When cult favourite NBC comedy Community received its marching orders after 5 critically acclaimed but low rated seasons, the disappointment of fans was quickly followed by questions over which network would pick it up for new episodes. Eventually, Yahoo made an offer and the coveted 6 seasons and a movie becomes increasingly likely. There were no real doubts over whether or not another network would pick up the show. The biggest question amongst fans and critics remained which one in an expanding market would do so, with streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu also seen as possibilities. The fear that used to accompany the premature ending of a beloved show now seems like a distant dream for many.
While the Harry Potter series had never been cancelled (could you imagine the outrage if it had?), readers were given a solid ending that divided opinion but nobody could deny the certainty of that conclusion. Now, J.K. Rowling has released a short piece on Pottermore, along with lots of exclusive information on beloved characters, quidditch history and the like, but this one focuses on a 30 something Harry. This is hardly the same as the revival of a TV show like Community but it does follow a similar pattern of multiple revivals, with a previously sturdy ending losing its structure in the process.
Sometimes series end before they were supposed to. This happens in all mediums, with many books missing out on planned sequels and ending on cliff-hangers because they just weren’t as popular as they needed to be. This poses a tricky situation since many creators as a result of this uncertainty don’t get the chance to write an actual ending to the story they’d worked on for many years. An unsatisfactory ending, rushed to completion due to such circumstances, or a big shock that will remain forever unresolved can be a pretty aggravating experience for a fan, and it’s not a surprise to see demands for more. Everything from letter writing campaigns to petitions to social media events has been implemented by the determined fan-base to achieve their aims, and often it can yield results. After many years without hope, Netflix brought Arrested Development fans a 4th season, and an online campaign ensured that Rick Yancey would get to write a 4th book in the Monstrumologist series after the publisher cancelled it. Make no mistake – fans have serious power. This has also led to discussions of fan entitlement and whether its creatively healthy to give into the demands of the seemingly never satisfied.
There is, of course, a business benefit to reviving cancelled favourites, especially something like Community. Its fan-base may be small in comparison to something like The Big Bang Theory but it’s also primarily made up of the favourite 18-35 demographic that advertisers love, and Yahoo bringing episodes to its site will inevitably bump up traffic for a while and help to bolster its plans for further original programming. Marissa Meyer will be sighing with relief. It’s not the same for publishers due to ownership rights and the like, but all of this is done for profit as much as it is for creative satisfaction, so such decisions shouldn’t be too much of a shock.
Then again, just because you can bring a show back that doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. Like many, I found the 4th season of Arrested Development to be a major disappointment (with some of the laziest sound mixing I’ve ever heard, but that’s a totally different discussion). The seemingly flawless nature of the first 3 seasons became tainted in a way for many, partially by time but also by having things dragged up again and again. The original spark just isn’t there anymore. Rowling’s spark is still there (her Rita Skeeter is twelve different kinds of fabulous) and I can understand wanting to expand further upon points where the original series and its focus wouldn’t allow for it, but one can’t help but ask “Why?” Was the epilogue not enough? Were readers demanding this?
This also ties into the contrasting argument to a prematurely ended series – the series that went on too long. We’ve all experienced a TV show that should have ended a good two or three seasons before it did (hi there, Bones) or a series of books padded out to the max in order to keep the story and sales going a little longer. There have been a number of series that originally started out as stand-alone reads yet turned into sagas over the years, even when the story didn’t demand it. Natural conclusions become hastily cobbled together stop-gaps for a wider series the creator never intended. Sometimes the results work but it can also be painfully easy to spot where it doesn’t. There are also the series that continue constantly, like soap operas or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, yet this formula can often feel unsatisfying to consume as a result of its open ended planning, even though it may reflect life in many ways, since we don’t really have an ending to our own stories until we die.
Now is a fascinating time to be a fan, thanks to decisions like this. Perhaps the Community revival and continuance of Potter based stories will herald a new age of limitless story-telling, less bound to the demands of studios and publishers and more in tune to the wishes of the consumer. Or we’ll all end up talking about how good things used to be before they kept dragging it all out.