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Five TV Shows That Suffered From Network Interference

Wouldn't it be a fun world if networks just gave creative freedom to creators and showrunners? Sure, sometimes corporate executives know better what to do with someone else's story (one out of fifty times), but in most occasions their meddling is of no help. Let's take a look below at some shows that struggled with network interference and just how much it affected them.

Warning: spoilers follow.

Veronica Mars was a little show that had a terrific first season. Season two was also very good, albeit not as polished. Each of those seasons featured long arcs that interwove with one another. For year three, however, Rob Thomas decided to follow an advice from one of The CW execs and broke the season into three smaller, separate arcs. I didn't mind that, that could have worked (and it worked on another show).

The problem was that The CW cut two episodes from the episode order and told Thomas to replace the final arc (which sounded great, with Wallace and Mac as prime suspects) with standalone stories. The writers did their best to deliver some worthy episodes, but it just wasn't the same. And the network's maneuver did nothing to help the show reach a bigger audience. To the contrary, the ratings plummeted, the show got cancelled and the story was left unfinished.

Thankfully, nearly ten years later, a movie financed by fans wrapped things up, and now the show is coming back for an eight-episode season on Hulu.

The apocalyptic drama was an immediate hit, so one would expect AMC treated it accordingly. Instead, for the show's sophomore season, they cut the budget in half and doubled the episode order. The executives also passed some ridiculous notes to the writers, including one that said the zombies only needed to be heard, not seen, onscreen (to spare money from makeup). It all led to season two being incredibly slow and to Frank Darabont getting fired, reportedly for trying to stay true to his visions for the show.

That didn't hurt The Walking Dead in the long run, but I suspect that AMC's unwillingness to set an end date for the series might be the fatal bite, as critics and fans have grown tired of the cyclical, repetitive nature of the story, and the audience has started to check out. Time will tell.

I don't know if Firefly should be in this list. It would probably fit better in something like "TV shows completely screwed over by the network," pardon the word. Fox butchered Joss Whedon's show: they ditched the original pilot (which would have been a great series premiere, but was actually the final episode Fox broadcast), dumped the series to the Friday night death slot, aired the episodes out of order and unceremoniously cancelled the show midway through season one. It's not that they didn't get Whedon's vision, they disrespected it.

Later we were blessed with a movie that finished off the story, but ask any fan, they will tell you, Firefly deserved much better. As Billie wrote on her review of Serenity, its only flaw is that it wasn't 22 episodes long.

Ah, Whedon and Fox, a match made in heaven, ain't it? To be honest, Whedon didn't understand his Dollhouse as well as he knew his Firefly, but the vision he had for Eliza Dushku's vehicle was not the same one that Fox had. While Whedon wanted to make a more personal show and explore topics such as identity, Fox saw Dollhouse as the second coming of Alias.

They told Whedon to shelve the pilot episode and shoot another first episode, one that should consist of a standalone plot. While Whedon's original pilot wasn't perfect, it presented Dollhouse's world in a much more intriguing way. Fox's strategy to start the series with standalone episodes didn't help the show at all, to the point that the marketing for the show became "wait until the sixth episode, that's when the story kicks into high gear."

Eventually the writers figured out a way to combine the more personal tales they wanted to tell with the spy-oriented stories Fox demanded, but most of the audience had already checked out by then. At least Fox had the decency to renew the show for a second season, but Whedon knew that that was all he was going to get and decided to cram four years of stories – he had five planned – into season two. That resulted in a season that delivered some terrific episodes but that also stumbled on its way to the finish line. Between the network meddling of season one and the rushed storytelling of year two, I have a feeling that Dollhouse never really got a chance to shine on its own terms.

In fact, if there is a Whedon series that I think should be rebooted, this is the one. In a platform like HBO or Netflix, he would be able to stick to his visions and guns, and explore the fascinating post-apocalyptic future we only saw brief spots of. I would totally watch that reboot.

I wasn't expecting to write so much about Dollhouse. I think I really cared about the series, even if for a little while.

Has any other long-running series suffered more from network meddling than Alias? I don't think so. Through most of the show's five year run, ABC kept butting in the writers' business, which I believe was partially responsible for the show's decline in quality.

When Alias first began, it was extremely serialized, in a time when serialized storytelling wasn't that popular with networks. Nearly every episode ended on a cliffhanger, a pattern that wasn't syndication friendly, so for season two ABC told the writers to get rid of (most of) the cliffhangers. That didn't change the arc-heavy nature of the series, though. Alias remained fascinatingly complex, which also meant it was hard for new viewers to jump in on board at a random episode. ABC's solution was to prematurely wrap up the series' major arc, ending Sydney's days as a double agent in SD-6, thus simplifying the story a lot. While the unexpected twist worked wonders in season two, later seasons never measured up to the glory of the SD-6's days.

