TV News

RIP Swamp Thing…We Hardly Knew Ye [Updated]

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:

The specifics:

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.

Dear WarnerMedia,

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.

Signed,

The Internet

Update:

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.

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19 comments

  1. I was super excited to see this show! After Titans and Doom Patrol, I thought this was going to be the darker supernatural show to stand beside Titans and the DC Universe would just keep flip flopping like that. To hear it was cancelled after just airing one episode makes me sad, considering that it won’t air in Canada for quite some time if at all..

    1. Maybe by the time Swamp Thing makes it to Canada, we’ll have learned more of the behind the scenes story. Because, like I said, there’s something really weird about how this all went down. A show with this pedigree first getting 3 episodes chopped off the back end and then canceled after less than a week is not normal.

      1. I hope so! the Doom Patrol is airing the Space channel here, but Titans was a Netflix exclusive? makes no sense to me.
        Exactly, have 3 episodes chopped off and then just straight up cancelled before the full season is out is some very fishy business. With all those horror based executive talents maybe it ended being too dark for what they were going for?

      2. Article updated. In truth, I was beginning to suspect this came down to money. We were surprised to see such poor treatment of a show sporting so many big behind the scenes names, but maybe that level of talent was entirely why it all went to hell. Maybe paying them proved too costly, or maybe Dauberman, a film writer by trade transitioning into TV showrunning, ran into chronic mismanagement and budget overages.

        What I never considered, however, was the tax credit issue. Thanks to what’s happening in Georgia, I’ve been planning an article about that very topic, but I’ve simply never before heard of a situation where an out-of-state Hollywood production got so far into filming before realizing it hadn’t actually qualified for a crucial tax credit. That’s just insane. If true, it’s a giant embarrassment for all involved.

      3. Article updated again. Deadline reached out to the actual North Carolina Film Office to test out the “tax rebate paperwork error” theory, and the official word out of NC is that nothing of the sort happened on their end. Both the pilot and the entire first season qualified for the tax credits and will be receiving their rebates soon enough. The truth is out there, obviously, but no idea what the real truth is with this story.

  2. I felt the complete opposite about this show. (There I go being contrary AGAIN!!!!) I didn’t like the actors, the characters bored me, and although I liked the horror elements, I felt the pacing of it was off. I was just unhappy with it overall, although it could be because I loved the written series so much, that I had different expectations.

    1. To be clear, my only prior exposure to Swamp Thing are the old movies from the 80s, which I barely remember. So, I didn’t really have any kind of concept of what to expect. I think they nailed the right mood for a darker, more horror-tinged series, but I do agree with you about the pacing. It doesn’t need to be an hour long. Did you dislike the pilot enough, however, to wish it would be canceled immediately? That’s the big question here considering what DC Universe just did.

      1. So the real question was if it was the right de ision. I say it was. Save a lot on marketing and free up focus on other shows. Its like when a restaurant has too much on the menu.

      2. Well, I disliked it, but didn’t think in terms of cancellation. I only hated it because it doesn’t have a close enough resemblance to the original plot and characters from the books. I think where things went wrong was my idea of who the characters were didn’t match the creator’s idea of the characters. Swamp Thing and Abby are two of my favorite characters in the entirety of the DC universe. They’re right up there with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, so I had some ideas in mind about how they should have been portrayed, and those two actors didn’t even come close.
        I wasn’t actually wishing for its cancellation, but when I heard about it, I wasn’t at all surprised. I am going to check into the other episodes though, to see if they’re as bad as the pilot.

      3. I hear ya. If Swamp Thing and Abby were my faves and the show did something totally different with them I’d be a real tough sell. That’s been me with Titans so far.

  3. Or maybe people werent excited enough about this series in an age that is swamped with heroes and fiction. I knew about swamp thing but really couldnt be bothered to prioritise it ahead of other titles and dont feel any loss that it has gone. Tbh i have seen a lot of shows cancelled after 1 whole season and promos and marketing to make it spark more interest. The decision maker here just nipped it in the bud rather than flog another pony so to speak.

    1. The calculus in the streaming age is whether a new show brings in enough new subscribers to offset its production costs. The reality is that almost none of them actually do, which is why Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime operate at a loss and live off of debt financing. However, part of the long term business plan in reaching profitability is to build up a definable brand and trust with your subscriber base. That’s why Netflix didn’t cancel its first true original series until several years after the launch of House of Cards and Arrested Development. Now they take a bloody hatchet to everything, but when you make more content than all of the film studios combined you have to start thinning the herd.

      DC Universe’s herd, at this point, really is just Titans, Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, DC Daily which might as well be a no-budget YouTube show – Young Justice, and the forthcoming animated Harley Quinn and live-action Stargirl shows. Similar streaming services at such an early point in their existence don’t normally cut bait so fast. I get what you’re saying about shows canceled after a first season or maybe halfway through a first season, like Constantine. There’s a “why continue throwing good money after bad” principle to just moving on immediately. However, in the grand scheme of things this is not a normal thing for a streaming service to do. Not in the slightest. Like I said in the piece, there has to be more to this story. Something seriously went wrong behind the scenes or at the corporate level or both.

      The upside, of course, is that in the peak TV era DC Universe did just voluntarily make it far easier on anyone who was still on the fence about adding Swamp Thing to the endless supply of things they’ll never have time to watch. Now you know for sure that it’s a dead show walking, not entirely unlike its central character.

  4. Maybe they are thinking of cancelling the service altogether? Or not enough people showed interest/tuned in? I mean what they need above all else are shows which convince people to subscribe, right?

    1. Titans has been renewed for a second season, and I haven’t seen any signs yet that either of the forthcoming shows -Harley Quinn and Stargirl – have had their episode orders or budgets reduced. There’s no official word on Doom Patrol: Season 2, though there were rumors before the first season even premiered that a second season had already been greenlit. Warner doesn’t release subscriber numbers for DC Universe. So, we have no official idea how good it is doing, although the number of times it has offered promotional discounted subscriber fees over the past 6 months indicates things aren’t looking good.

      So, while Warners doesn’t appear to be totally clearing house and salting the Earth that doesn’t necessarily mean DC Universe is safe. I could see a scenario where DC Universe is simply canceled like FilmStruck but its original shows end up as WarnerMedia streaming originals. Maybe, like CBS All Access’s The Good Wife porting its first season to CBS soon, they could even do something like air Titans or Doom Patrol on the CW over the summer, although those shows both go so far out of there to be R-Rated that there might be some issues there.

      You are right that it all comes down to subscribers, but I have never seen a streaming service pull the cord on a show this fast before. Something very, very strange must have happened behind the scenes.

      1. True. Maybe a copyright problem? Or “creative differences”? Or the budget was the issue? Or a scandal is looming and WB wants out of the crossfire? I guess we will hear some rumours soon.

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