The impossible has happened. You, an aspiring writer, have landed a first look deal with a studio. Your pilot, an imaginative romp through time and space, has piqued the interest of the execs and earned a first season. Essentially, you just won the lottery. Congratulations!
About five episodes in, however, ratings are stagnant. There's simply too much TV out there, and your gimmicky episodes aren't holding viewers the way the moneymakers had intended. Even though you have a LOYAL base of fans, you're not seeing the eyeballs that you really want. Before Season 1 is even in the can, you get the word that there won't be a Season 2.
This tale is more common than you'd think. In the television industry, getting a show on the air is very much a roll of the dice. Is your pilot script strong? It may get purchased and never produced. Maybe you interested the execs enough to go to production, but they won't purchase any more than the pilot episode. And then sometimes you get a season commitment, but they just can't see it going any further than that.
Such was the case with NBC's Timeless, the brainchild of Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke. After a fun first season, they were told they had been cancelled. Since this is the Age of Information, news spread in a heartbeat. Overnight, the fans rallied in a massive campaign, papering the network with letters demanding the return of the time travel series (digitally, as this isn't 1980). Three days later, NBC reversed the decision, but held the show off the air for a year for review.
You've undoubtedly heard stories of fans bringing shows back from the dead. Family Guy was cancelled and returned numerous times. Firefly found a second life in a feature film. And now, Timeless can be added to their ranks as a series brought back by the will of the audience.
What does it mean to get a second season? Well, it is important to remember that this industry--bound in art and creatively--is nonetheless a business. Everything is about money. Airing one show denies the network the ability to air another. Putting a series up against one from another network is a risk. If Shonda Rhimes already has something in that time slot, it might be better to just air car commercials for an hour.
First seasons aren't cheap by any means, but they can be negotiated well down from the showrunner's original intent. Still, even with the advances in technology and filming of the last decade, a single season of a show will cost tens of millions of dollars. That's big kid money right there. A second season requires new contracts (more often than not) for the cast and crew. Wages go up. Episode lengths change.
Often, when a show is cancelled suddenly before a following season (usually before the fifth), it is due to the exponential increase in costs. Actors devote YEARS of their lives to these projects. Some shows can be so intense that there is no room for other pursuits. Law and Order is basically your life, once you're a recurring character. As such, they expect to be (and should be) paid very well for their time.
All of this adds up to large numbers preceded by a dollar sign. If the execs at the network don't believe they can earn that back, or the ad execs don't think they can sell the commercial time, then the show is unlikely to see a second (or more) season, no matter the fan outcry.
So how can you keep your favorite shows on the air?
Watch the show THE NIGHT IT AIRS! Unless you are one of the "lucky" Americans with a Nielsen Box, you aren't helping the series by watching it a month after the fact. You need to tune into the show as it's airing. You need to watch it on Hulu within three days. You need to call your friends and demand they do the same.
There are hundreds of scripted shows on the air now, and thousands of pre-development shows ready to take their place. If you want to keep your show alive, you need to become a part of it. There is no more "passive fandom." Shows take work. Honestly, you'll be happier if you do.
Anyway, I guess this is a long way of me saying: Guys, you should be watching Timeless.