ABC Cancels First Show of Season; Why Did It Take So Long?

Wicked City promo art

Two weeks ago, news broke that ABC canceled Wicked City after three episodes of the 1980s-set show about a pair of serial killers. In it, Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) and Erika Christensen murder while LAPD detectives (Jeremy Sisto and Gabriel Luna) hunt them down. The premise and period setting sounded intriguing, but reviews were bad. And ratings were worse, setting what “is believed to be a Big 4 low for a scripted original.” (They shouldn’t have canceled Forever, which wasn’t anything special but made it at least a season in the same time slot, Tuesday at 10 PM Eastern. I liked watching Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) as an immortal medical examiner in NYC.)

Wicked City was the first show canceled from the fall TV season, which began two months earlier. From the link:

The broadcast networks have been remarkably patient this fall, trimming orders for underperforming new series but keeping them on the air until their episodes run out. The list has included ABC’s Blood & Oil, NBC’s The Player and Truth Be Told, and Fox’s Minority Report.

Wicked City promo art

In past years, it hasn’t taken that long. Usually, it’s October or even September. Here’s a fun list of the first shows to get cut for the last 15 years.

So now, shows don’t get canceled; they jut don’t get extended. Those four had their runs cut short, with orders cut back from 13 to 9 or 10 episodes. Theories as to why include:

  • With more people binging shows or watching in time-delayed fashion (DVR or online), shows need more time to develop an audience. Plus, there are so many other choices, people may not discover a show right away. Networks are cautious about drawing conclusions too quickly.
  • With costs sunk into shows, you might as well leave them on the air without giving them the “kiss of death” of announcing a cancellation. Networks now reduce risk by ordering a first set of 8 or 13 episodes instead of a full season.
  • Networks don’t have anything more successful to replace bad shows with. Anything’s considered better than running a repeat. And something new might do even worse.
  • There are fewer successes, so shows can muddle along longer without seeming like total failures.
  • More networks have ownership stakes in their shows, so there’s more incentive to make something a success — or at least keep it around long enough to be able to sell it for streaming.

In this particular case, it may have been a bad match — Wicked City might have been better able to fully explore the premise on a cable or pay network. Promising sex and violence on ABC, even at 10:00, doesn’t seem plausible.

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