Then, after a convoluted third year, ABC decided that season four should initially focus on standalone episodes. The show was revamped into something that resembled season one, albeit simpler. Alas, it became Alias for dummies. Or a light version of La Femme Nikita. Either way, even though there were some very good episodes and parts of season four were extremely fun, it simply wasn't as great as Alias had once been, not even when the arc story finally began.

For season five, the show was allowed to go all serialized again, but by then, Alias was facing so many complications behind the cameras, that it was no surprise when ABC pulled the plug.


  1. Lamounier, I swear we have the same brain. :) I loved all five of these shows, some of them with a passion. And interestingly, I reviewed every episode of four of them, and a good chunk of the fifth (which would be The Walking Dead. Sigh.

  2. I definitely don't feel the separate arcs really the problems with Season 3 as some folks seem to claim. You could definitely tell that doing one big arc with a 20 something episode season was tricky (probably more so with Veronica Mars because it was mystery based). But sadly things got a bit messy with VM S3 and the show didn't quite go out on a great note. Other shows have definitely shown that splitting your season into arcs or halves can be beneficial to keep up the momentum (if you're going pretty serialized) even if it isn't always perfect (See SHIELD S2 and 3). AOS S4 did relatively well with 3 arcs but sadly the finale couldn't quite handle the weight of all that plot and it led to a whimper of an ending that set up a fairly weak fifth year (yeah, I'm still not over it, thankfully it's not the last).

    Although on the topic of SHIELD, Whedon shows keep managing to find ways to get screwed. Although at least with ANGEL Season 5 some executive meddling (Spike) at least forced the writers to get creative (even when they were sadly cancelled) and it led to arguably their best year. Others were less fortunate if not necessarily unloved. Still Dollhouse can definitely be appreciated for it's ambition and solid performances and can definitely be considered ahead of it's time when stuff like Orphan Black and Westworld would follow.

  3. televisionandotherrantings, I definitely agree that season five was Angel's best. I can remember how we all argued that Spike moving to Angel would be a mistake -- *two* vampires with souls would ruin their uniqueness -- but instead it was sooo good. And then they went and cancelled the show at its peak. So wrong.

  4. The brilliant thing is they used the two vampires with a soul thing as an actual plot point to have them both bicker over the Shanshu Prophecy. And of course their was all that tension that already existed between them. It led to some solid development for both of them, and great banter for the audience.

    Them going out that way was kind of bummer but as someone who watched the series after the fact I'm glad that they were able to go out on the top of their game which even Buffy wasn't quite able to do. Plus I'd imagine that that Boreanaz and Marsters ages would have eventually become an issue for the whole immortal vampire thing so I can't imagine the show could have run for that much longer anyway. We might not have gotten so much Supernatural if the Winchesters were vampires lol.

  5. [Comment 1 of 2]

    Interesting article, and I was a big fan of all of the shows listed.

    Lamounier, do you have much more information about the changed third arc from season three of Veronica Mars which would have featured Wallace and Mac as suspects? Is there an interview with Rob Thomas where he explains it in more detail or describes what the crime would have been? I'd never heard this particular tidbit before so am quite intrigued!

    I think Veronica Mars is still one of my all-time favourite shows, certainly close to Buffy (which probably has the advantage based on sheer volume of episodes and for spawning Angel and the wider Buffyverse). There are a lot of other shows I have loved which have enjoyed the prestige and status that comes with more "serious" or "realistic" genres, such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The West Wing, Mad Men etc. And that's not to say these shows are overrated or unworthy of the adoration and acclaim they received - they definitely are! And none of those mentioned are above humour, playfulness, or experimentation, but I think it's a real shame that "genre" shows like Buffy, despite receiving a lot of acclaim and a sizeable cult following over time, will generally never quite receive the same level of recognition and respect they are due and that they do deserve to be in that exalted TV pantheon.

    I actually think the first two seasons of Veronica Mars were both exceptionally strong and confident, creating this dynamic, believable, harsh world with a huge cast of dinstinctive characters and managing to craft two complex central season-long mysteries. I liked that the majority of the mystery-of-the-week cases in season one were usually unrelated to the overarching mystery so provided some relief and contrast to the Lily Kane murder, whereas in season two they deliberately created the mystery so that many of the episodic cases did tie into and bolster the bush crash.

