Bryan Fuller is a television writer, producer and showrunner. He has a prolific history of creating and developing critically-acclaimed, award winning television shows that have devoted, adoring fanbases. All of his shows have also all been unceremoniously cancelled. All but one before they could reach a third season.
This sad story is nothing new. We have all had a beloved television show in the past that got axed too soon, but why does this happen? Why do shows that have so much promise often underperform?
For each of Fuller’s cancelled projects, there is a pretty concrete reason we can point to: low ratings. It’s why most shows end up getting canned, but is it always because the show just isn’t any good? In Fuller’s case, and undoubtedly many others’, there is much more at play.
Pushing Daisies, arguably Fuller’s most successful show, was cancelled by ABC after just two seasons. During its short life the show managed to earn 57 award nominations and 18 wins, 7 of those being Primetime Emmy Awards. It premiered to an audience of almost 13 million people, becoming the most watched series of that week.
It seemed like smooth sailing for Pushing Daisies until the writer’s strike of 2007-08. The Strike forced the first season to be cut short, going from an intended 22 episodes to just 9 episodes in the first season. Ratings were a fraction of first season numbers by the time the second season premiered, and the show was cancelled after only 6 of its 13 episodes.
Fuller’s most recent (and most recently cancelled) project, Hannibal performed fairly well in the ratings for most of its three seasons. There had been a pretty steady decline over the course of the third season, which was the reason cited by NBC as to why the series was axed. It was also thought that the network was looking to avoid potential rights issues in planned upcoming seasons. Apparently Fuller wanted to introduce the character of Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, but the rights to that character are currently unavailable.
Despite the wreckage of cancelled shows in his wake, Bryan Fuller seems to have no problem getting work. He has been developing an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel American Gods which just got picked up by Starz, where he will serve as showrunner. Fresh off cancelling Hannibal, NBC has decided to keep working with Fuller, bringing him on as a writer and executive producer for their remake of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi series, Amazing Stories. So if all of his past projects have been cancelled, why do networks still want to work with him?
First, as we saw before, shows get cancelled for reasons other than just low ratings, and low ratings can be caused by a multitude of things potentially out of the creator’s control. Networks know this. They also know that Fuller’s programming is consistently loved by critics. It’s possible that the wider public isn’t responding to his programming because of it’s dark nature. All of the shows Fuller has created thus far have had to do with death and other macabre themes, which might turn off some potential viewers, so there seems to be a need to present his ideas in a way that is pleasing to a wider audience. Fuller already has a very passionate fanbase. They even voted Pushing Daisies the winner of Esquire’s “TV Reboot Tournament”.
We obviously can’t know what network executives are thinking, but I think they know Bryan Fuller produces fresh, creative shows and does them well, it’s just a matter of the right idea, at the right time, marketed in just the right way, and when we get there, it’s going to be something to behold.