Streaming has become an increasingly popular pastime over the years, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. What better time to watch the shows you’ve always wanted to see than when you’re recommended to stay inside all day? Now people have been falling in love with shows, new and old, more than ever before.
However, the world of streaming hasn’t brought only positives to the table. Platforms such as Netflix have caused a decrease in cable TV ratings and Netflix itself has become infamous for canceling shows with no warning — even ones that have a devoted fan base and good ratings. Streaming has brought out the best and worst in this new era of watching TV, and no show’s success can be certain nowadays.
The Curious “Manifest” Journey
In June 2021, NBC decided to pull the plug on “Manifest,” a supernatural mystery drama about airline passengers who struggle to lead normal lives after being presumed dead. NBC announced there would be no further seasons on the network, much to the surprise of the show’s fans. This news was especially shocking to viewers, given that many of them were so enthusiastic about the show that it had recently claimed a Top 10 spot on Netflix’s list of most-watched shows.
Although the show was not highly acclaimed by critics, it had garnered enough attention from fans to remain popular on streaming services. Why was a show with a dedicated viewership canceled so soon?
After the announcement from NBC, “Manifest” fans took to Twitter and other social platforms to express their dismay. The news was soon trending, complete with a call to “#SaveManifest.” “Why was Manifest canceled? @netflix I’m hoping you save this series!! It has trend #1 on your platform!!” one fan wrote on Twitter, while another said, “It’s so ridiculous they actually canceled Manifest after those cliffhangers. #SaveManifest.” Others were upset due to the amount of time they had invested in the show and were distraught they could never know the answers to long-awaited questions.
Though cliffhangers and unanswered questions have never stopped a network from canceling a show before, these tweets demonstrate the attachment many viewers have to “Manifest.” Additionally, many viewers found themselves enjoying the series for its soapy, twisty and endearing moments.
Jeff Rake, “Manifest” creator and executive producer, also shared his disappointment with his followers. “My dear Manifesters, I’m devastated by NBC’s decision to cancel us,” he said. “That we’ve been shut down in the middle is a gut punch to say the least. You the fans deserve an ending to your story. Thanks for the love shown to me, cast, and crew. #savemanifest.”
Though NBC did not give an official reason for the cancellation, the decision to renew or cut off a show is usually determined by recent audience performance ratings. “Manifest” had indeed seen a drop in ratings, going from 6.5 million viewers in Season 1 to 3.1 million in the third season. The viewership numbers are average compared to other shows and are certainly not bad enough to cut off the show without warning. Additionally, these numbers don’t account for the millions of new viewers the show received when it released on Netflix this summer. Due to increased viewership, it stayed in the Top 10 long enough to be one of Netflix’s most-watched shows.
For a few months, fans and actors from the show rallied to bring the show back for a fourth season. “Manifest” creatives even attempted to bring the show to another network or service throughout the summer. Then, finally, Netflix announced on Aug. 28 that they planned to pick up the show from NBC and give the fans one final season.
Pulled Too Soon
“Manifest’s return is a fascinating study in the shifted dynamics of television,” said writer Kaila Hale-Stern in an article about the show. “Netflix moved fast, and generously, to capitalize on a series that proved a massive hit for its platform.”
The revival of “Manifest” is uncommon among today’s canceled shows, as many with similar audiences have not been so lucky.
In 2019, the science fiction Netflix original “The OA” was canceled just months after its compelling second season aired on the service. Though the last episodes of the Season 2 finale set up a twist with potential for the planned third season, Netflix pulled the popular show from production, despite the creators’ plan for five seasons. With a fantastic cast and distinct story, viewers were shocked to hear the show would be no more. This news sparked debate among online fans, and like “Manifest,” created room for their uproar to be heard.
“It’s also worth noting how many of the recent cancellations have been shows with women and people of color prominently behind the scenes or starring,” said Kim Renfro from Insider. Many canceled shows seem to have a dedicated following for more than one good reason. Though the views were not strong enough to save them, dozens of the canceled shows over the past few years have been special to the viewership for their strong representation, a big factor behind the intense reactions to these series’ cancelations. Netflix shows such as “One Day at a Time,” “Glow,” “Tuca and Bertie” and “I Am Not Okay with This” are examples of canceled shows with diverse characters and showrunners.
The news of a show’s cancelation, especially when it features relevant or diverse themes, often causes people to finally watch the show out of curiosity. This was the case with Netflix’s “Anne with an E,” which received positive reviews from critics and viewers throughout its three-season run and beyond. The show’s cancelation sparked a discussion about why such a wholesome show with themes of identity, social issues and equality would get canceled when it was gaining more viewers. Later, online fans took to social media and even New York City’s Times Square to call for its renewal, in addition to starting an online petition that now has over 1.5 million signatures. Since its cancelation, many newcomers have watched the show and agreed that it should have received a chance to continue.
In many cases, fans of canceled shows feel the story and creatives behind it were not given a chance to prove themselves to the audience. “A gentle reminder that TV shows need time and space to lay foundation, to develop, and to grow,” tweeted Dan Levy, a co-creator and lead cast member in “Schitt’s Creek,” the morning after the 2020 Emmys. The now-popular series broke records by sweeping all seven comedy awards, but the feat would not have been possible years before. “In the wrong hands, this show would have been yanked off the air in Season 1 for ‘underperforming.’” Considering Netflix’s reputation for canceling shows too soon, if “Schitt’s Creek” had been a Netflix original it probably would not have made it past Season 2. Which is an interesting point, since the show’s popularity didn’t peak until after its first three seasons arrived on Netflix in 2017.
Why do networks continue this pattern of premature cancellation, even if it might cost them a hit show? They seem to capitalize on an audience’s tendency to lose interest in things quickly and move on to the next big thing — the opposite of what happened to “Manifest.” If some shows aren’t gaining as many views as expected, it makes sense for them to get canceled at some point, just as TV networks often do with less successful shows. It is strange, however, that Netflix and other networks cancel shows that perform well and clearly have a strong fan base.
The “Manifest” late renewal is a rare case for canceled shows, but it certainly demonstrates how determined fans and a spike in views can completely change the fate of an entire series.
Show The Shows You Care
With an abundance of shows at our fingertips, each decision made by a streaming service or network has to be carefully calculated, despite the risk of disappointing fans. Although Netflix receives backlash for making these decisions, they continue to release different Netflix originals that have the potential to become wildly successful. Though, they also aren’t afraid to pick up shows like “Manifest” that have proved to bring in viewers after failure. Based on this, Netflix’s goal is to serve a wide variety of audiences at any cost, even if it means a show must move on elsewhere. In the end, even the best and most compelling shows have no chance of survival if the viewership is too low.
Though “Manifest” has survived against the odds, be sure to enjoy your favorite show while you can. If the shows you enjoy are ever prematurely canceled, know that all you can do is speak up online and show the networks you care by watching it to your heart’s content, all before it’s too late.