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Fox Drops 'Terra Nova'

But this cancellation may not be the end for the elaborate dinosaur drama

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Taylor (Stephen Lang)

Taylor (Stephen Lang) in he season finale of Terra Nova.

Brook Rushton/FOX

After months of speculation, it's finally happened: Fox has canceled Terra Nova after a single season. But unlike the usual situation, where the axing of a series prompts in fans a vain and empty hope that the show will be resurrected by some network white knight, in the case of Terra Nova hopes for a future for the prehistoric drama aren't quite so hollow.

Dropping the Axe After a Long Wait

Early last week Fox executives concluded that, even with tweaks designed to streamline costs and heighten appeal, a second season of Terra Nova just wouldn't be cost-effective. The sad part here is that Terra Nova was not a ratings failure at all; it just wasn't a runaway hit, and that's what it needed to be in order to offset the tremendous expense and headaches it generated for its producers and the network.

Terra Nova averaged 7.5 million total viewers a 2.6 million in the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 adult demo in its 13-hour first season. But once DVR playbacks are added the average rises to 10.1 million total viewers and a 3.6 adult demo rating. The two-hour season finale drew numbers just shy of its season average -- too big to make cancellation a no-brainer (though down significantly from its premiere) but too small to cement confidence for the future among the suits at Fox. Nonetheless, as EW noted, with DVR numbers included Terra Nova will likely end up the highest-rated canceled show of the season.

The execs delayed the decision until they had a better handle on the 2012-2013 season, making it one of several shows this year for which the wait for a decision has been long.

Possible Futures

Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly has been signaling all year that the network was noncommittal about the show, hinting that a stronger storyline and sense of identity would be crucial to increasing the audience and thereby offsetting costs.

Showrunners Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria pitched a revised season 2 to Reilly, and they indicated around the time of the season finale broadcast that they were "guardedly optimistic" about a renewal. "We have pitched a take on season 2 to the network and that's part of the decision making process for them," Echevarria said. "They were listening to some of the ideas and had feelings about what did and didn't work for them."

In the end, the repitch didn't sell. It was Reilly who made the call to drop the show, according to Deadline.

Terra Nova's future aside, there may be one silver lining to Fox canceling this show: With House and Terra Nova gone and Alcatraz and The Finder likely to follow, the currently on-the-bubble cult hit Fringe could end up getting a 13-episode pickup after all if the budget can be pared down and/or a new deal cut with its studio, Warner Bros.

Lang: Cancellation "Short-Sighted"

Star Stephen Lang (Commander Taylor) was quick to comment on the cancellation, mindful of the results achieved despite the show's rocky launch (two writing staffs, missed deadlines in pre- and postproduction, etc.) and how that promises great things for a show that's properly run in with a seasoned crew and cast.

"Terra Nova is analogous to the Hubble Space Telescope," Lang told Deadline. "Within weeks of a much-publicized and ballyhooed launch in 1990, the Hubble was found to have a serious flaw. Yet even with an improperly ground mirror the Hubble delivered extraordinary images. When the flaw was corrected the Hubble delivered images of transcendent beauty and value for many years. So too Terra Nova," he said.

"Even in its flawed first season each episode was full of marvelous moments and beautiful images. With correction, and given the chance, Terra Nova can and will deliver seasons of transcendent images and storytelling. Failing to renew Terra Nova is shortsighted, as myopic as it would have been to scrap the Hubble. Terra Nova is the Hubble telescope of television."

Is Netflix Their White Knight?

Terra Nova's studio, 20th Century Fox TV, immediately said that it will attempt to shop the big-budget series to other networks. Terra Nova's decent numbers -- especially when it comes to DVR figures (Terra Nova was in the top ten of DVRed shows durong its first season broadcast period) and online figures like iTunes downloads -- mark it as a show that died not from its own failures as much as from a lack of support from Fox (which, after all the sci-fi shows that Fox has canceled, from Firefly to Dollhouse, makes you wonder what doomsday scenarios a sci-fi producer has running through his mind when he's pitching to Fox execs). And that means that it might be attractive to content delivery channels that set store in nontraditional viewing.

Netflix, which is already gleaming with fan goodwill after agreeing to rescue and remount another popular Fox-canceled series, Arrested Development, is now in talks with producers Steven Spielberg and Peter Chernin to pick up Terra Nova. Netflix is increasingly committed to offering more original content, like House of Cards and Lilyhammer, but Terra Nova would be a big jump in scale for them.

Netflix is obviously looking to add truckloads of subscribers by generating original content with powerful fanbases guaranteed to flock to the service and pay the low entry fee, and if they have enough extra bouillon lying around to fund Terra Nova this should be a win for everyone. And by controlling its own, original content, Netflix bypasses the truculence of networks who bristle at providing content to what amounts to a competing channel.

The Netflix pickup is not a done deal by any means, and may result in restrictions in cost and production for the series to fit into the company's budget and business model. But it's being seriously considered, further opening us tp toward the inevitable future in which "television" content isn't automatically assumed to have originated on television.

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