Are Netflix Cancellations Extra Painful for Fans, Due to Hidden 'Ratings'?


It’s bad enough to lose a quality sitcom such as One Day at a Time. But to never be given a chance to see the cancellation coming? That’s no laughing matter.

After all, when Timeless was cancelled (the first time!), fans were sad, yet some understood. Though the time travel series at the time ranked seventh out of NBC’s 14 dramas, its demo number had quite steadily eroded since its launch, slipping from a 1.8 (!) to barely half of that.

“We knew this was coming,” one TVLine reader commented back then.

When you are able to follow the ratings for a TV series, either actively or passively, you develop a sense of its trajectory, and as such can brace yourself for the possibility of (gulp) no more. Trial & Error‘s cancellation after two seasons was “a no-brainer,” one TVLine commenter noted when NBC ruled against renewal. “If a show does not do well in the ratings, why keep it around?” Similarly, the low-rated Great News getting bad news was “to be expected,” said a reader. “A renewal would have been a very big surprise.”

Not everyone likes a pragmatist, but they exist among even the most passionate consumers of TV.  “Based on ratings, [Code Black] is not what the public likes, and that is why it has been cancelled,” explained a commenter after CBS pulled the plug on its medical drama. Or as one reader framed Colony‘s termination at USA Network, “Anyone who likes the show will think it’s a bad call, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the ratings that do.”

But what happens when you have no sense of a show’s performance in those critical viewership metrics? How does one then prepare for the worst?

Are you even able to?

After years of being seen as a haven for seemingly Teflon TV — and sometimes a savior for gone-to-soon broadcast and cable fare — Netflix is now behaving like its brethren, being a bit more swift with the scythe than during its formative years. Over the course of transitioning from that DVD mailer service to a premiere distributor of digital content, Netflix spent-spent-spent money to sire or acquire fresh programming. But once that library of content was built and bills came due, the streaming giant had to start making tough calls about what to keep… and what to cut.

Fans of Sense8 were among the first to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under them by Netflix, and the result was a significant outcry that prompted the streamer to greenlight a wrap-up movie. Other viewerships have not been nearly as lucky. From October 2018 through this February, all five of Netflix’s Marvel series — starting with Iron Fist and ending with the one-two gut-punch of Jessica Jones and The Punisher — were told to power down, quite possibly influenced by the fact that Disney has its own streaming service in the works.

Most recently, fans of the acclaimed One Day at a Time learned that there would be no Season 4. As Netflix explained, “simply not enough people watched.”

In the case of ODAAT, fans who loiter out there in social media at least got a hint that, as the theme song goes, “this is it.”

But not all showrunners are as proactive in getting the not-so-good word out, and some may not even be entirely privy to the mysterious numbers that Netflix series live and die by. Quite famously, Netflix regularly divulges zero viewing figures — eliciting much side-eye and sometimes outright shade from its rivals. But even more ripe for scrutiny, the streaming giant will lob into the wind random bits of data, accompanied by minimal context, in a bid to toot its horn unchecked. Yet while you may once in a blue moon hear about what Netflix wants you to regard as a big ol’ hit, you will never be tipped off to the fact that your fave binge is about to go belly-up.

As a result, the reactions to Netflix cancellations are and have every right to be especially vocal, because you just. don’t. know. It’s near impossible to see it coming. TVLine can easily inform you of premiere dates, preview new seasons, post-mortem big episodes and feature Netflix series in our Performer of the Week, TV Questions and Quotes of the Week columns, but nowhere on these pages are you able to get regular updates on viewership and whether any show might be in trouble.

Update: Plus, as readers have noted, how are you to know how quickly you must consume a show for it to “count”? And how quickly can you be expected to, seeing as brand-new releases aren’t regularly promoted on the Netflix homepage? Just this past weekend, The OA was No. 62 on my scroll of Netflix Originals. No. 62.

The fact that something as well-crafted, well-reviewed and necessary as One Day at a Time has (perhaps) seen its final days is disappointing in and of itself. But to have that sad news suddenly sprung on its passionate fans (Lin-Manual Miranda included!), and then waved off with a belated and half-hearted “simply not enough people watched,” is arguably what hurts just as much.

Because you just didn’t know.