'Peaky Blinders,' 'The Americans,' and the Benefit of the Two-Season Order
We explore why giving popular and struggling shows a multi-season order works better than canceling them.
One risk of investing in particular TV shows is that you might not be able to see them to their logical conclusions. The assumption is, the less-than-stellar TV shows will inevitably get cancelled because they didn’t live up to the hype in the first place. Excluding, of course, the lucky ones that live out their entire story arcs like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos; the cancellation game is a little murkier when a series has established its characters and mythology for multiple seasons, but is on the verge of getting axed for whatever reason. Maybe viewership waned since the premiere, maybe it’s just too expensive to keep on the air, or maybe it just stopped being good. TV shows living season-to-season is a nerve-racking crapshoot, but a recent trend could help ambitious shows escape the fate of becoming a gone-too-soon classics.
We can rest easy when we fire up Netflix to watch the upcoming third season of Peaky Blinders, which premieres on May 31, because its recent two-season order guaranteed that we’ll get to see it wrap up soon enough. More networks should let shows do the same.
The early 20th-century period drama Peaky Blinders isn’t alone in this recent spate of two-season guarantees. Before the BBC decided to give two more goes to creator Steven Knight’s gritty British crime story, FX granted two more seasons to its critically lauded, but criminally overlooked 1980s spy thriller series, The Americans. That show has inched through four seasons and has been on the chopping block throughout for not pulling in the kinds of ratings to justify the money and resources put into 13 episodes at a time.
It turns out it costs a pretty penny turning 2016 America into the America of the Cold War 1980s, and advertisers like when people actually watch the shows where they advertise. FX’s move makes sense because it shores up advertiser woes, makes sure the series doesn’t continue on into qualitative obscurity, and lets audiences rest easy that they’ll be able to watch these characters get some closure. This is not to mention all the �����this is the final season” marketing the network could do to drum up interest one last time when that show’s sixth season rolls around. Knowing when the end will happen is actually beneficial, and advertising isn’t the only factor.
Setting down two-season orders, especially when they’ll ostensibly be the final two seasons of a given show, allows the creatives behind the series in question to gear their show toward a finite future. This is perfect for The Americans on FX, but also for a show like Game of Thrones on HBO, which doesn’t even have to factor in ad dollars. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss recently announced plans to wrap up the extremely popular Emmy-winning fantasy saga with a sixth and seventh season now that they don’t have to adhere to author George R.R. Martin’s source material. At least with the space that HBO gives the show, the remaining episodes of Game of Thrones will be about making it the best show it could possibly be without having it drag on beyond being relevant.
It’s this kind of thinking that a network like Syfy should adopt for struggling but ridiculously promising shows like 12 Monkeys. That show, in particular, has established a cliffhanger-based mentality between seasons that would make its potential cancellation even more detrimental to the show itself. Without a third season, a show like 12 Monkeys might not have been worth greenlighting in the first place — because it would be so woefully incomplete. It would be an outrage to cut it short. The best the fans of that show could hope for, barring some kind of graphic novel or multimedia approach, if it’s cancelled, is a Twin Peaks-type situation where 20 years down the line a network decides to bring it back.
It’s a situation that’s perhaps most pressing to 12 Monkeys at this point. When Inverse recently spoke to showrunner Terry Matalas, he mentioned the fate of the show was very much in the hands of viewers. “Live ratings do matter; they keep the lights on at the networks,” he told us. But granting struggling but promising shows a multi-season order could help to satisfy everyone from the network executives down to the loyal viewers. It’s worked for Peaky Blinders, The Americans, and something as popular as Game of Thrones. It could also work for any show, including your under-seen favorites.