I came out of Comic Con psyched for Cult. After a marathon viewing of 5 pilot episodes (666 Park Avenue, Arrow, Revolution, The Following and Cult) in a row, Cult was the show I was the most excited for. I actually saw the pilot twice that weekend – once on Preview Night and a second time during the panel for the show. I even went out of my way to get a wrist band for the autograph signing. I was excited for the show. I knew it would have some trouble finding an audience, but I really was looking forward to it and was hoping that it would succeed.
Fast forward nine months. Today Cult was cancelled. Upon hearing the news my first reaction was that I was surprised it took that long. The second was basically meh. A part of me does hope that CW will release the remaining episodes online, but if I don’t get that closure I don’t know that I’ll be upset.
So what went so wrong?
@TheCancelBear on Twitter was noticing a lot of #fanexcusebingo going on today, so before I get into the meat of it I’ll run through some of the excuses:
The network didn’t like the show. I never got this excuse. Shows are not green lit if the studios don’t like them because they are in a business of making money and only want to put out shows they believe will be able to accomplish this goal. There is a difference between a network not liking the show and the network losing faith in the show. Those are two totally different things. I do think the later is true, but that’s because at the end of the day the CW is a business and it has to make money. They had enough faith in the show to try moving it to Friday instead of killing it outright at first, but when that failed to help any they really had no choice. Also remember that CW is the smallest of the big 5 by far and they don’t have the same wiggle room to keep struggling shows that other networks might. The fact that the show didn’t get critical praise (a reason a show might be kept around even if ratings are otherwise iffy) didn’t help either.
They didn’t advertise it enough. Did it get the worlds biggest marketing blitz? No. That said, the CW did put on a big show at #SDCC, they did give it some billboard space in LA, they aired ads for it between and during their other shows. It may have not been the best blitz, but they didn’t completely ignore the blitz either. They had a high concept show that they probably felt would have at least a somewhat limited audience and spent accordingly. It may have not the best, but it probably wasn’t the reason for the shows problems either.
Nielsen ratings are outdated – There’s obviously been a lot of discussion about this and there is some truth to this. CW does monitor DVR plays and the like but facts are facts – watching when it’s on are still the most important numbers to be had.
It had a bad time slot. – This probably the only one with even shaky feet beneath it. CW made it clear that they were taking cues from American Horror Story and wanted to run it straight through. To that end, they decided to make it a midseason show since they don’t have any other short-season shows to pair it with. Maybe you might have had a few extra eyes check it out if debuted in the fall, but not sure. Beyond that there’s the issue of showing it on Tuesdays at 9. Personally, I do think TVD or Supernatural might have made a better lead in than Hart of Dixie, but the network was basically filling a slot, which is what can happen with midseason shows. That said..where else were they going to put it? Because CW only has 10 hours of programming a week that doesn’t give them a lot of places to put things. The pairings of Arrow/Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries/Beauty and the Beast made sense. Friday at 9 clearly didn’t work out for it either. CW wasn’t going to bump Hart of Dixie, it’s most solid performer for a new show and Monday’s might have been even stiffer. So yeah. Not a lot of options and non better for the show. This was a show that was always going to need the audience to find it and I don’t think there would have really been a better spot for it.
Now that’s out of the way, here are my thoughts on why the show went awry:
The Vampire Diaries fans didn’t come out to support it– there were epic levels of bitching that Alaric had been killed off especially to go onto this show. That would make one think you might have TVD fans checking it out to see what he was on now. That clearly didn’t happen, and if anything, the bitching only got louder when Cult debuted. This whole affair actually highlighted that the actor himself is divisive. His character may have been liked, but he himself is divisive. Given how high-concept it was, the show needed (and CW probably counted on) people checking out the show because he was on it and that didn’t happen. This show was pretty high concept period, especially for this channel. It needed to pick up viewers that otherwise wouldn’t watch this genre and their best bet for that would have been TVD fans checking it out to support Matt.
The show was high-concept, but they couldn’t execute it. Sad to say it, but it’s the truth. Although I personally had no issues with it, a lot of people found it confusing and didn’t try to stick it out. Here where I think it went wrong:
1. It could be difficult to tell when we were in the show or the show within a show. It was a deliberate move by the writing staff but I think the confusion it created was greater than the payoff of immersion that they were trying to go for.
2. The meta didn’t make sense. The over-analysis did. The LARPing…not so much. Those who have been deeper into a fandom have seen fandom at its best and at its worst, but this isn’t a fandom that feels familiar. They wanted to make commentary about fandom, but you can’t do that when what you present isn’t representational and I thought there would be more out there that was social-media oriented and that just wasn’t there. This was supposed to be the big hook of the show and it didn’t work.
3. Ultimately, the two parallel shows meant that neither could be fully developed, and therefore harmed both. I think the show either needed to be the story of a guy whose brother disappeared into this cult or it needed to be the story of the detective who used to be in the cult, got out but was slowly being dragged back into that world. Both of these takes would be interesting, and both of them would still have been different enough from the Following to justify their existence.Instead, aside from Billy, the show of Cult was the weakest part of Cult, with the weakest dialogue and acting. Not only was it weak, but it ultimately didn’t add much to the show as a whole. Ultimately I think you could have done the concept without having the inside show actually airing like mentioning that he was a happy guy who loved a show and started hanging out with other fans and started meeting these friends in real life. And it was after that point he started acting odd and then disappeared. You get the same effect – his involvement with the show ultimately lead to his disappearance – but not quite as heavy handed and more believable because it wasn’t because of some secret messages that could only be heard by playing it backwards and slowing it way way way way down.
At the end of the day the writers bit off more than they could chew and it just couldn’t support their concept. Personally speaking, I always felt this was going to be a longshot to make it to a second season and apparently I guessed right. I do hope that CW continues to experiment with content and not give up on high-concept all together, but this just wasn’t the show it needed to be in order to survive.