News: Natalie Portman leaves Thor; Musketeers, Episodes cancelled; young Hyacinth Bucket cast; + more

Film casting

Internet TV


New UK TV shows

  • Playground developing: adaptations of Fiona Barton’s The Widow and Thomas Grant’s Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories

New UK TV show casting

  • Kelly Reilly to star in Sky’s Britannia
  • Kerry Howard to star in BBC One’s Keeping Up Appearances prequel Young Hyacinth


US TV show casting

  • Fred

    Hi Rob, firstly I'm a big fan of your site, many thanks; but as customary I must follow a compliment with a complaint, albeit a small one! As has happened on several occasions, while digesting your daily snippets with a bowlful of porridge, I have nearly choked by the headline that one of my favorite shows has been CANCELLED!! My blood pressure subsequently drops after I've clicked the link and discovered that in fact the show in question (Episodes today!) is actually just ending after it's final season. For me Cancelled means a show has been pulled usually without any chance of resolution (I know sometimes the writers get enough time to create a hurried ending). But a show Ending after it's final season (which hasn't started airing and sometimes hasn’t even finished filming) usually means the creatives will be given an opportunity to conclude their story. I know grey areas exist, but surely if Cancelled and Ending are interchangeable then effectively all shows are ultimately cancelled (except the Simpson, that'll never die!). I hope you could maybe reword some of your headlines in the future, if only just to prevent spike rises in my, and I'm sure a few others, Blood Pressure!

  • Thanks for dropping by, Fred, and the kind words. I'm glad you enjoy the site. I hope you'll drop by more often! Always good to have (additional) intelligent and thoughtful comments.

    With regards to 'cancellation' and its definition, it's pretty much an industry-standard term, albeit occasionally nebulous, and one I have mused over in the past for pretty much the same reasons you suggest.

    So… sometimes, depending on who you're reading, who you're talking to, etc, etc, it means immediately removed from the screens; sometimes it means no more episodes will be made from now on; sometimes it means no more episodes will be made following the end of the current production block; sometimes it means no more episodes will be made at the end of this season once it's been aired; sometimes it means no more episodes will be made now that the season has already aired; and sometimes it can even mean there'll be another one or two seasons and then that will be it.

    Despite the differences over exact timing, what it definitely means, though, is that the network on which the show airs has decided that after a certain point, it won't be providing any more money to make any more episodes.

    'End', of course, implies a definite end. As you point out, all shows end eventually – announcing a show will end is a bit like saying “person xxx will die”: no big surprise as all men are mortal. If it's to have meaning beyond that, then the implication has to be that the show will end soon. 'Cancelled' doesn't imply that, as I've just pointed out.

    However, knowing that when a show is cancelled it's ending requires a certain precognitive skill these days. Consider Unforgettable and The White Queen – shows that were quite definitely cancelled but which carried on. Unforgettable was cancelled by CBS, then 'uncancelled' by CBS, then cancelled again by CBS, then picked up by A&E, and then cancelled again. The White Queen was a co-production between BBC One and Starz. BBC One cancelled The White Queen – it won't air on BBC One any more – but Starz didn't cancel it and they're making another series.

    Imagine if I were writing this blog in 1985. “Doctor Who to end”. No more Doctor Who? Whereas, of course, it was only cancelled, then uncancelled, then cancelled again a few years later, then uncancelled again after a decade and a half.

    So when I write that a show is cancelled, what I mean is that the stop point for money and further episodes on its current network(s) has now been determined.

    Although people do occasionally write in and say I shouldn't say cancelled, I think it's about as precise and safe a word as can be used, particularly in headlines, particularly when I've an hour to read all the news and then writing it down and I haven't had even a fraction as much coffee as I should have had. 😉

  • Fred

    Hi Rob, thanks for your (speedy) reply. I've not seen the thrice cancelled show you mentioned (that must be a record!), did it get an ending or was it just left open? I appreciate you assemble your daily news list very quickly, which is why I’m surprised you don't do a bit of ‘copy-paste-reedit’. For example the linked article headline for Episodes was “Matt LeBlanc’s ‘Episodes’ Ending After Season 5 on Showtime” which seems somehow less severe! I’m often pleased rather than upset when there is an announcement of my favorite show coming to an end (sometimes a creative choice rather than just financial e.g. Banshee and Spartacus), because I know they’ve got the chance for a good sendoff, instead of dragging on until the number of viewers drop and the axe finally falls!
    I'm not however convinced that 'Ending' is as terminal as you think, a chapter can end but the story can continue on. When a TV show you’ve invested many hours watching ends, you hope for a completion to that story, that doesn't mean another story arc couldn't resurface in the future. For Example, “Breaking Bad” ended its story with a satisfying conclusion, yet a new story emerged in the form of “Better Call Saul”. If you recall “Prison Break” quite definitively ended, yet somehow it will return (I’m assuming the “The Final Break” will be ignored). So I’m going end this post, but the thread may continue!

  • I never got further than episode one of Unforgettable, so I'm afraid I don't know if there was any closure: http://www.the-medium-is-not-e

    Copying and pasting headlines doesn't always work. For example, The Musketeers has been cancelled. Radio Times say that it's going to end; Broadcast and Metro says it's been axed. Which one should I copy and paste, or should I try to standardise on something? Again, cancelled works well in a pinch.

