A lot of comics-related TV shows have been canceled lately, and some folks will call it a backlash, a correction, or the end of a fad. Don't believe them.
Yes, it has been something of a bloodbath. But not many shows were axed due to ratings. There's something bigger going on, as the big boys jockey for the streaming wars on the horizon. This might have the effect of actually increasing the number of shows with nerd cred.
First, let's do some forensics:
ABC: "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" was canceled, and then un-canceled. That pretty much refutes any "backlash" argument right there.
Amazon Prime: "The Tick" has been canceled after two seasons. It has happened before, to both "Tick" comics and "Tick" TV shows. It will probably happen again. Ticks are very hard to kill.
From a comics perspective, it's an even swap for "The Boys," arriving July 26.
AMC: The zombie network -- and I mean that in a nice way -- has announced that the fourth season of DC Comics' "Preacher," beginning Aug. 4, will be the last. That's actually a pretty good run for a show that many predicted would be un-adaptable, due to it being, essentially, an exercise in gleeful blasphemy. It's been moving along at a good clip, and it will have covered most of the major beats from its source material before the end.
Meanwhile, the network is still rolling in ratings thanks to "The Walking Dead" and "Fear the Walking Dead." No, those comics-related shows don't pull the eyeballs they used to. But with "Game of Thrones" over, they're the kings of (scripted) cable. And AMC has another potential genre winner in "NOS4A2."
THE CW: Many were surprised to hear "Arrow" would finish its run with a shortened 10th season, beginning in October. I think the surprise was that it wasn't "DC's Legends of Tomorrow," which is also in the Arrowverse, but has shakier ratings.
That alone indicates that the end of "Arrow" was driven by something other than numbers. Actors, like Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak), wanting to move on? Creative fatigue? Regardless, "Arrow" has been on TV a decade, which is pretty impressive.
And it doesn't even leave much of a hole. CW still airs "Black Lightning," "The Flash," the aforementioned "Legends" and "Supergirl." Adding to DC-centric programming this fall is "Batwoman." No, the Arrowverse isn't going anywhere.
Meanwhile, animated DC shows like "Constantine: City of Demons" and "Freedom Fighters: The Ray" are available on CW Seed.
DC Universe: The streamer canceled "Swamp Thing" after one episode, after already shortening the season from 13 episodes to 10. Obviously, ratings couldn't be a factor, since there were none when the show was axed.
Pondering the why of it actually raises some scary possibilities. Like every network with two dimes to rub together, AT&T (which now owns WarnerMedia) is launching a streaming service. OK, so what does that mean for DCUniverse.com, its current streaming (ish) service? Will it fold into the new streamer? Remain a separate platform? Get canceled outright?
Warner isn't saying. The fates of shows like "Doom Patrol," "Titans" and the animated "Young Justice" hang on that decision.
FOX: We've lost "The Gifted," "Gotham," and "Lucifer." That last show has been picked up by Netflix, which is polishing off the story with two final seasons.
This one is a hard call. Since Disney's purchase of Fox, the rump organization is shifting its focus almost entirely to sports, news and reality shows. All of Fox's scripted series are theoretically on the chopping block.
On the other hand, ratings almost certainly played a role on these three shows (and "The Passage," a good but canceled genre show outside our focus). None were setting the world on fire, and Fox -- which has pretensions of being a national network -- wants network-sized ratings.
FX: "Legion" begins its third and final season June 24. This one doesn't count, since it was always planned as a three-season show.
Netflix: As just about everybody with a remote knows, Netflix canceled "Daredevil," "Iron Fist," "Luke Cage," "Jessica Jones" and "The Punisher." The group show "The Defenders" was already dead, due to a combination of being planned as a one-off, and the underwhelming response.
Ratings may have played some part on the other cancellations, but Netflix doesn't release its viewership numbers so it's hard to tell. Some have taken to charting social media chatter as a measure, and by that yardstick, the last seasons of all five shows fared poorly.
But c'mon, does that really tell us anything? The last seasons of all those shows (except "Iron Fist," which never really got any traction) were as strong as their first. And if my household is any indication, they are still being watched and appreciated. It's painful to see them go.
And we know why they're going: Netflix is cutting ties with Marvel, thanks to Disney's plans to launch a competitive streaming service on Nov. 12. It's a nasty blow, as contractually Marvel can't use any of these characters on TV for two years. That means not only will, say, Daredevil not show up on Fox, ABC, Disney+ or Hulu (all of which are Disney affiliated) but actors like Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock) and Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page) won't be returning to the roles, since they will have moved on by 2021. Hey, they've gotta eat.
But we will see plenty of replacements on Disney platforms, including the live action "Falcon & Winter Soldier," "Loki" and "Wandavision" on Disney+ and the animated "Hit-Monkey," "Howard the Duck," "MODOK," "The Offenders" and "Tigra & Dazzler" on Hulu. And don't forget that "Runaways" is still on Hulu, while "Cloak & Dagger" continues on Freeform.
We're going to end up with more Marvel TV, not less, in 2020.
Syfy: The genre network canceled "Happy!" after two seasons, and "Deadly Class" after one. That hurts.
Especially since both probably were canned due to ratings.
Which I can see. "Happy!" was a delightfully strange show, full of bizarre violence and sheer weirdness (it was playfully rated "WTF"). That it didn't find an audience is unsurprising, and kudos to Syfy -- and Emmy-worthy actor Chris Meloni -- for giving it the old college try.
As to "Deadly Class," its protagonists -- goths, outsiders, geeks -- would seem to be a perfect fit with the "Big Bang" audience, but somehow didn't catch on. Perhaps it was the '80s setting, which predates much of its potential viewership.
On the other hand, Syfy sure isn't getting out of the genre business any time soon, since that's its raison d'etre. From DC Comics it still has "Krypton," back for its second season June 12, and the upcoming spinoff "Lobo."
The upshot? Ratings don't seem to be as big a factor in whether a show lives or dies, as does the advent of multiple new streaming services. And with so many separate services launching, one thing is sure: They're going to need a lot of content.
So ratings, schmatings. The streamers will have to feed the beast, and a lot of comic book stars are ready for their close-up.
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(c)2019 Andrew A. Smith
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