Normally the complaint about the networks canceling shows is that they're in too much of a rush to do it. Chuck, Stargate Universe, and Eureka, for example, were recently canceled with a whole run of episodes still to be broadcast, leaving fans with agonizing lame-duck final seasons.
But this year there's something new to complain about: Networks not making up their minds about whether to cancel shows that have lingered on the endangered list for weeks and months. Fans are crying out for the suits to put us out of our misery, so we can start screaming at you properly.
Look at A Gifted Man. TV pundits were saying back in November that CBS was guaranteed to cancel the show, and the same writers continue to insist that it's inconceivable CBS would order a second season. And yet, the show has made it all the way to its season finale (airing this week) with no public word as to its fate. So why hasn't CBS dropped the axe? What's the rationale for not canceling a doomed series?
But the perilous ramifications of this network indecision are even more far-reaching than the fates of the low-rated shows that are lying, neck exposed, on the chopping block, wincing as they await the final blow. As The Hollywood Reporter pointed out last week, the uncertainty surrounding several shows "on the bubble" is also interfering with several promising pilots, many at advanced stages of production.
The nets can't pick up new shows until they've decided what old shows they want to keep. And actors can't jump ship to new projects until the old ship has been written off.
In some cases it seems that actors know, or sense, that they can join new projects well before the official boom is lowered. Last year both leads from No Ordinary Family, for example, took on pilots weeks before ABC officially announced that show's cancellation.
But this year producers and agents are griping that actors are tied up on sinking shows, and if a pilot does take a chance on somebody only to have it turn out the old show was unexpectedly picked up, everyone's unhappy: the pilot has to recast (and often reshoot the relevant scenes), and the actor is stuck in an under-appreciated, almost-canceled show.
Terra Nova in the Balance
One of the series in this situation is Terra Nova, still waiting to hear on the order for season 2, and star Stephen Lang recently called attention to his indeterminate status by booking a recurring, three-episode role on the "fifth and final" (there's that phrase again) season of USA series In Plain Sight, according to TV Guide. He'll play the often-referenced father of Mary Shannon, a charming career criminal on the run.
Lang isn't jumping ship, just flexing his muscles. But everyone at Terra Nova is restless, and the fans are worried. Online organizers are trying out the Nuts Offensive (also known as the Tabasco Maneuver), trying to pummel Fox execs with packs of plastic dinosaurs to show fan support for the show -- with the encouragement of the show's other headliner, Jason O'Mara.
"If you want to address your package of little plastic dinosaurs to somebody at Fox, send them to the president of the network," O'Mara said, according to SciFi Now. "He's a good guy, so keep it friendly please." That network president, Kevin Reilly, has noted publicly only that Terra Nova's fate still hangs in the balance.
The show's expense-to-audience ratio is so high that Terra Nova's prospects seem too hopeless for the Tabasco Maneuver to really work -- but as SciFi Now's James Hoare points out, "with so many dedicated fans convinced the show deserves a second chance… what else is there to do?"
Another snag involving old shows and new pilots has cropped up unexpectedly: A cryptic hint that the fates of Sanctuary, which just finished its fourth season with no fifth season on order, and the Battlestar Galactica spin-off Blood & Chrome, which has been languishing in limbo for months, are somehow linked. TV Wise recently posted a statement that attracted a lot of attention from both shows: "An insider at Syfy also said 'whether or not Blood & Chrome is picked up may be more closely linked to the future of Sanctuary than you might think.' "
Consternation ensued. It's one thing for similar projects to step on each other, like Alphas trumping Three Inches because of the similar band-of-ordinary-heroes theme. That, at least, is understandable (if not defensible). But Blood & Chrome and Sanctuary have nothing to do with each other thematically.
What they do have in common is money. As TV Wise explained, the thinking here is that Syfy's limited resources -- already being carved into by the addition of Defiance -- set up a decision between Sanctuary and Blood & Chrome for next season, unless Blood & Chrome can be successfully shopped to international markets as well. It's a tough choice for Syfy: Sanctuary's ratings are okay but stagnant; with the failure of Caprica, another BSG spin-off like Blood & Chrome -- though more marketable -- isn't a sure thing.
Indecision Affects Lingering Pilots
So it isn't just established series that are being affected by the networks' epidemic of indecision this year. Another languishing pilot, Powers, has been in limbo over at FX for ages as the execs tried to work with the show's producers to retool the show. And now the extensive delays have cost Powers its female lead, Lucy Punch, who played Deena Pilgrim in the already filmed pilot. Punch has joined a new pilot project at Fox, Ned Fox is My Manny.
FX president John Landgraf said last month that the network didn't pick the pilot for the 2012 television season because it needed a fairly substantial rewrite with plenty of re-shoots before they would reconsider it. Those re-shoots were scheduled, but not greenlit, as FX hesitated over the additional investment. Creator Brian Michael Bendis is now calling the original pilot a "first draft."
Bendis insisted on Facebook that even Punch's departure won't kill Powers the series. "Though Lucy Punch has moved on, Powers TV is not dead. If it was I would tell you honest and true. New scripts have been ordered for more episodes and there will be news in May about how we are going forward. The network is behind us all the way. It's quite nice. It's going to be a long haul but it's all about quality. I desperately want the best show we can make."