    To me, end is final. If a contract ends, it finishes; if a contract is cancelled, there might be 14 more days for it to run, say. And as you say, if a chapter ends, it ends. The story may not, but the chapter itself has ended.

    True, it's not entirely clear cut, since you can cancel trains and they won't run, but if you end trains, that feels a bit more final altogether, perhaps even a permanent cancellation (“The 11.27 to Scunthorpe is ending” vs “The 11.27 to Scunthorpe is cancelled”). To me, cancellation works better but YMMV.

    But yes, a mutually agreed cancellation can be a good thing, since it gives the creators a chance to end the story well and returns can be good, too (cf Doctor Who, but maybe not The X-Files). Of course, sometimes creators can sometimes decide to end things… but the networks might disagree with them: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.c

  • JustStark

    Seeing as there is obviously nothing better in this world than a good argument about semantics, I have been spending the last couple of days trying to analyse the denotational and connotational aspects of 'cancelled' with reference both to my own intuitions and evidence of usage.

    And the main thing that has become clear is that it's not as simple as I thought it would be: for every idea I come up with that might distinguish 'cancellation' from some other kind of ending, a counter-example presents itself.

    It doesn't help that the way the term is used in the TV industry is, well, idiosyncratic to say the least. For example, the only real common (ie, non-industry-jargon) aspect to all uses of 'cancel' that I can think of is that 'to cancel' something requires an active step.

    The OED entry, which I first thought unhelpful, is actually on reflection quite illuminating in this regard. None of the senses given relate directly to the idea of cancelling a on ongoing service or occurrence; they basically all revolve around the idea of defacing or striking something out (so for example, you cancel a term from both sides of an equation by striking it out; or you cancel a page with an error on it by taking it out of the book and replacing it with the correct one) or of making something null (so for example a loss can cancel a gain made elsewhere; or you can cancel a contract by legally annulling it).

    [The word comes from the Latin for 'cross-bars, lattice', ie, how you would scribble over a word to remove it, and is related to 'cancel', it, the bit of the church separated by a rail or lattice]

    So to extend this, a single event (eg, a concert or play) would be cancelled by removing it from a proposed or published programme; and therefore an ongoing event would be cancelled by erasing all of its future occurrences from the programme or diary.

    The key thing is that the thing has to exist before it can be cancelled. You can't cancel something that was never even tentatively scheduled.

    So for example, you can allow something which has a fixed term to end passively, by ignoring it and letting it run its course: if I have a one-year contract with someone to tend my garden, for example, and I actively end the contract before the year is up, the contract ends and I have cancelled it. However if I just don't do anything to extend the contract and the year passes, then the contract has ended but it wasn't cancelled, because I didn't do anythign to cause it to end.

    Or, if a bus company announces it will run evening buses to a village for a three-month period to gauge demand, and after that three month-period decides a service is not viable and the buses stop, the evening service wasn't 'cancelled'. If, however, the evening service was announced and scheduled then erasing it from the schedules would count as 'cancelling'. Note the service doesn't have to have started to be cancelled, it just needs to have been scheduled: 'Bus company cancels proposed evening service' is fine. there just has to have been some indication that something would happen, and then an active decision that it will no longer happen.

    So far so simple.


    The television industry, especially in the US, just has to complicate things by inventing a weird legal limbo with contracts that neither are ongoing, nor expire, but last for, say, a year, with an option to extend for another year (and another, and another…).

    So are these future years actually scheduled or not? One side of the argument is no: the contract lasts for a year and then it's up. Unless the channel actively renews, the contract ends. But on the other side, the terms of the contract are expected, at least potentially, to extend beyond the year: the second year is not covered by a new contract, or even by an extension to the original contract, but by the same contract.

    And to add to that second point, most TV 'cancellations' then do happen as a result of passively not activating these options. Which would seem to be the opposite of the common-sense use of the word, in that it would be cancelling something that never existed, except for the fact that the open-ended nature of the contract means that it sort-of did exist, so not activating the option is sort-of an active as well as a passive act.

    And of course some TV series don't get cancelled, they do end, because they were never intended to continue: topically, The Night Manager has not been cancelled, because there was never any intention to make another series, due to them running out of book. Or Ultraviolet, where as I understand it there were vague thoughts about maybe doing a second series, but they never got far enough that it was a concrete enough project to be cancelled.

    All of which is to say that cancel is a bad word to use here, but there may not be a better one, and that it's an example of 'jargon leakage' where an industry-specific term starts being used in the wider world, but in slightly different sense to how the wider world usually uses it, causing confusion.

    And the whole thing reminds me of that old story about Hollywood that nobody will ever tell you 'No' to your face, whether it's about buying your script, making your film, or casting you to act: they will smile, tell you how great you are, and then just never call you back. Conflict-averse 'passive cancellation' seems, from what I have heard, to be the order of the day over there…

  • Fred

    Thanks guys, for your exquisite responses; once we've laid this issue to bed, all other world problems will be solved with ease! JustShark's last paragraph made me smile, because 'Episodes', the show that triggered my initial comment is at its funniest when poking fun at that faux “It's fantastic!!” response given by 'TV people' to scripts, TV pitches etc. This is then usually followed by an unhelpful suggestion:
    “Well, for starters, I think we could really up the comedy.
    Beverly (The writer): Oh my gosh, if you could get it up that would be wonderful!”