I look forward to the day we learn what really happened behind the scenes on this one, but for now THR has the following rather surprising headline:
Only one episode of the series has aired on DC Universe. The remainder of the show’s 10-episode run will play out on the streaming platform, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed, but it won’t return after that.
The cancellation follows the series having its order cut from 13 to 10 episodes, with sources telling The Hollywood Reporter creative differences were the cause of the reduced run.
Swamp Thing now joins the likes of Emily’s Reasons Why Not and Osbournes Reloaded – which is a show I totally already knew existed and didn’t have to look up on Google just now – on the rather sad list of shows canceled after just one episode, and as far as I can tell it might be the first streaming show to suffer such an ignominious fate.
It would be one thing if this was just a giant swing and miss, creatively dead on arrival. Swamp Thing is not that, though. The hour-long pilot is a truly excellent little horror movie about an activist scientist (played by Andy Bean) crossing the wrong well-heeled people in the Louisiana Bayou and escaping death only due to a strange mutation occurring in the swamp. The titular creature (played by Derek Mears) finally arrives in the pilot’s closing moments and is a truly bewildering sight to behold.
The pilot thus delivers exactly the kind of killer cliffhanger ending all peak TV shows crave: it makes you instantly crave the next episode.
Beyond that, the pilot fills the show’s universe with compelling characters – Crystal Reed’s CDC doctor Abby Arcane and Virginia Madsen’s boozy wife of a local businessman promise to have a lot more to do over the season.
Unlike most other shows to be canceled after a single episode, the rest of the season will still arrive in its scheduled weekly installments, and the critics who have already seen the second episode liked what they saw. When or if the behind the scenes creative differences impact the product on screen remains to be seen. There were rumblings on social media about the producers being mighty pissed and blindsided after their episode order was cut down to 10, but when THR directly asked co-showrunner Mark Verheiden about the reduced order in an interview a DC Universe rep let him answer.
So, yeah, that’s totally normal.
Thus, the obvious question remains: how does a series produced by Saw/Conjuring/Aquaman’s James Wan, directed by Underworld’s Len Wiseman, co-showrun by Annabelle/The Nun/It’s Gary Dauberman, and reviewed to the tune of 92% on RottenTomatoes get canceled after just one episode?
The most obvious answer is to simply blame the new guys in charge. Ever since AT&T absorbed Warner Bros., it has appointed a clueless, corporate-speak-happy hack to kickstart efforts to launch a bundled streaming service built around HBO. How pre-existing niche services fit into that plan remains a mystery. FilmStruck, for one, was wiped off the internet by WarnerMedia. DC Universe, which doesn’t release subscription numbers, might be more complicated to write off or fold into a larger streaming service because of its proprietary software used to deliver not just movies and TV shows but also comic books. However, considering the winds of consolidation it wouldn’t be surprising if by the end of the year DC Universe becomes an add-on to a WarnerMedia streamer.
If so, you’d think WarnerMedia would want to keep its second best-reviewed original series (first place goes to Doom Patrol, which has 95% approval). So, like I said at the start, there has to be more to this story than what we’re being told. Something seriously went wrong here for a fledgling streaming service with an aggressive new corporate owner to cut ties with a well-liked new series sporting some serious brand-name talent behind the scenes. Based on the impressive special effects in the pilot, I’m wondering if the series might have eventually proved too to produce expensive for DC Universe.
Maybe by the end of the season, things will have veered so far off course we’ll better understand their reasoning. If not, though, prepare your “save Swamp Thing” petitions.
The irony is I specifically I signed up for DC Universe last weekend to watch Swamp Thing. Doom Patrol has been a nice little bonus. Now I’m debating whether to simply cancel my subscription once I’ve finished Doom Patrol, preferring not to waste time on the rest of Swamp Thing’s doomed season.
Canceling your third live-action original after just one episode is not a good way to build trust with your audience. Feels strange that you’d need to be told that.
The internet loves itself a mystery to solve, and this bizarre cancellation of Swamp Thing certainly qualifies as one. Cartoonist/writer Josh Gholson thought he figured it out, posting a Twitter thread arguing what really happened was a paperwork error led to Swamp Thing not receiving the North Carolina tax credit it had been counting on. Once that happened, WB panicked, cut the episode order, and got the hell out of town:
Deadline, however, calls bullshit. They reached out to Guy Gasser, Director of the North Carolina Film Office, and he says Gholson’s theory is a bunch of hogwash. Swamp Thing‘s pilot qualified for a $4.9 million tax credit and $12 million for the rest of the season, with the combined total representing over half of the $31 million The North Carolina Film Office is authorized to hand out every year. All the Swamp Thing financials on Gasser’s end look normal:
“We treat each season of each series as its own stand-alone project,” Gasser said. “And from that standpoint it appears that Warner Bros have lived up to their end of the deal. We have the funds set aside and one the verification has taken place the check will be cut for them.”
Maybe he’s covering his own ass or for WB. Maybe Gholson is yet another internet conspiracy theorist who proved how quickly everyone will fall for unverified reporting. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Or maybe this really does go back to our earlier theories about something being rotten in the state of DC Universe.
So, I’ll just return to what I said at the start: I look forward to the day we learn what really happened behind the scenes on this one.