The are a number of reasons why certain serialized TV shows are cancelled (axed) by networks. Here’s a list of some of the more common reasons why serialized TV shows discontinued.

  • Low Ratings. The most common threat to the continuation of your favorite serialized TV show is low viewership, particularly within the advertiser coveted 18-49 demographic. While every network has its own expectations and requirements (Note: such requirements/expectations are often lower on subscription-based cable), if a show doesn’t pull in enough relative viewers it will often wind up cancelled.
  • Costs. Factors such as production costs can also go a long way to deciding the fate of a serialized show. If a show is expensive to make (relative to the network’s other shows, etc) and has low (or lower than expected) ratings, it has a good chance getting axed.
  • Long Breaks/Poor Scheduling. Serialized programming is renowned for its long-form narratives and storylines that stretch across seasons, if not entire series, but this in turn makes such shows particularly susceptible to long breaks between episodes. Unlike procedurals,  serialized shows demand viewer attention, so long breaks during a season can cause it lose momentum and ultimately viewership – which equals low ratings. Networks and producers have started to remedy the situation by having less frequent breaks during seasons and developing more limited-event series.
  • Scheduling/Promotion. Poorly promoted and scheduled serials are immediately fighting an uphill battle for exposure. This is particularly true of new serials that often require strong lead-ins and buzz to break into the public consciousness and build their fanbase. While it doesn’t quite carry the same stigma it did a few years ago, the so-called Friday Night Death slot was so named because it was perceived to be the worst position on a network’s primetime schedule, and where they sent their serialized shows to die. The likes of Fringe and semi-serial Grimm have gone some way to changing that perception, but the fact remains: time-slot/exposure can be vital for the continuation of serialized programming.
  • Syndication. Serialized shows typically repeat less well than their procedural counterparts (think CSIs, Laws and Orders) as it’s more difficult for viewers to watch a single episode without feeling lost. Procedurals repeat better because their episodes are (for the most part) self-contained with a beginning, middle and end, and are therefore more appealing when it comes to syndication/repeats.
  • Politics, Preference and Ownership. Networks often favor shows that they own. When push comes to shove and the choice of renewal is between a network-owned show and one from another company, ownership can often prevail. Since networks are run by people (surprise!), personal preference can also come into play. While ratings are often king, it’s not unheard of for network heads to favor a serialized drama if they like that serialized drama.
  • *End Point. While serialized TV relies on continuation, there comes a point in every serial’s life where the end comes into view. Sometimes networks and producers agree to end a show at a fixed point in time. Such reasons may include (not mutually exclusive):
  1. To ‘end on a high’ rather than stretch the story out beyond its natural state.
  2. To protect the show from future cancellation due to spiraling ratings.
  3. Network/producer/cast disagreement over where the story is going.
  4. Producer/cast desire to pursue other projects.
  5. To give the show a proper ending.
  6. To spin-off and relaunch the show in a new guise.

*An agreed ending between network and producers, with a planned-out series finale, is technically a ‘series conclusion’ or ‘ending’ rather than ‘cancellation’ (LOST is a good example, where the show’s end date was announced two seasons in advance, giving the producers time to build towards a natural ending.

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