Rubicon CancelledBy James Beale
December 9, 2010
Mighty AMC has finally struck out.
The network cancelled the stylish, slow burn thriller "Rubicon;" the first of their critically acclaimed shows to be cancelled.
The first reason, and biggest, is the ratings. "Rubicon" averaged around 1.26 million viewers per episode, following the usual parabola shape for a television season. Still, this is better than either of their darlings "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad" had in their debut seasons.
True, now AMC has a reputation for high-quality dramas, so the bar should be higher, and it is. But even this year's "Breaking Bad," one of the best television seasons ever, only netted 1.52 million viewers on average.
The true issue with the numbers is in the 18-49 demographic - "Rubicon" only had a .2 rating, compared to the .7 of the others. This means the show pandered more to the CBS crowd than the MTV crowd, and the younger viewers are what advertisers are going after.
The ratings for both "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" have gone up every season, with many viewers only hearing about the shows at the Emmys or waiting to see how they pan out on DVD. "Rubicon" never had this chance.
Some of the ratings failures have to be attributed to the show's quality as well. "Rubicon," in the vein of 70s conspiracy thrillers, dealt with members of an American think tank, making important decisions worldwide while discovering a massive cover-up.
The pacing of the first few episodes were slow, even by "Mad Men" standards, and critics promptly called the show out. Creator Jason Horwitch was booted off the show and Henry Bromell was promoted, and after this, the show fell into a steady rhythm - focusing on the characters while the conspiracy plot sifted in the background.
Critics who stuck with the show enjoyed it more as it went on, but after a flat-footed finale, the old complaints came back. In short, viewers weren't swayed by critical acclaim at the start or the end of the season.
Also, even at its best, "Rubicon" was never at "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad" status. The characters grew considerably throughout the season, but the Katherine Rhumor subplot was a dead end, wasting the talents of a great actress, Miranda Richardson.
"Rubicon" will probably join the ranks of shows that were deemed too smart for its time, whether that's fair or not. In particular, episodes five through 12, culminating in the mesmerizing "Wayward Sons," will be remembered as an excellent way to build to a devastating conclusion.
But the biggest reason "Rubicon" was cancelled may be AMC's fourth original drama series - "The Walking Dead." On Halloween, it premiered to a massive response, including 5.3 million viewers where 2.6 million were in the 18-49 demographic, and universal acclaim from the get-go.
Furthermore, the show's season finale drew over 6 million viewers, and the series averaged 3.5 million 18-35 viewers, a new record for basic cable. Remember the 200,000 for "Rubicon"?
The success of "The Walking Dead" is easy to explain, whereas all three other shows have difficult draws: "Mad Men" has intricate character and social studies, "Breaking Bad" has intricate moral dilemmas, "Rubicon" had intricate policy decisions and "The Walking Dead" has zombies.
One bit of concern for AMC's new darling, though; creator Frank Darabont (director of "The Shawshank Redemption") fired the entire writing staff, apparently feeling he wanted more control over the series' sometimes clichÃ©d dialogue. This would indicate next season there will be more freelancers writing episodes instead of a dedicated writing staff, so cohesiveness may be sacrificed.
It's hard to care about next season right now since those ratings blew every other AMC show out of the water, and even beat the old guard, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." "The Walking Dead" has already been renewed for a second season, ensuring that AMC will be batting .750 with drama series.
Any network would give anything to have that success. AMC is still the home of the best drama on television. But it could've been a little bit better by letting "Rubicon" strike out swinging next season, at the very least.