Editor’s note: Since the publication of this article, NBC has reversed its decision to cancel Timeless. The series will return in 2018.
May is a rough month for television junkies. It’s the time of year when TV networks deliver the good and bad news of series renewals and cancellations. For fans that become invested in the shows we watch, there’s that feeling of joy and exhilaration when your favorite show gets another season. On the flip side, news of a cancellation can send us into a spiral of sadness and disappointment. The 2016/17 season has been especially cruel, with networks pulling the plug on shows that spoke directly to and for women and persons of color.
Timeless stood out from the barrage of time travel series because of its terrific character development and unflinching determination to not only avoid whitewashing history, but tell stories most audiences had never heard of before. We learned the real story of the Lone Ranger and were introduced to NASA’s Katherine Johnson, beating Hidden Figures to the punch. Through Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) we experienced the bigotry and hatred of the past, and witnessed him rise above it. We saw the brilliant Lucy (Abigail Spencer) grow into a strong and outspoken leader.
The NBC series faced an uphill battle from the start, not just with the time travel trend reaching critical mass, but with an unforgiving 10 p.m. timeslot, despite its family-friendly tone. Still, it developed a devoted fan base and ignited the hunger to learn more about the stories history has pushed to the sidelines, all while delivering a compelling mystery as old as America itself.
Fox found a critical hit in Pitch, and made us all fall in love with the story of Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), the first woman to play professional baseball, and explored all of the social and psychological pressures that come with it. Ginny was talented and deeply flawed, making her instantly relatable and one of the most interesting new TV characters of the fall season, largely thanks to the impeccable performance of Bunbury.
One of the most honest storylines of the series was the idea that Ginny didn’t just represent herself; she represented all women in sports. If she didn’t succeed, then it proved that no other woman could. It’s a truth that resonates in any show that stars a woman, especially a woman of color, which makes its cancellation all the more painful and tone deaf on behalf of the decision-makers.
Regular readers of the site know exactly how we feel about the loss of Sweet/Vicious, which we’re still not over. MTV’s critical darling was the most respectful and impactful story about sexual assault on TV to date, and geared toward an audience that would most benefit from its message.
With each cancellation, the message from the networks gets louder and clearer: these stories aren’t worth the investment. Your stories aren’t worth the investment. In an age where streaming is king, a lack of ratings isn’t a good enough reason to silence these important shows. Perhaps it’s because of the current state of American politics that the loss feels heavier than usual, with an administration that wants nothing more than to mute the voices of women and persons of color.
The CW is a rare example of a network that values quality, having finally begun to evolve from the channel known for its series about pretty white kids with problems. On any other network Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would never have reached our screens, let alone be renewed for multiple seasons. Instead we’ve been treated to impactful stories that touch on topics of mental health, immigration reform, and female sexuality, framed in a female-driven comedy narrative. In fact, it’s through these shows that The CW has become an awards-season contender, which is saying a lot when streaming and cable series have dominated the Emmys and Golden Globes lately.
At the time of this publication, the series creators of Timeless and Sweet/Vicious have indicated on Twitter that they are actively trying to find these series a new home. The chances may be slim, but if there’s enough of a rallying cry, we’re hopeful that these shows can find a network worthy of their stories, one more willing a take a chance on the stories that represent more than just the status quo.
What are your thoughts on some of this year’s surprising TV show cancellations? Sound off in the comments below.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.