Why Were They Cancelled? Terra Nova, The River, Alcatraz, The Secret Circle, and More

By | May 21, 2012

Another season is wrapping up and another batch of science fiction and fantasy shows have been sent before the network executioners. And interestingly enough, only new shows got the axe this year. Any series that had a couple of seasons under its belt got the greenlight for another year (with the exception of NBC’s Chuck which was in its final season). But most of the newcomers had no such luck and ended after brief runs. Here’s a quick rundown on each of those with my thoughts on what led to their cancellations and whether they have a chance of being saved (and see my thoughts on the bubble shows that were not cancelled at this link):

Terra Nova (FOX) – This series had a lot going for it coming into the season including a theatrical level budget, plenty of hype, and the genre-cred of Steven Spielberg’s name attached.  And, it had dinosaurs, which had plenty of genre fans (including myself) pumped (hey, it brings out the kid in us).  But the series delivered a major misfire out of the gate as it gave us a sci fi / family drama hybrid that piled cliche upon cliche and went heavy on the teen angst angle.  Genre fans wanted to like Terra Nova, and many lively debates sprung up across the internet forums.  But the series never drew huge ratings, and it saw a steady decline throughout its eleven episode run.  Still, it played well internationally and apparently the network executives really wanted to bring it back.  But it was just too expensive, and ultimately the numbers did it in: too big of a budget, not high enough ratings to justify the expense.

Can it be Saved?  There is a chance that this one could still continue.  20th Century Fox TV immediately started shopping the series around once FOX made the decision to cut ties with it.  Netflix showed an interest in acquiring it, but apparently it was beyond their financial means.  There’s been no further word on the show since then, so that means that its chances of continuing are fading fast.  But with the studio pushing to keep it alive, something still could happen.  I previously mulled over the possible landing spots for the show at this link.

The River (ABC) – This horror/mystery series from Oren Peli and executive producer Steven Spielberg (who apparently needs to stick with movies based on his batting average this season) delivered a Lost meets Paranormal Activity hybrid but with little of the spark of either of those two.  It started off its eight episode run with a mediocre debut in the ratings and just went down from there, dropping to near CW levels by the time it wrapped up.  Thus, despite the pedigree of the show, ABC decided to cut bait and move on.

Can it be Saved?  This is another one that Netflix raised their hand on, but again it might be financially out of their reach.  Talks are still ongoing at this point, and the first season is getting a quick release to DVD on May 22nd.

Alcatraz (FOX) – This J.J. Abrams series delivered a crime drama with strong sci fi elements (much stronger than his CBS series Person of Interest), but it apparently just did not appeal to enough fans of both genres to keep it afloat.  The comments that I saw among sci fi fans indicated that they quickly became frustrated with the show as it settled into a formula of escaped convict of the week.  And apparently the sci fi elements just didn’t do it for the viewers accustomed to more straightforward procedural shows.  Alcatraz actually started strong in the ratings and held onto its audience for several weeks, but then it went into a quick decline as nonplussed viewers began to give up on the show.  And thus, this mystery was truncated with little hope of resolution.   

Can it be Saved?  Apparently some fans are trying to energize a campaign to keep the show alive, but it doesn’t look like this one has built up too devoted of a following.  Should Netflix’s attempt to pick up The River fall through, it wouldn’t surprise me if they would make a grab at this one.  It has Abrams’ name attached which could bring them some good press.  But apart from that, consider this one gone.

The Secret Circle (CW) – This series seemed like a surefire winner going into the season.  It had Kevin Williamson guiding it and it was based on a series of L.J. Smith novels, and that duo had already launched a winner with Vampire Diaries.  And The Secret Circle had the post Diaries timeslot, so you would expect viewers of the first show to stick around for the second.  But The Secret Circle never managed to hold onto the audience of its lead-in, and by the end of the season it was losing over half of audience of Vampire Diaries.  So The CW decided that one season was enough and gave this show its walking papers.

Can it be Saved?  Despite the fact that this show never pulled very high ratings, it apparently did build up a devoted fanbase and they have several campaigns ongoing to keep the show alive.  And the fact that the series aired on The CW means that it is a lower budget production than what you might see from the Big Four broadcast networks.  So it would likely be affordable for one of the cable channels and would be much more in line with the budget Netflix would target for a show.  So I would say that this one is not completely dead yet.

Awake (NBC) – This dual-reality series likely suffered from the same drawbacks that doomed Alcatraz, but possibly even more so.  It merged procedural and sci fi elements, but did it in an even less satisfying manner than the J.J. Abrams series.  And the show started off on uncertain footing as its debut pulled fairly weak ratings, though actually not too bad for fourth place NBC.  But by the end of its run it was teetering on low CW-range ratings, and struggling NBC just couldn’t justify keeping it around.

Can it be Saved?  I haven’t seen much in the way of a strong fanbase supporting this show, but a petition has emerged to keep the series alive.  I would say, though, that among this season’s cancelled genre shows this one has the least chance of getting saved.

[Update 5/22] Sanctuary (Syfy):  Read about that cancellation at this link

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