How TV Networks Are Secretly Canceling Shows Without You Knowing

No new shows have been officially canceled yet, but that doesn't mean they're not doomed

By Lauren Piester Oct 28, 2015 5:00 PMTags
The Player, Code Black, Dr. Ken, Minority Report

There's something strange afoot this TV season.

We're more than a month into the 2015 fall season and not a single new show has been canceled. Not. A. One.

Of course, we're not talking about cable, because cable TV exists in its own world without rules or any sort of sense, and cable networks cancel things all the time. Just yesterday, HBO canceled The Brink after they had already renewed it, and the fact that you probably have no idea what that show is should give you some idea why it was canceled. There's so much TV these days and only so many hours in a day, so if something's not getting watched, it's got to go.

Or at least that was the general theory—until this fall season.

By this time last year, we had already said goodbye to Manhattan Love Story and we were about to bid adieu to A to Z, Bad Judge, and Selfie. The year before, shows like Lucky 7 were gone before the first week of October was even over. This year, things are starting to smell a little fishy.

Instead of canceling poorly performing shows and putting them out of their misery (ie. allowing talented actors and writers to move onto other, better/less doomed things), networks are holding on for dear life with a new, trendy thing called "reducing the episode order."


The way it works for most new series is that they initially receive an order for a 13-episode season. They might end up just sticking with those 13 episodes, or they might receive what is referred to in the biz* as the "back nine," which is really just nine more episodes that add up to a full season of 22 episodes. (*We apologize for our obnoxious use of the term "the biz.")

Or, network bosses could decide to reduce the episode order, forcing production to stop after completing the episode that is currently being filmed.

That's the case with four shows so far this season: ABC's Blood & Oil, NBC's Truth Be Told, and Fox's Minority Report all had their episode order trimmed down to 10 episodes, while NBC's The Player got cut down to nine.

None of those series have been performing all that well, and none of them were reviewed by critics all that favorably either. It's also unlikely that their viewership will improve over time, especially given how many other shows there are that people are already paying a lot more attention to. Dr. Ken and Truth Be Told both air on Friday nights, but Dr. Ken premiered to more than 6 million viewers, while Truth Be Told hit a measly 2.5 million. Bet you can figure out which of those two shows has been picked up for a full season.


The thing is, even when it makes perfect sense for a show to be canceled, actually canceling a show makes a network look bad. It's not hard to imagine that networks are scrambling to not look bad these days, when traditional TV is constantly being threatened by less traditional means of entertainment, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Yahoo, and whatever else may be brewing on the horizon. If all we get from network television is a bunch of failed shows, why should we even bother with it? 

And there's also of course the widespread sense that this is perhaps the worst fall TV seasons on record. Very few shows have popped. No one really seems to care about any of the newbies.

People also get pretty darn angry when their shows get canceled. We take full responsibility for a few of the hissy fits we've thrown after learning of a few losses (Selfie! Trophy Wife! Enlisted!), and we've definitely been known to throw around the occasional "Screw you, [insert network here]! You got rid of this thing I liked!" Obviously, those are sentiments that any human or corporation would love to avoid hearing, and maybe if they reduce the episode order first, it'll soften the blow.

In fact, reducing episode orders is is a great way to never have to cancel a show at all. Just let the show run its newly shortened course and then refer to it as a "limited" or "event" series, let it fade into oblivion, never to be spoken of again until its few diehard fans start wondering why it doesn't appear on the next season's schedule.

ABC/Craig Sjodin

Officially canceling a show also can make it a lot less likely that that show could be sold to Netflix or Hulu, so that it then can be classified as only a partial loss instead of a complete one. (Did you know 2011's Friends With Benefits and Traffic Light, as well as that ABC show Mixology are all on Netflix? Yes, really.)

There is always a small chance that the remaining three (or four) episodes of these poor shows were just not up to the same level of quality as the rest of the season, and ABC, Fox, and NBC are just trying to show us their very best and nothing less. Fewer episodes now means more time to retool future episodes, and then maybe Blood & Oil will come back with a vengeance and a whole new truck full of washer/dryers next season.

More realistically, these shows are done, and "reduced episode order" is just a sneakier way of getting rid of a show without getting blood (or oil) on anyone's hands.

Only time will tell if this new strategy actually makes a difference in the eventual demise of some of these new series, and we can't wait to see how many more of them start hemorrhaging episodes in the process.

Given the fact that ABC's Wicked City premiered last night to numbers lower than the lowest ratings that timeslot's former occupant, Forever, ever got, it looks like that wait will not be be all that long.

Watch: Chace Crawford Spills the Deets on "Blood and Oil"

Chace Crawford talks Blood & Oil and his semi-reunion with former Gossip Girl co-star Ed Westwick in the video above!