On the surface, the idea that NBC should once again save Timeless is ludicrous. After all, the ratings are worse than last season. Deadline and other entertainment business news sources had reported that NBC and Sony Pictures Television (SPT) could save Timeless via a package with The Blacklist. However, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter (THR), The Blacklist is a go – but there’s still no word on Timeless.
Believe it or not, there are some good arguments as to why NBC should save Timeless. Some points are altruistic, but others are business-oriented. What’s one thing many of these reasons to save Timeless have in common? They have a historical connection to another NBC show. That show is the original Star Trek.
The 5 Reasons NBC Should Save Timeless
1. Why Save Timeless? Killing it Now is Basically Throwing Money Away.
I know, you would think canceling Timeless would be the move to save money, right? Variety reported Timeless as costing 4.5 million an episode. That’s an expensive show, especially for network television.
Here’s the thing. Timeless ended with a doozy of a cliffhanger. With only 24 episodes and no wrapped up ending, this isn’t something that will get a decent syndication deal or be added to a streaming platform catalog. However, with streaming services, a viewer is more interested in a complete story than the number of seasons. Most people don’t want to binge a show that they know didn’t wrap the story up.
As the saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound. This isn’t suggesting that Timeless should go for 100 episodes – which is the classic syndication number. Even if it’s just a 10-episode 2019 summer show, Timeless needs at least one more season so that writers can end it well.
Why should NBC care about this? Sony and NBC’s parent company Universal both have a stake in Timeless. The chance to recoup what they’ve put into it is in their best interest. Ending now makes that less likely. Sure, this way of thinking is a bit of a steal from the CW’s entire network structure, but it works.
What Are the Odds of Recoupment?
Nothing is a given about a show getting picked up for syndication or streaming. However, Sci-fi shows usually do well the second time around – especially when it’s got a niche fanbase. Just look at how the Fox show Fringe has done. Fox played the long game with a good sci-fi series and it worked out. It’s gone to the Science channel, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and now it’s on Verizon’s Go90. (I’m sure Fox wishes they had more episodes of Firefly.)
Of course, NBC has had its own experience with this. Star Trek is the original, saved by the fans show. It’s ratings the first time around were not stellar either. It was saved after the second season by a massive fan campaign. Fifty years later…
Today, the fans that brought Timeless back from the dead last season display a similar intensity to those original Trekies. Timeless also has some historical congruence with Star Trek. (I’ll get more into that during the “altruistic” reasons to renew it.) Overall though, there’s a good chance that giving the show a proper ending is a public relations gift that will keep on giving long after its original run.
2. Save Timeless, Again? What About the Ratings?
Given the ratings that have Timeless in this predicament, why should these companies think anyone wants to see the show? Well, aside from the history of Star Trek, Fringe was a live-ratings nightmare as well. The show’s overnight ratings were bad, but it made up some ground in DVR viewing.
Back in 2012, a 60 percent jump added to the ratings was good. Timeless is hitting numbers much higher than that. It’s had sometimes as much as a 100 percent increase in the 18-49 demo for L+7. In viewership, the increase has been in the low eighties. (It goes up to a 1.1 – 1.2). Timeless is also consistently ahead of Blindspot in its DVR increase numbers, at times it’s enough to have them switch in the actual rankings.
One reason for the DVR jumps could be the show’s timeslot. There are so many good shows of all stripes – deep dramas, puzzling procedurals, cute comedies, and even some rollicking reality competitions. Who has time to watch them all when they first air or stream?. I doubt even full-time TV reviewers can do it, nevermind people whose main jobs don’t entail watching tons of television
Another issue with that time slot is that after a tough day at the office some shows are easier than others. That’s a big reason why half-hour comedies have historically done so well. Timeless is fun sci-fi, but it’s also wrestling with deeper issues and giving a weekly history lesson. People may like smart TV, but maybe not always on a school night.
Streaming Creates a Whole Other Issue With Ratings
According to Pew Research, there’s a whole other audience when it comes to streaming, and it’s a desirable one.
About six-in-ten of those ages 18 to 29 (61%) say the primary way they watch television now is with streaming services on the internet, compared with 31% who say they mostly watch via a cable or satellite subscription.
In other words, there’s an audience that is far more likely watching Timeless streaming on Hulu than on NBC. If they haven’t seen it yet, giving the show the time to wrap it up makes it more likely that they will. How does that help NBC? While Disney has the controlling stake in Hulu, NBCUniversal does have a piece of that pie.
3. Here is the Big Altruistic Point: Timeless is Actually Saving History.
In terms of shows that have already been canceled, there are a couple of shows I’m sorry to see leaving the television landscape. NBC’s Taken had (finally) started to improve. I also liked ABC’s Deception. That show reminded me a bit of Leverage – which was always a lot of fun. Granted, I’d gotten behind on Deception. (I’d been planning to get around to watching this summer. Oh well!)
Yet, I’m not writing an article to save Taken or Deception. The only show I’m writing about saving is Timeless. Here’s why: the show about saving history could actually end up…saving history.
Yes, History Does Need Saving
We are living in interesting (some would say “difficult”) times. Forget about what the politicians are doing. Last month, this was the headline from Newsweek:
One-third Of Americans Don’t Believe 6 Million Jews Were Murdered During The Holocaust.
The report that the Newsweek article is based on goes on to say that this is especially prevalent “among millennials.” Then there are things like this 2015 clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show. In a segment called “Lie Witness News,” he asked people on the street what they thought of the speech Martin Luther King had given that morning. Even Kimmel was shocked at what he got.
