Cancelled Too Soon: Limitless (2015)

By | June 10, 2016

Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.

limitless-open-your-mindThis 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

One thought on “Cancelled Too Soon: Limitless (2015)

  1. Clive Sims

    I thought the producers actually gave a good crack of the whip at Limitless. It was a clever take on the original film which I learned about after the fact since admittedley while having heard of it, had not watched it, still haven’t for that matter. Therefore, the show actually carried its own weight in my estimation since it made no assumption that the viewer had already watched the movie. This was probably deliberate since while Bradley Cooper (star of the original movie) made several recurrant appearances, the show was not really about him, he represented more of a linchpin to the storyline that was more about Finch unravelling the reasons why NZT was ultimately being released to an unsuspecting public.

    CBS does have this rather annoying habit of not really looking at its viewing figures before arbitrarily deciding to cancel one of its shows. As has been pointed out, Limitless was not a great show by many standards, but it was certainly a good one and one that I would have hoped would have come back for at least another couple of seasons, the potential was there but I think they were more concerned about being able to put a show into their poorly performing 10:00pm slots that gave great viewing returns. Unfortunately for me and many others, post 10:00pm is not really prime time viewing and as such while I did watch all the episodes, a lot I did record to watch at a more favorable time. Perhaps CBS should consider this when trying to create a show that would appeal to many – were it shown at a more favorable time. Delayed viewing figures actually trumped the overnights for this show, so rescheduling its timeslot would perhaps I think ought to have been a no brainer.


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