After just one season, FX has decided to cancel the period drama The Bastard Executioner from the creator of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter.
The decision was made because the show is a difficult and costly one to producer, and the ratings simply weren’t there or growing enough to move forward with a season two. Sutter himself understands the decision, and is making an effort to make sure everyone knows why the decision was made while also showing great appreciation for the work everyone has done in helping him make the show, even taking out an ad in the Hollywood trades to say thank you. You can see the ad and what else Sutter had to say about the cancellation below.
Even a couple of months back, when Sutter was wrapping up the season one finale for The Bastard Executioner that aired last night, he was aware it was likely over but didn’t tell the cast because it wasn’t official just yet and he didn’t want to spoil the energy for the big finish.
Sutter talked about his awareness of the ratings and why it made sense to pull the plug:
“Good reviews are wonderful and so are awards, but for me, I’m very aware of ratings because my job as a storyteller is to engage and hook an audience. Ratings let me know that I’m doing my job. This show premiered low, and we never really established a baseline where we could say, OK, that’s our audience. We would find ourselves down a tenth here and there and I saw it coming. I have a really good relationship with [FX president John] Landgraf and we’ve been talking the whole time and it’s as heartbreaking for him as anything else. He loves the show and feels that eventually it would hook an audience. But it just comes down to arithmetic. If you don’t have that baseline, you can’t go to advertisers and say, this is the audience we have, so you just can’t sustain the cost of the show. That’s the other reason I took the ad. When a show gets canceled, there’s often this perception that, oh, it’s a failure, or the network didn’t support it and pulled the plug. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Everybody was incredibly supportive, and gave me everything I needed. This is not a mutual decision; because at the end of the day, I don’t make the call. But I knew it was heartbreaking for Landgraf and I basically said, look, I know what’s going to happen here. And he said, how do you want to tell everyone.”
When a show is canceled sometimes its loyal fanbase can become outraged, and they will make their voices heard trying to change the mind of the network or hoping to see the show move to a new network, but Sutter didn’t want that to happen:
“I’m not a showrunner who sits in an ivory tower, writes the words and passes them down. I’m very plugged into the impact it has on the audience. It’s my theater background, I’m very aware of audience response and reaction. To push, or try to sell it somewhere else, it somehow feels a little too desperate. This show is a very difficult one to produce. Maybe some of this was me not taking a break after Sons before jumping into this, but this show almost fucking killed me. Mainly, I just feel like I don’t want to write a show that no one’s watching. That’s not my job, to produce something to make money. My job is to produce something that entertains and engages an audience and I just felt like we hit a point where that was going to be too difficult to do. I didn’t want to put Landgraf in a position where he had to lower the axe on me. No pun intended. My guess is that a year from now, when people actually watch it, there will be a sense of, hey, where’s the next episode? Right now, we just couldn’t catch the audience we needed and I wanted to let people know this wasn’t about the evil forces of 20th and Fox pulling the plug and shutting us down.”
He also spoke about why The Bastard Executioner never really caught on and won over a large enough audience, if perhaps his approach was too dark or if it was because there’s already plenty of period dramas out there. But ultimately he is proud of the final product and its subject matter, which touches on things still relevant to this day:
“I didn’t want this show to be about the execution of the week. Some of the things I wanted to convey, you’ll get a bigger piece of the mythology in the finale. What is so ironic and sad is, it was such a brutal environment that was driven by this sense of holiness and in the name of god, and the irony in that is a big theme to me. It’s something that continues to resonate. You look at what happened in Paris, all of that done in the name of god. It’s a theme that continues to penetrate and impact our society and it literally has never changed. There was no period where it was more vivid or applied than the Middle Ages, especially before the Renaissance. When the Renaissance hit, there was some sense of ideals and trying to incorporate some sense of humanity. Before that, life was so fragile and there was no sense of the impact of the loss of human life. That was a big theme to me that I feel I was able to communicate.
Today, what I want to say is, hey, this was a great ride and we did something really great that we’re proud of, and we apparently were meant to do it for only one season and we’ll move onto something else.”
As for what that something else will be, next up for Sutter is finding a showrunner for that Sons of Anarchy spinoff series focusing on the Mayan biker club. He also might just finally direct his feature film debut, titled Delivering Gen. He recently branched out into writing movies with the boxing drama Southpaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal.