Fans have devoted their time, money and energy to the process of “saving” tween supernatural drama Shadowhunters, yet few to none of them understand why it was cancelled, or have even a passing acquaintance with why it would be next to impossible to revive it. Most don’t understand the show took three companies to make in the first place — Netflix, Freeform and Constantin all funded it — and trying to get another three companies together to fund it all again would be a feat akin to running up Kilimanjaro carrying a ten ton brick. They won’t like or believe this article but they should, because fighting a battle with misinformation is nearly impossible. I’m writing this as in insider who knows people involved in the show and those who work at Netflix. These are the facts and 99% of them can be confirmed with a quick Google search.
Confusion reigns about why Shadowhunters was cancelled and why no one has picked it up since. Is it because they’re still filming? No. There’s no contractual reason someone else couldn’t buy the rights even though Freeform is still filming. Nothing about that “breaks contract,” because any existing contract can be worked around in Hollywood, or anywhere else for that matter. The entire theory is based on some tweets that went viral in the fandom, not on any factual knowledge of contractual entertainment law. Again, the show could absolutely have been picked up at any point since it was cancelled. No contract would be broken; the old contract would be amended. It simply hasn’t been.
Also, nobody cancels a show because people want more of it. Apparently Burke believes “I’m breaking up with you because I like you so much” is a line that works.
Well, the argument goes, Brooklyn 99, the Expanse and Lucifer were all cancelled and picked up! Yes, the first two were critically acclaimed shows with Emmys, Golden Globes and other indicators of the ability to grow a bigger audience and generate ancillary revenue through DVD and merchandising sales. Lucifer averaged 3 million viewers an episode, while Shadowhunters averaged a tenth of that with 300,000, less than reruns of House Hunters airing at the same time. These shows also had excellent demos — which are measures of the amount of people watching who are within advertisers’ most targeted age groups. Shadowhunters had the lowest possible demo, .1 (the .1 demo is considered so bad in Hollywood it was referred to as “almost mythical” in this article about the Lucy Hale show “Life Sentence”, cancelled with better ratings than Shadowhunters: “Season to date, Life Sentence is averaging fewer than 500,000 total viewers along with a 0.15 demo rating (having hit the almost mythical “0.1” with four out of its seven airings.”)
There were rumblings in Hollywood that Shadowhunters was going to be cancelled for months before it actually was. Freeform didn’t bring the show to their upfronts in New York, where traditionally they’ve trotted out news about new seasons of successful shows along with the new stuff they have to release. They stopped doing much in the way of promotion due to a slashed promotional budget. (Networks don’t just have endless pots of money. They money is allocated for different uses. One way to try to save money on a show is to cut its budget in various areas, and promotion often goes first because by season three, a SUCCESSFUL show is generating much of its own promotion. Shadowhunters wasn’t. Yes, slashing its promo budget probably meant it’s ratings fell faster, but it was already in a death spiral.)
They also slashed money for effects, casting (explaining the parade of nameless Canadian actors on the show), crew and production costs, but there are places where costs rise for a network every year, making each year of a show more expensive to produce no matter what they do. Every season they have to raise the salaries of cast, writers and crew. It’s contractual. That’s often why cheap shows do the split seasons — “2A and 2b” — because by pretending it’s all one season, they avoid having to pay more to their employees.
As Shadowhunters’ costs were rising, its viewership was falling. It started strong with a 1.6 million viewership, which fell quickly over year one. Despite that it was renewed, largely due to strong online social media interaction. What does strong online social media interaction mean? Not a lot really, but like awards, if gives the producers hope that the show might find an audience. After all, word of mouth, right?
But the online socials didn’t work. They often don’t, because the internet is made up of echo chambers where mostly people who agree on things segment themselves off to talk to each other. I’m not looking for a new TV show by wandering around hashtags on twitter, and I bet you’re not either. Also, the online socials they were claiming were inaccurate because they were pretending every mention of Shadowhunters was about their show when a large percentage of them continued to be about the books the show was theoretically based on. Folding those mentions into their own gave Freeform the opportunity to overstate the amount of their social mentions. (They would probably argue that fans of the books watch the show, but as anyone in the actual fandom knows, the opposite is true.)
I do believe alienating the fans of the source material was a key mistake they made, but it’s a contentious point so I’ll stick to facts. They lost thirty percent of their viewership in season two after a disastrous season one forced them to fire Ed Decter, the original showrunner. (It actually cost them close to a million dollars to fire him, because he had time left on his contract. That’s how badly they wanted him gone. So every time you complain about how they didn’t promote the show, think about what they could have done with the million dollars they gave Ed Decter just to go away.)
Season Two was also a ratings disaster, but Netflix was still pumping money into the show, making it financially feasible for Freeform to keep making it. While Netflix doesn’t release their ratings, the word was that globally ratings were falling but still strong. Shadowhunters was surviving on the audience it had outside the US.
This was not a show doing particularly well in US streaming, however. There is a reason Freeform never made DVDs or DVD sets for Shadowhunters when they often do for other shows. The streaming numbers weren’t strong enough for anyone to believe that the cost of making the DVDs would be paid back. (There were DVDs made in Germany and Italy where, along with Brazil, the show had its strongest audiences via Netflix.)
Season 3A was the show killer. Viewership dropped forty percent. It also, most importantly, crashed overseas. Netflix viewership in Brazil reportedly fell fifty percent. The show was bleeding out. Nobody was watching live, and live ratings continue to be a show’s lifeblood as they determined what a network can charge advertisers. Streaming services exist on the money from subscriptions but a broadcast network like Freeform NEEDS somebody to watch the commercials they broadcast.
At the end of 3A Netflix cancelled their output deal with Constantin. That’s what killed the show. Netflix decided their ratings didn’t justify the cost of putting money toward the production and advertising of Shadowhunters. They cut the cord, and poor viewership was the reason. You will find fans of the show insisting the show has a big global audience. The truth is this: yes, a larger percentage of the show’s viewership is overseas than is the case for most shows. But it remains not a large enough viewership for continuation and nothing approaching the numbers of a real “big global audience.”
Constantin couldn’t afford to pay for the show without the Netflix money. They ran to Freeform to ask for more cash, but Freeform, not unreasonably, didn’t want to spend MORE money on a show that had been getting less and less viewership. They said no. With no one to fund the show, it was cancelled.
The rights to the show reverted back to Constantin, but Constantin knew perfectly well that nobody would buy a show with a .3 viewership and a .1 demo. In a recent Deadline article Constantin CEO Martin Moscowitz made a big fuss about the #saveshadowhunters movement, but as it turned out, that was in service of trying to sell The Infernal Devices as a TV project, because Constantin is well aware they’ve driven TMI into the ground and are better off starting with a clean slate. As far as they’re concerned, since all the books fall under the Shadowhunters Chronicles rubric, the #saveshadowhunters movement isn’t specific to the show. Fans disagreed, but I will say from the outside, as someone working in Hollywood, the few emails I’ve gotten from producers and whatnot about the banner and ads seem absolutely confused as to what they’re about, or what they’re meant to accomplish. What Moscowitz did was skeezy but unsurprising. Hollywood loves to exploit existing confusion for their own benefit.
Many fans seem confused that Constantin would rather sell a new series than try to re-sell Shadowhunters. “But Shadowhunters had the fandom,” they say. They may be forgetting that huge crowds turned out to see Shadowhunters at New York Comicon in 2015 *before the show had ever aired*, causing the aforementioned Freeform exec Karey Burke to muse the show might be “their Supernatural.” It is not unreasonable for producers to notice that the show had a bigger fanbase before it aired than after (1.6 million viewers watched the first episode, down to just under 400,000 for the last episode of 3A) and assume that they are better off going back to the drawing board with the source material.
In the end, cancellation is always a numbers game and the numbers are against Shadowhunters. It took three production companies to make the show and two have bowed out permanently: Freeform and more importantly, Netflix. The great benefit of Netflix is that a deal with them gives you full global distribution. The downside of Netflix is that losing a deal with them means losing all your foreign distribution at once, leaving Constantin no choice but to try to painstakingly paste together a patchwork of foreign deals for a failed show, or try to sell one of the very few global distributors on it — an uphill battle considering the bad live ratings and equally poor C3/C7 ratings. The show did passably well on Hulu, but not well enough for Hulu to invest millions in continuing it — and very few streaming networks or broadcast networks want to invest in continuing a show they had no input in creating. If they did, they certainly wouldn’t keep the current showrunners, who have been responsible for massive losses in viewership, nor would they be required to keep the current cast, crew, or anything else about the show intact.
Most importantly, the show is an international failure. Everyone in Hollywood knows Netflix cancelled because they were unsatisfied with their global viewership. Buying Infernal Devices means buying a potential viewership of who knows how many. Buying Shadowhunters means buying the viewership the show has now and knowing it’s too late for it to increase. This is why no amount of cheap bus ads or Comicon bikes is going to make any difference. By absolutely every metric by which Hollywood measures audience, Shadowhunters did not have a big audience. It had a very small one. Everyone is aware of exactly what raising a few thousand dollars for small ads means : a small, very passionate viewership. Sadly, networks would rather have a big, mostly indifferent audience than a small, adoring one. Passion doesn’t translate into money. Only ratings do that.
There’s also the issue that Freeform has scheduled the last season of this show to air next year. It would be a stretch to consider this malice, but it effectively kills any fractional chance the show ever had of being picked up somewhere. Freeform is required to air these episodes because of their contracts with Constantin and Netflix, so they’ve cheaply dumped them where they expect no one will watch them, reserving more profitable broadcast times for more potentially profitable shows. I say there’s likely no malice here because Freeform is being realistic. They know no one would buy a show with these ratings and reviews, and they’ve decided to send it off with a finale to wrap it up forever. They likely think of that as a kind gesture. It might kill any chance that anyone would buy a show that’s gotten a final and official ending to wrap it up, but there was basically no chance anyone would ever have picked up up anyway, and Freeform knows that.
There is no conspiracy. There are no mysterious contracts that need to be waited out. There is no plot against Shadowhunters fans. The show was cancelled for the same reasons most shows are cancelled: a downward trend in viewership.
It may not be exciting. But it is the truth.
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