This Move Definitely Wasn’t For The People
ABC Just Killed The Wrong Shonda Rhimes’ Series
I know that ABC is in a bad place, ratings-wise. When your number one series in a spinoff of a revival, you know you’re in trouble. And I realize that there are always going to be hard choices when it comes to cancellation. But earlier this week, ABC did what it has done more frequently than any other network in recent memory: it cancelled the wrong show. And what makes it harder to take is that ABC had a series by the same creative force with similarly low numbers, but chose to spare that one instead.
Anyone who reads this column knows I am far from Shonda Rhimes’ biggest booster. Nevertheless, almost two months, I gave a rave review to For the People, a courtroom drama in a world that seems to have passed them by. Much of the second season was nearly as good as I said it was. The acting was surprisingly powerful, the writing was subtle — which you almost never see in a Shondaland production — and there have been none of the ridiculous twists that plague so many of her series. What’s more, there have been no sex scenes this entire season, and no one has been killed off. For the People was on the verge of quietly become one of the better dramas on network television. Which is why I found it particularly appalling that it was cancelled earlier this week, and the wretched, bloated, and increasingly ridiculous How to Get Away with Murder was somehow renewed for a sixth season.
This isn’t the first time that ABC has chosen to sacrifice a critically acclaimed series in favor of Murder. Two years ago, ABC chose to cancel the limited series American Crime, an anthology series that dealt wrenchingly through a single group of characters with issues that were relevant. It was ABC’s biggest success in the Emmys during the decade, getting twenty nominations over three seasons, and an argument can definitely be made it is one of the best series of the decade. I was appalled that ABC chose to cancel it, but from a purely business sense, it was logical. It had debuted to low ratings from practically its inception, and even in the world of peak TV, its ratings were nowhere near high enough to last on basic cable. Still, on a network that seemed to be surviving on overblown Shonda Rhimes’ series, it was a blow
The cancellation of For the People in favor of Murder is not nearly as clear cut a case — it never received anywhere near the critical acclaim that American Crime did, and it was the second lowest watched series on the entire network. That said, keeping it alive instead of Murder is harder to fathom. That series was in its fifth season, and its ratings had dropped to an average of 3 million an episode. For the People’s ratings were at 2 million an episode. How to Get Away with Murder had lost whatever creative spark it had years ago, and with Rhimes now gone from the network, there was less of a need to keep it on the air to keep her happy. Finally, there was the overall tone — Murder was a dark, oversexed, twist-filled, and barely comprehensible melodrama. For the People was an optimistic, courtroom drama, that believed characters could actually be friendly when they work together. It might have been a tough call for the network, but in a business that tends to take newer series over old, one would thought it was time to kill Murder, or at the very least, keep both series on the air. Instead, they took the other choice.
I realize that it is also a network’s habit to keep a successful series on the air until every bit of creativity is squeezed out of it — it’s the only logical explanation that Grey’s Anatomy was renewed for two more seasons. But it does say something that when the choice is between two equally low-rated Shondaland series, and the choice comes down to sex and violence, or truth and justice, they went for the former. It seems even more sloppy considering that Murder has been maybe one season left it while For the People could have gone on for a lot longer. And when so many of your biggest hits are either getting old or being canceled, thinking about the distant future instead of one season in advance seems even more short-sighted than usual.
As for For the People, well, Rhimes is at Netflix now. A lot of canceled series have been revived by the streaming service in the past few years. I wouldn’t mind if it ended up there. Just don’t overdo that much. It’s alright if they can say the f-word, just long as their not obsessed with doing it.