I woke up this morning thinking about Travelers. I loved Travelers. It was an amazingly well constructed story about people from the future sent back into the past in order to nudge events that would hopefully result in a different outcome…eh…in the future. Unfortunately for fans of interesting, smart TV, the show had been cancelled, although not without a quick and somewhat tidy ending that didn’t beg for another season, but maybe for a graphic or textual novel, or at least some fan fiction.
I don’t know why this was my first thought today, although the subject of cancelled shows seems to be recently-present. I learned yesterday that — although not officially cancelled — the Netflix series Mindhunter was on indefinite hiatus due to David Fincher — the show-runner — going off to do other things. This morning, I learned that HBO’s stellar take on Watchmen will also not be returning for another season, because show-runner Damon Lindelof decided “fuck that shit”.
These are three shows that I seriously loved, and while I don’t usually put a lot of stock in TV, I am upset enough to write this post about the weird-ass world of show renewals. Travelers and Mindhunter are Netflix properties, and there was a rumor going ’round that Netflix gives a series three seasons to become an irrefutable smash hit, or else it shit-cans it and moves money elsewhere. I don’t know the specifics about Travelers critical mass, nor do I know the same about Mindhunter, but I do believe both were critically favorable. Watchmen, on the other hand, got high praise for it’s dense and whacked-out approach to social commentary, but I guess Lindelof didn’t care to take on a season 2 (though he said HBO could do it under someone else’s guidance, to which HBO limply proclaimed “nah”).
As a viewer, I kind of feel taken advantage of here. On one hand, platforms need to make money, and they make money by producing “must see” content. Everyone (else) had a dragon-boner for Game of Thrones so it made sense for HBO to keep plowing that field, but at some point it seemed that the principals involved got tired enough of it that they half-assed the ending. So on the other hand, screw the viewers, I guess, and make a hasty exit to the Next Big Project. If the whims of the show-runners blows them into a different direction, everyone on the production side seems content to just drop what they’re doing right in the middle of doing it and wander away. Very few shows, it seems, have the luxury of being able to end on their own terms. Of the ones I have watched, Battlestar Galactica was one, and The Good Place is another. Both were carried by their platforms until the show-runners announced their intent to conclude. As much as that news sucked, at least both got to complete their arcs, and leave everyone with a sense of completeness (last five minutes of BSG notwithstanding).
I really wish there were ways for audiences to kind of “stick it to em”, but any community is made up of those who care and those who don’t. Those who care will file pointless petitions while those who don’t care will just move on to the next course in an endless smorgasbord of entertainment options. I cancelled my HBO sub once Watchman was done (I bounced hard off His Dark Materials, which makes me sad because I love the story) but I doubt HBO cares; I bet they have factored a subscriber exodus int their plans after what happened in the wake of GoT, as all platforms must (Hi, Disney+!) If they expect people to leave, then leaving isn’t going to send a message. If people write in to beg, plead, and — sadly — threaten, and when none of those make any difference, what’s the point? Shouldn’t Lindelof be allowed to do what he feels is best for his career? We aren’t owed anything, of course, but the disproportionate loyalty of viewers compared to produces makes it a wonder consumers are OK with wanting to stick with anything these days.