At times, the television landscape can be a source of irritation and chagrin for avid fans of certain series due to the falling axe of unceremonious cancellation. If the viewing figures do not match the economic requirements of the corporate body, then, more often than not, the proverbial guillotine is brought forth to routinely dispatch the offending article from the schedules. Over the years, much has been made about the active protests from indignant fans which have successfully resulted in a stay of execution – I am thinking mainly about the legendary letter writing campaign in the 1960s spearheaded by Bo Trimble that rescued the original series of Star Trek from cancellation at the end of its second year – but, to be frank, there have been many more failures than out-right triumphs. Star Trek was ‘saved,’ only to be cancelled the following year. In 2005, the fifth incarnation of Star Trek on television, Enterprise, was axed after only four seasons and a mass protest by an army of incessant fans across cyberspace did nothing to sway the decision-makers at Paramount. More recently, the post-apocalyptic series, Jericho, was placed on the chopping block after its first season and a fan campaign was rewarded with a second season, albeit reduced to seven episodes, before it was eventually cancelled altogether.
Before Joss Whedon’s reincarnation as Marvel director/ writer supreme, both Firefly and Dollhouse were axed, once again distressing audience members in the process. Many voices cried out in terror, but without recompense. Whedon’s break-through hit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, bowed out after seven seasons, but this was to allow an ‘exit with grace’ as calls for its removal from schedules had been growing due to the law of diminishing returns. The same goes for Chris Carter’s The X-Files – not cancelled exactly, but urged to ‘finish’ rather than undergo the embarrassing fate of forced closure, ergofailure. Interestingly, Family Guy was axed after three seasons, but resurrected by Fox following impressive DVD sales. At the time of writing, the series in still ongoing, now in its twelfth year, but this is a rather singular example of restoration after-the-fact. Based upon the evidence, it all comes down to the profit potential and nothing speaks quite as loud as the bottom-line.
Shows such as Arrested Development have also returned, this time through streaming website, Netflicks (which also has started producing its own roster of original programming); and the cancelled Veronica Mars is returning via cinema screens in 2014 courtesy of a fan ‘Kickstarter’ campaign which managed to raise an exceptional $10 million in less than twelve hours. Sometimes, it seems, the dead come back to life.
In addition to Netflicks and Kickstarter campaigns, a new trend is emerging whereby the cancellation of a series may not necessarily spell the end of the story as the dangling threads can be picked up in comic book form. The twenty-first century has become the testing ground for new experiments in narrative form, what Henry Jenkins describes as ‘transmedia storytelling,’ whereby threads begin in one medium and are picked up in other media. Jenkins illustrates this through an analysis of The Matrix and how it spread across multiple platforms to tell a sprawling narrative that could not be confined to a single medium. The ABC hit, Lost, also committed to this activity of spreading narrative nodes across multiple media windows while, more recently, Marvel have transposed the comic book model of continuity to the cinematic arena in what has become the largest serial construction in film history with individual movies operating within a matrix of interconnectivity and causality.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer finished its run on television after seven years in 2003. Yet in 2007, the story picked up where it has left off, this time as a comic book series with Whedon acting as executive producer. Subtitled Season Eight – which indicates its allegiance to TV continuity and therefore canonical or ‘official’ – lasted four years and was succeeded by Season Nine in 2012 which continues unfolding on a monthly basis. Season Nine also subsumes a new series into its story-system, Angel and Faith, which provides multiple connections between the Buffy TV series, its comic book continuation and the AngelTV series which significantly expands and enhances the story-world’s narrative architecture considerably. From this position, Buffy’s shelf-life was not over nor was its story finite and complete; it simply shifted location.
Of course, adaptations from TV and/or film into comic books is nothing new; but this recent phenomenon is not a one-way translation of a TV episode into a different medium, but, rather picking up the story where the TV series left off and continuing along the same narrative trajectory. This is rather different to traditional models of adaptation – which has already been challenged significantly by works in the field by Stam, Brooker and Geraghty, among a whole host of other scholars, specifically following the post-structural tradition of dialogism and intertextuality.
Likewise, Smallville completed its mammoth ten year run in 2010, but the next month, Season Elevencontinued the narrative by focusing upon Clark Kent’s first adventures in the Superman suit (which was only briefly glimpsed at the series denouement). As the image below illustrates: ‘THE HIT TV SERIES CONTINUES AS A COMIC!’ The act of continuation is what demarcates this narrative shift from more traditional forms of transmedia re-location.
Similarly, fans of Jericho can now visit their local comic store and pick up Season Four (although it remains uncertain if this will continue due to poor sales. The profit principle remains the pre-eminent factor in rationalising whether a narrative’s lifespan continues or is left incomplete in textual purgatory).
A decade following the end of The X-Files on television and Season Ten began in a comic book series published by IDW which picks up after the most recent film, I Want to Believe and ties in with the overarching canonical mythology. Although The X-Files has had a number of comic book series in the past, they did not tie-in with the TV series causally– in comic book parlance, they were not a part of so-called ‘official’ continuity and therefore non-canonical. The decision to name the comic books after the televisual – that is, as a ‘season’ – is particularly interesting, and strives to inform audiences that this is, also, an ‘official’ story-extension and thus a part of the TV series’ continuity. This problematises the notion of ‘tie-ins’ and ‘spin-offs’ when the narrative is fundamentally connected to its earlier incarnation within a spatiotemporal level of seriality regardless of medium.
Perhaps Cheers can now return. Ted Danson may have aged into silver-haired Arthur Frobisher in FX’s Damages, just as Woody Harrelson may not be the fresh-faced, intellectually-challenged barman who lit up the screen with his faux-pas and charming cluelessness. But in comic books, one does not have to worry about aging actors or enticing them with inordinate sums of money to slip into old footwear and old clothes. In comic books, the story will always continue.
Well…until they are cancelled, that is.
What TV series would you like to see return in graphic form? Season Three of Twin Peaks? The early years of Jane Tennison, Inspector Morse, or Frost? Perhaps you would like to pay a visit to well-worn ‘friends,’ like Ross and Rachel or Chandler and Monica? Even Arthur ‘Fonzi’ Fonzarelli could return from the televisual graveyard and begin new adventures should there be an unexpected demand for more Happy Days.
What television series would you like to see return in comic book form?
William Proctor is a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland. His thesis investigates the reboot phenomenon in serial fiction (comic books, film and TV). William has published articles on the reboot in Scope: An Online Journal of Film and TV Studies (‘Regeneration and Rebirth: Anatomy of the Reboot’) and Scan: The Journal of Media Arts Culture (‘Beginning Again: The Reboot Phenomenon in Comics and Film’). He is also creator and editor of the blog, ‘Infinite Earths’ [infiniteearths.co.uk].