    I think season three just wasn't quite as structurally sound as the first two and is frequently critiqued for this, but in principle I don't think this was a bad idea to play with the formula and do something different and not let the audience get complacent. I mean by that point people had become used to not getting a resolution until episode 22, so you knew that in episode 6 or 7 the likely suspect(s) at that point were going to be red herrings, whereas having the campus rape or murder storylines resolved in a much more compact episode span was unexpected and allowed them to move onto something different quicker, rather than stretch it out for a whole season and bring in more plot twists and characters for one case.

  6. [Comment 2 of 2]

    I can understand why most of the audience didn't like this though. Perhaps it would have been better to stick to the existing seasonal structure for the first college year (often a fraught transition in teen TV shows), let new characters like Piz and Parker settle in, and then if they were maintaining viewing figures (or managing to increase them - if only!) and had got a season four, then they could have started playing with the formula at that point. I think for a lot of the audience it was just more change at one time than they wanted to see.

    However I do wonder how much of the blame for falling ratings can be directly attributed to the shorter mystery arcs. Of course hardcore fans would probably have read about the change before the season started and from interviews with Rob, the cast etc. but I doubt any casual viewers would necessarily have known about the changes when watching the show. They would have started the third season just assuming the structure would work the same way as before and this wouldn't actually have become apparent within the show itself until season three, episode nine "Spit and Eggs" with the first mini-mystery being resolved but then leading directly to the second mini-mystery. (Caveat - I am assuming here that there is such a thing as a non-obsessive Veronica Mars fan, which I have yet to encounter!) Which is again what I love about the show - even when they tried to break the mystery into smaller chunks, they are still feel organically related to the titular character and the environment she's in and people she knows rather than feeling like some random case forced into her world by a network suit (say if the mystery became one Veronica became involved in via Mars Investigations rather than her school or college).

    Anyway, I'm very glad the news has officially come through today as regards a new Hulu season of Veronica Mars. I really enjoyed the film, if I had one criticism I think they tried to shoehorn in just a few too many cameos as fan-service rather than let it stand on its own, but the strength of the show was always the ability to introduce a mystery and let it play out over time and with a wide sprawling cast of characters and plot elements, rather than introduce and resolve it within 2 hours. I also think it'll be really interesting to continue with the adult versions of the characters picking up at a later stage of their lives and explore that a bit more, in a way the film wasn't able to do in great detail. I hope characters like Mac and Wallace are given interesting stuff to do too. I also don't really want the Veronica-Logan tortured love story to continue in the same cycles it has been for so long, by season three I was getting tired of it. I have never been the biggest fan of the relationship, but I know most fans love it, so I think it's time for Rob to focus on writing them as a relatively stable, mature relationship and make that interesting rather than finding ridiculous, convoluted reasons to break them up and get them back together again.

  7. televisionandotherrantings and Billie, I agree that the network meddling worked well for Angel.

    Marc, great comment. I read about the cancelled arc years ago, but the article didn't have much information about Wallace and Mac beyond what I said. It did say, however, that the seeds for the third arc would have been planted during the second arc (just like the seeds for the second were planted during the first). I will look it up, though, and get back to you. :)

    As for the movie, it allowed us to spend some time with the characters (I had missed Veronica's banter so, so much) and to give their stories some closure, but I though the mystery itself wasn't that intriguing and interesting. Which is why I'm excited for the new season. With a handful of episodes, Rob Thomas can definitely work his noir magic.

  8. To me the worst example of network meddling was JOAN OF ARCADIA. They had a brilliant first season, in which both the show and the main actress (Amber Temblyn) were nominated for Emmys, and critics loved the show. But in Season 2 CBS kept agonizing over "low ratings". When Joan had a crisis of faith, the network demanded that the writers restore the status quo within a single episode. When the writers introduced a fascinating new character ( think of Faith in BUFFY), the networks made them kill her off. Then somebody introduced a subplot about Joan's family getting wrongly sued in court; this dragged on for much of the season even though the suit made no legal sense. Then came the coup de grace: The network ordered the writers to split up Joan and her boyfriend because that would be "dramatic". Most of the fans deserted the show as a result. Then the network head declared the show a basket case and ordered it cancelled. The head's name, by the way, was Les Mooves.

  9. Actually I read about a GOOD example of network meddling, and it concerned VERONICA MARS. It seems that the creator originally wanted Ronnie to have a bad relationship with her Dad. The network said no, Ronnie should be devoted to her father, to the point of wanting to follow in his footsteps as a detective. The creator of the show later admitted that was a better idea.

  10. This made me want to do an Alias rewatch...


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