Half of the people didn’t know Martin Luther King was dead?! What has been going on with the teaching of history in this country?! Well, a lot – and it’s not good.
The Problem With “Alternative Facts.”
Those Who Cannot Remember the Past Are Condemned to Repeat It. – George Santayana
In our current times, the rise of “alternative facts” seems to be getting worse, not better. In Texas, school history books have been rewritten distorting the truth about several things, including saying that slavery was “a side issue” of the Civil War. With the click of a mouse, the current federal administration has, “ systematically removed, altered or played down on websites across the federal government…” issues about climate change (New York Times). Similar kinds of actions, removing key fact-based terminology from federal policies and practices have been occurring across the Federal Government.
What’s even more disturbing than alternative facts is the rise in neo-nazism and overt racism. This thing of “living while black” – where black people get the cops called on them for things a white person wouldn’t – has been going on forever. Now though, there are people who are actually proud to say they are members of the KKK.
Even the current President of the United States described neo-nazis groups and KKK as having “some fine people” involved with them. There seems to be a memory lapse occurring across the country about the evil these organizations contain. Anyone with a basic knowledge and understanding of history finds these things abhorrent – regardless of who they voted for.
4. Timeless Saves History Through the Content and Its Characters.
First, The Content.
Timeless is a show that combats this in a way that engages people in history through the connection to the personal dramas of its principal cast. The closest thing to it might have been Downton Abbey. Timeless thought doesn’t just take viewers through what happened in the past. Like Clarence does for George in It’s a Wonderful Life, Timeless shows viewers what we would lose if certain historical events never happened.
Because of these things, Timeless functions as an expensive version of School House Rock for history. (Remember “My Hero Zero“?) Having history recorded in this way will keep it in our culture realm regardless of the textbooks or anything else that might change.
Next, The Characters.
Timeless has a diverse, nuanced and flawed cast of characters. There’s the brave and questioning everything historian Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) and her soldier and white knight Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter). The villain who’s not really a villain, Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) is a perfect foil for Wyatt. Together, these three create quite the triangle.
However, Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph), the somewhat fickle and shallow tech billionaire that invented the time machine, is a black guy. That is huge! Equally impressive is that the only people able to pilot the time machines are: the sweet nerd Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), smart and fearless Jiya (Claudia Doumit), and this season’s best re-occurring character, the cold-blooded and complex Emma Whitmore (Annie Wersching).
An African-American man, a Lebanese-American woman, and Caucasian women are the only people that could master the calculations needed to fly that thing? Wow! You also can’t forget that the entire crew is led by a first generation Indian woman. Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey) has two kids and is married to an African-American woman.
What’s extra special about the characters in the above paragraph? The characters race, ethnicity, and gender are played as par for the course. At the same time, those same traits are internal to the stories being told. It all reminds me of what Sterling K. Brown said in his 2018 Best Actor Golden Globes acceptance speech for his role in NBC’s This is Us.
You wrote a role, for a black man. Like, that could only be played by a black man. And so, what I appreciate so much about this thing is that I’m being seen for who I am. And being appreciated for who I am.
5. The Timeless Star Trek Connection.
Some might say that Timeless is engaging in the “cultural war.” If so, that war is over the acceptance of America’s cultural realities. This is yet another way Timeless reflects the history of Star Trek. The following is from a Telegraph article called:” How Star Trek Changed the World”
…operating within the straightjacket of Sixties telefantasy, Star Trek was still prepared to challenge the viewers assumptions. Some NBC outlets in the South refused even to air it. (.,,) What made Star Trek stand out, rather, was its willingness to reflect the things already happening outside on the streets, where youth and cops clashed over Vietnam and civil rights. The show also offered comment and archetypes for people navigating a complex decade to identify with.
To be clear, there is only one Star Trek. Every other great sci-fi saga owes it a debt of gratitude. Also, it really did change the world. If you have any doubts about that, try to imagine your life without a cell phone or GPS. The diverse cast of Star Trek made world changes as well. Most notably is the role of Lieutenant Uhura, (Nichelle Nichols).
The first African-American woman astronaut and the first one to go into space was Mae Jemison. She’s said Lieutenant Uhura is who inspired her to want to do these things. Was this the kind of thing Star Trek was aiming for? Not really.
In the show’s original pitch Star Trek was described as a Wagon Train for space travel. It’s creator Gene Roddenberry was more interested in morality tales and exploring intergalactic worlds than in changing ours. (It is worth noting that in that pitch while he stressed that all the women were hot, he also made them leaders and made a point of saying they were “not dumb.”)
Nevertheless, Star Trek did end help open doors and change social perception. Yet, the show was not the catalyst of these changes. That came from the social climate of the 1960s.
The Wrap Up: Timeless is Worth Saving.
Star Trek helped America accept the changes being birthed by the turbulent 1960s. Timeless is literally a show about those changes not being erased. Will it give birth to scientific advancements like Star Trek? …Let’s hope not. In the long run, though, it could help preserve the great strides we’ve made. The show’s tagline says it best.
Protect the past. Save the future.
Still, no one expects NBC to renew a show out of the goodness of their hearts. Timeless is the kind of show that, if given the chance to end well, could eventually become one of the smartest business decisions NBC’s ever made. Let’s hope that NBC and Sony’s hearts help them find a way to reconcile their wallets. Only then can they can save Timeless.