similar genres. Whedon, for example, favours strong women, stylised but tasteful violence, and ripping your heart out with a smile. You won’t necessarily love everything they’ve done, but it might put you on a path to something you will adore. Think of them as rebound programs.
It also might be the case that the main reason you love a show is the actors. While Sherlock has is no way been cancelled (stand down, Cumbercookies), I’ve made my way through the excessively long hiatus by watching Cumberbatch, Freeman and Graves in their various small-screen outings. Watching the same actors won’t heal the wound, but it might soothe the burn for a while. Plus, applying a dose of Cumberbatch has never failed to assist in some small measure.
Don’t Listen to Gossip
Let’s pretend you have a partner called Sam (a nice androgynous name). You and Sam are very happy together, but one day the relationship falls apart. You are devastated, as Sam was perfect for you in every way, and now you feel like a little bit is missing from your daily life. Then, you hear from a friend the Sam might want you back. Nothing direct, of course, but just a rumour floating around. That gives you a little bit of hope, so you approach Sam directly. Sam doesn’t want you back. It was a rumour.
Sam is every single cancelled television show I have ever loved, minus Veronica Mars. There is always one rumour about a movie, or a sequel, or a prequel that gets your hopes up high for a continuation of your favourite show. Nine times out of ten, it is some teenager in his basement in Utah (Never been to Utah, I just assume this is where that teen lives) who is either A: disillusioned or B: a mindless troll. Even actors are not immune to this, as the fans of Ghostbusters know well, with Dan Akroyd repeatedly touting a sequel script that has never materialised.
It rarely pans out. Even if it does, like in the case of Arrested Development, (CONTROVERSIAL OPINION AHEAD), it won’t be the same. It might still be a good show, but what you loved died, no question about it. I have high hopes for the Veronica Mars movie, funded by Kickstarter and due for release in the new year, as it seems to have kept the essence of the characters we loved without turning them into stunted caricatures. Nevertheless, it won’t make up for the pain of cancellation, or the multitude of excellent story lines we missed due to the abrupt ending of the show. In addition, the movie could ruin your perception of a series, by turning beloved characters into villains (Mission Impossible) or killing them off (Serenity*. Whedon again).
Until the movie/stage production/comic book materialised, you’re better off closing your ears. Even when it does, tread lightly.
*Yes, it did take me this long to mention Firefly in an article about cancellation. I’m sorry, so, so sorry.
Do Enjoy Fan-made Works
I’m going to say it. I’m going to be brave. I love fan-fiction.
I think it represents something beautiful about the human race, in that if we are dissatisfied with the way in which something is handles, we push up our sleeves and do it again ourselves. I first encountered fan-fiction in my mid-teens, Harry Potter-induced haze. It was an instant hit with me, a person so opposed to Ginny Weasley that she had an issue with gingers for years. Even after Potter concluded, unsatisfactorily in my opinion, people still write the most amazing stories, focusing not only on the main characters but on those people and places rarely heard about, or only mentioned once. When a show is cancelled, this is my first port of call.
Let’s not gloss over a large reason for why fan-fiction and fan-art is popular: Shipping. Too many times, the creators of programs go for slow burn relationships that would work in the long run, but the audience never sees this because the show is cancelled. Allow me to be clear: I want my payoff. If you are going to be cancelled, you should wrap that romantic storyline up fast, lest you have hoards of angry women (and men) upon thy door. In addition, fan sites allow for the development of relationships you know they will never show on television, usually because they are deemed ‘too controversial’ (i.e homosexual or biracial). Many Merlin/Arthur fans (from the excellent BBC series Merlin) are thankful for the power of fan work to realise something that would have been great, but was never an option.
When your show is cancelled, that means there will be no more new episodes by the creators, but you would be surprised at how many excellent artists and authors there are out there who can not only finish the story well, but adapt and modify it so that it seems better than the original. There are duds, obviously, but no-one will treat a show with the same reverence is a true fan. Who knows, you might catch the creative bug and try some writing or drawing yourself!
Don’t Watch Similar Genres Immediately
So your favourite space-western has been put in the bin. Amidst the veil of tears and mucus that now covers your eyes, you realise that now you must choose a new program. Might I make a suggestion? Crime thriller. Sitcom. Historical drama. Anything that is the polar opposite of space-western (Underground . . . romantic comedy?)
The temptation is to find the most similar show you can and try and get into that, a desire that rarely evolves into anything positive. When I said that looking into other works by the director/producer was a good plan, I meant in terms of dialogue or thematic concerns, not an overall carbon copy. Think of it this way, if you (knock on wood) lost your beloved pet toy poodle Pringleton, a beautiful and kind pure white puppy, would you really want another white toy poodle(called Dinkleberg) immediately ? It will seem a pale imitation of Pringleton, and everything Dinkleberg-the-interloper does will be wrong, because he just isn’t the original. You are better off going for a lovable golden retriever, or yapping Chihuahua, or even a tabby-cat called Puddin’ Cup than trying to replace the original.
I tried to watch The Mentalist after I found out Psych was only going on for one more season. Big mistake. Both shows operate on the same basic premise, near-psychic everyman joining the police force to solve crime, but the approach is totally different. Psych is irreverent, uplifting, and packed with jokes, while The Mentalist is mired in depressing story lines and can’t escape the complicated in-series mythology. I should have known better, considering they aren’t marketed as generically similar, but it was the approach to the basic premise that annoyed me. The main character of The Mentalist was too ‘cool’, with Patrick Jane (as played by the gorgeous Simon Baker) gliding through intense situations with practiced, and unrealistic, ease. From what others have told me, The Mentalist is intensely enjoyable, but it is something I couldn’t appreciate from my Psych-based vantage point.
As a starting list for those who wish to branch out, I love Parks and Recreation, Game of Thrones, The Borgias, The IT Crowd, Chuck, Bones and Law and Order: SVU. These are all different genres, so there are plenty of new avenues to explore while you get over the cancellation. Given some time, you may want to go and look at similar programs, and since the loss (yes, dramatics) won’t be so recent, you won’t be so eager to find faults.
There we have it. The most common methods of coping with PTCD, and why they may or may not be a good way of dealing with the fallout. Eventually, you won’t even remember the show, if we are entirely honest, but it is perfectly reasonable to be sad and a little bit angry in the months succeeding the cancellation. Ultimately, nothing really makes up for the fact that you invested your time (and sometimes money) into a program that no longer exists, but the DOs here should give you a few ways to better handle the situation, and to keep that love alive.
What do you think? Leave a comment.