In television, cancellation refers to the termination of a program by a network, typically because of low viewership, financial losses, or unfavourable critical reviews. Other potential reasons for canceling television programs include controversies involving the program's cast, conflicts among the show's staff members or to make room for new programming. Shows whose runs end due to a mutual creative decision by its producers, cast, and the network it airs on (such as Seinfeld, The Sopranos, or The Cosby Show) are not considered to be "cancelled" but rather "concluded" or "ended", with a special last episode called its series finale.
The Friday night death slot is a perceived graveyard slot in American television, referring to the idea that a television program in the United States scheduled on Friday evenings is destined for imminent cancellation.
Commercial television is supported by advertising. Viewing figures are collected by audience measurement ratings agencies (such as Nielsen in the United States), and the programs with the highest viewing figures command a higher advertising fee for the network. As such, shows with a low viewership are generally not as profitable. For most United States networks, the number of viewers within the 18–49 age range is more important than the total number of viewers. According to Advertising Age, during the 2007–08 season, Grey's Anatomy was able to charge $419,000 per television commercial, compared to only $248,000 for a commercial during CSI, despite CSI having almost five million more viewers on average. Due to its strength in young demographics, Friends was able to charge almost three times as much for a commercial as Murder, She Wrote, even though the two television series had similar total viewer numbers during the seasons they were on the air together. (A slight exception to this is CBS, whose self-stated target audience is persons 25 to 54 years old; because of this, CBS programs tend to favor slightly older audiences than their broadcast rivals.)
Other factors are considered as well, such as the cost to produce the show. For example, a game show costs less money to produce than a science fiction program, so even if the game show has lesser ratings it may survive cancellation because of the higher profit margin. Game shows and self-contained reality shows, which can be produced on short order with very little preparation compared to scripted series and annual contests, may not be canceled in the same way, but merely have the network cease ordering episodes and end up in limbo; in turn, these types of shows are also easily brought back if a network needs to produce filler programming quickly.
Very rarely are television programs cancelled for reasons other than ratings or profitability. Three notable cases are Turn-On and Australia's Naughtiest Home Videos, which were cancelled after viewer and station outrage, and Megan Wants a Millionaire, which was axed in August 2009 following the arrest warrant (and later, suicide) of one of the finalists.
Saved from cancellation
Occasionally, a show may be brought back into production after being previously cancelled. Such was the case with Unforgettable, a CBS crime drama that was canceled in 2012, but was revived in the summer of 2013. Sometimes, one network may decide to air a series previously cancelled by another network. For example, Family Matters and Step by Step both moved from ABC to CBS in its ninth and final season of production. This is an uncommon occurrence, and few programs have successfully made audience gains when changing networks.
In other cases, overwhelming fan response may lead to a show's revival. The original series of Star Trek was given an additional season after a letter-writing campaign from fans. Another successful letter-writing campaign helped revive Cagney & Lacey. In 2007, Jericho was given an additional seven-episode order after fans mailed thousands of pounds of nuts to network executives (a reference to a pivotal line in the season finale).
Strong DVD sales and viewership on cable have also helped revive a series. Firefly and Police Squad! were revived in the form of theatrical films (an uncommon occurrence, since failed television series are usually not considered bankable movie material), Family Guy was returned to Fox, and Futurama (the volume 5 DVD cover touts the tag line "back by popular harassment!") returned in the form of straight to video films and a subsequent series of new television episodes for Comedy Central. Arrested Development was revived for a fourth season in 2013 (seven years after being canceled by Fox) as a Netflix Original Series, after episodes of its initial run proved popular on the streaming service.
In some situations, a television series may be revived years after being cancelled. Often this is in the form of a spin-off show featuring new characters (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation which premiered eighteen years after the original series went off the air). Doctor Who, which was cancelled by the BBC in 1989, was brought back in 2005 as a continuation of the original run of shows. Both franchises also produced spin-off films in the periods they were cancelled.
Cancellation in pop culture
- The Adult Swim TV series Robot Chicken ends each season with a running gag in which the head of the network cancels the show, although the show has never actually been considered for cancellation.
- On Arthur, the episode "The Last of Mary Moo Cow" deals with the cancellation of D.W.'s favorite show, Mary Moo Cow. The fictional show is later revived.
- List of television series canceled before airing an episode
- List of television series canceled after one episode
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- "Robot Chicken": In Memoriam - Adult Swim Video (accessed September 12, 2010)