Artistic Problems of Ending a TV Series Too Early: 3 Examples

A TV series has a potential advantage over a movie in that a series affords the chance to follow a story over an extended time.  Events are able to unfold into broad plots and themes.  Characters can be developed in depth.

This is a potential but not an inevitable advantage. Problems happen when a series has insipid stories, shallow characters, or substandard acting.

But a TV series can avoid those shortcomings and still run into snags.

If ratings are dismal or – perish the thought – producers and advertisers are unhappy, a series is liable to be dropped forthwith. We’ve all had it happen to one of our favorite shows.  If the cancellation is too sudden, the show artistically derails from any one of three sources:  disruption of pace, dissolution of plot, or outright desertion of story.

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Kansas photo credit: JamesWatkins via photopin cc

1. Jericho – Disruption of Pace

Jericho is a series in the subgenre of apocalyptic sci-fi. The action happens in what’s left of the United States after a devastating nuclear attack on several American cities simultaneously. The story follows Jake, an inhabitant of Jericho, Kansas, as he and the viewer discover what happened, who did what, what’s happening in the world outside Jericho, and how events turn in chaos.

Just as the second season wound down, the series was cancelled. The last episode is a whirlwind of tying up loose ends, settling relationships, and tapping down a resolution.  At least the creators got to do that much.

The artistic hiccup is tempo. The final episode races along at such a frantic pace that the wrap-up is incongruous with the rest of the series.

It’s a pity. Just as things were opening up nicely in the plot, the door was flung wide open and all the furniture set outside.  It’s like being force fed dessert after a fine dinner.

Poor Jake. Broadsided by another attack, this one from the producers.

2. Pushing Daisies – Dissolution of Plot

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Pushing Daisies photo credit: tsmall via photopin cc

Pushing Daisies is a fantasy series where the viewer is asked to swallow only two pills.

Pill One, Ned is a pie maker who can bring a corpse to life with his touch. But wait, his second touch sends them back to the dead irretrievably.

Pill Two, Ned’s world is brighter and quirkier than ours. This makes the series visually stunning as it unfolds into an intriguing detective story with a splash of romance.

Romance? There’s the catch.  Ned has revitalized a girl he loves.  So, he has a problem as he can’t touch her again lest she die.  How’s that for keeping sexual tension tight in this promiscuous age of ours?

After two seasons and several award nominations, the powers-that-be must have not liked pie, so they killed the series.

Cake eaters.

The series ends almost in mid-sentence. The creators tacked a short epilogue onto the last episode to pull together as much as possible.  Even Jericho got a whole episode.

The finish to Pushing Daisies was so fast one hardly knew what had happened.  The difficulty is a poorly resolved plot.  Certainly not the writers’ faults.  I mean, their typewriters were whisked right out from under their fingers.

Not even Ned could resurrect the series, love it and pie as we did.

3. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Desertion of Story

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a TV series based on the popular novels by Alexander McCall Smith. We follow the main character, Precious Ramotswe, in her detective work and personal life.  The mysteries are smart and the characters are fleshed out well.

Unexpectedly and delightfully, another character emerges from the books and in the TV series, a beautiful and touching character, that of the nation of Botswana.

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Botswana photo credit: aftab. via photopin cc

Dona discovered the books first and was so excited by the prospect of an extended series. She saw the first season.  That’s all anyone saw.  Sadly, the series was all too short.

After the first season, production difficulties arose resulting in the series not being renewed. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency didn’t benefit from even a quick conclusion like Jericho or Pushing Daisies.

From the books, there was so much more to cover. In the series, the acting, direction, design, and cinematography were all first rate.  But the game was up.

The artistic stumble here was total abandonment.

All three of these TV series are excellent in the main corpus of their episodes, quite worthy to be enjoyed even if truncated. It’s just a sad reality of culture that art is sometimes trumped by business, whether from greed or through neglect or due to simple survival.


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  1. Lucy October 25, 2014 #

    Makes me think of Firefly. So good but canceled so early, although even with that it has a cult following now 🙁

    • Drew Ellenwood October 25, 2014 #

      Firefly is an excellent example. Of course, ‘Jane’ went on to be ‘Casey’ in Chuck, and the captain has Castle now. The follow up movie to Firefly helped wrap up things. The same can be said of Farscape, but that series, much longer in duration and much more complex in story telling, deserves an entire blog to itself, as I know you agree, Lucy.

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