We are headed into the Upfronts when the broadcast networks unveil their 2017–18 schedules to the advertisers. On Monday, May 15, NBC will have its presentation, and by that time (if not before) we should know which shows from the current season are cancelled and which ones will continue for another year. One science fiction show in particular has drawn a lot of fan support has people eagerly awaiting word on its fate.
That show is the time travel entry #Timeless, which struggled in the ratings during its freshman season — especially after its winter break — and its fate its tenuous at the moment. Based strictly on the numbers, NBC could give it the axe and keep another show from the current season going or give the greenlight to one of the pilots it has in development. However, that would be a mistake, as Timeless has garnered a very strong fanbase that is vocal on social media. I believe this is something the networks should embrace in the Peak TV crunch. Fox ignored similar signs in a less-enlightened age 15 years ago and cut short the fan-favorite Firefly when it could have become the next major sci-fi franchise.
What Is Timeless?
In this series a research institute has developed a machine that can travel through time, but one man (Garcia Flynn) steals it and heads back to change history. A team is put together consisting of a historian, a soldier and an engineer who use a prototype time machine to go after Flynn. Each week they travel to a different period in time trying to undo the historical changes caused by their nemesis while also trying to keep from further corrupting the timeline with their own actions.
The show was created by Shawn Ryan of The Shield fame along with Eric Kripke, best know for creating the long-running Supernatural (which is heading into its thirteenth year next season). It stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Barrett and Goran Višnjić.
Why Should You Be Watching It?
Because it’s a pretty good show and it is definitely the best of the recent crop of time travel-themed shows, including Time After Time (ABC), Frequency (The CW), Travelers (Netflix), and Making History (Fox). It delivers decent science fiction tales, but also focuses on its well-developed characters who avoid the typical genre stereotypes. Of course, as with any time travel tale delivered by television and movies, it does play fast and loose with its temporal logic, but it’s hard to fault the series for that when even iconic entries like Star Trek and Back to the Future have done the same.
This one reminds me of the 1960s series Time Tunnel, though without that show’s frequent descents into camp. Consider it a decent updating of the time travel concept that does more than take us to different historical locations for an action-story-of-the-week. Timeless has much better developed characters who frequently have to contend with the moral dilemmas that time travel presents, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
What Are Fans Doing To Help The Show?
This series developed a following when it first launched last fall. The devotion of those fans has reached a feverish pitch since the first season wrapped up, with many trying to convince NBC to keep Timeless around for a second year. The main thing fans are currently doing is staging episode re-watch “parties” on Mondays at 10 PM EST when the show was originally airing (that’s flexible within a few hours depending on what time zone you are in). Fans watch the episodes and live-Tweet with the #RenewTimeless handle to get the show trending. A specific episode is chosen each week so that all fans are in sync.
In addition, fans are writing to NBC, buying episode downloads, signing the petition and more. You can read more about the campaign here.
Why Should NBC Be Paying Attention?
Because the old-school networks (and that includes the cable channels) should be embracing an engaged audience in the Peak TV era. As more and more options for scripted programming become available, viewership levels (as measured by the Nielsens) are dropping at a record pace. The fact is that the old methods of measuring viewership are not capturing the full picture. Delayed and digital viewership are discounted (especially by the Big Four broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) even though those give a more holistic view of the audience. Timeless regularly performed well with delayed viewing and likely also has had good digital viewing numbers as well (the networks do not share those stats, though). It was also the Number 1 show voted for by fans in USA Today's Save Our Shows poll.
In addition, activity on the social networks helps promote shows like Timeless and draw in more viewers. Fans of this show have been very active in that arena, especially the last few months. NBC should not discount the free promotion it is getting, and at this point it would likely be cheaper for the network to keep this show going with its active fanbase rather than sink money into a new production that faces the same challenges of finding an audience in the current, uber-competitive TV environment.
Don’t Repeat The History Of Firefly
The social networks had a very different look back in 2002 when Firefly aired on Fox (mostly just forums and Usenet groups then), but if the network had paid more attention they may have made a different decision. Between the buzz on the internet and the people that showed support through write-in campaigns, the indication was that Fox had something special on its hands. Unfortunately, they were too ensconced in old-school thinking to understand that.
Nowadays, the networks need to be more forward-facing and pay attention to the trending buzz on the internet. Timeless has developed quite an impressive following willing to put out the extra effort to support and promote the show. In the current environment, a network should embrace that and try to partner with the fans to develop the show into a potential long-running franchise.
The cancellation of Firefly was a huge missed opportunity for Fox and the network ignored the signs that the show could have been the next big thing for sci-fi TV. NBC does not want to make the same mistake with Timeless. The old-school numbers may have the show very much on the bubble, but the social network activity and delayed viewing (and likely digital viewing) suggest a much larger audience. The network needs to look at those stats and embrace the show’s engaged audience, giving Timeless the second season it deserves to prove itself.
Have you been watching Timeless? What else do you think fans should do to save the show?