Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.
This series, which acted as a spin-off / sequel to the 2011 feature film of the same name that starred Bradley Cooper, centered around a man who has taken the drug known as NZT-48 which greatly enhances his mental abilities but also has dangerous side effects. As would be expected from a CBS drama, it mostly followed the procedural format with the lead character pulled into a different investigation each week, though it had a separate story that it was developing beyond that. It also had a lighter tone, similar to ABC’s Forever from the prior season (more on that one at this link), as it worked in a fair amount of humor in its episodes. And interestingly enough, its path to cancellation was very similar to the one followed by the ABC procedural. Limitless debuted in the Tuesday 10 PM EST timeslot, just as Forever did the prior season, an hour that the networks have had a difficult time programming. Limitless bowed to decent, but not spectacular overnight ratings, just as Forever did the prior season. Its numbers slipped after about the first month, but it continued to see decent gains from delayed viewing, just as with the ABC show. Then, after November, CBS began preempting Limitless or playing reruns and it never aired more than three episodes in a row (usually less) for the rest of the season without interruption. ABC did a very similar thing with Forever the season prior. About mid-way through the season, CBS boss Les Moonves claimed that he thought all of the network’s new shows (which included Supergirl) would be back for another season, though he didn’t even seem to know how many freshman entries they had and ignored the fact that Angel from Hell was already cancelled. When CBS finally announced its schedule for the 2016-17 season at the Upfront presentation to the advertisers, Limitless was not included (and Supergirl had been kicked over to The CW), but the network claimed that the procedural was not cancelled as they were shopping it around. That lasted about a week before word broke that the show was officially cancelled. I tend to think that CBS did not put too much effort into trying to interest buyers and that they likely priced the show too high. Because it sure seems that one of the cable channels or streaming services would have been interested as the show had decent viewership, a recognized name, and Bradley Cooper attached (he recurred through the series, reprising his role from the movie). And the fact is that Limitless was the eighth ranked scripted show on CBS based on Live+7 viewing (and Live+3), pretty good numbers for a show trying to plug up a difficult hour on the schedule. The networks continue to claim that they are looking more heavily at the delayed viewing numbers (Moonves previously said the overnights are “meaningless”), but the cancellations of strong Live+7 performers like Limitless and Forever prove that is little more than netspeak. And while Limitless may not have been a great show, it was a very good one that attempted a clever take on its procedural format. And it showed the potential to grow into a solid entry for both the sci fi and procedural genres as evidenced by the dedicated fanbase that it built during its one season run. Those fans are still fighting for a second season, but that means that they have to get CBS (who owns the show) to play ball, which seems unlikely. I personally believe they should organize a Jericho “nuts” type campaign to annoy the network enough into a more active attempt at shopping the show around, but I don’t know that the energy is still out there for that type of effort. And while Limitless, like Forever, may not have been embraced as heavily by the sci fi community, it was a fun series that deserved better and represents yet another example of a network working against its own shows. ABC suffered from their poor decision-making as the Tuesday 10 PM hour was a disaster for them during the 2015-16 season, and CBS may find themselves in the same situation this coming year.
Aired: CBS, 2015-16, 1 Season Totaling 22 Episodes
Developed By: Craig Sweeny
Starring: Jake McDorman, Jennifer Carpenter, Hill Harper, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Bradley Cooper