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The Real Reason Madam Secretary Was Canceled

When Madam Secretary premiered in 2014, the show was celebrated for its level-headed take on the inner workings of the U.S. government. The central premise — following a determined and talented career CIA analyst as she becomes Secretary of State — drew some obvious inspiration from Hillary Clinton, who held the role in real life a few years prior. However, Secretary Elizabeth McCord was very much her own character, and critics praised Téa Leoni's elevating performance in the show. 

Although it had a strong run, the show was canceled after six seasons. Many fans of the series felt that this wasn't enough, and that there was more to explore in American politics through the eyes of McCord. Some even wondered if there was a possibility that the show would find new life under a different name. The many changes the show made in its final, truncated sixth season left viewers wondering why, exactly, CBS pulled the plug on Madam Secretary.

Madam Secretary had reached a turning point

One of the biggest issues faced by an ongoing series about the inner workings of politics is that at high-ranking elected officials rarely have the same job for all that long. Madam Secretary was always only going to have so many seasons featuring Elizabeth McCord as the Secretary of State, because eventually she would vacate the office. Going into the show's final season, the writers addressed this head-on.

At the end of the fifth season, McCord had a big announcement to make. Not only was she stepping down as the Secretary of State, but she was launching her own presidential campaign. When the show returned for its sixth and final season, it jumped into the future to reveal that McCord won the race, and is now Madam President.

While this was an exciting development, it also drastically changed the nature of the show. Although much of the mechanics were similar, it now had an entirely different focus. Given that the sixth season, which focused on McCord's presidency, was a shorter run meant to wrap up the series, it's clear that CBS didn't feel confident following McCord into a whole new chapter in her career.

Madam Secretary had been slipping in the ratings for years

As for the question of why Madam Secretary was being considered for cancelation in the first place, there's one very simple answer: the ratings weren't that great. For its first few seasons, the show was doing well, averaging tens of millions of viewers and competing with the likes of Criminal Minds and The Voice (via Deadline). However, those numbers weren't destined to last.

In its later seasons, Madam Secretary saw a sharp decline in viewership. According to TVLine, the show was on the bubble of getting canceled throughout its last couple of seasons. According to TV By the Numbers, the first season premiere of Madam Secretary drew in around 14 million viewers. In contrast, the fifth season premiere more than halved that number with just over 6 million viewers.

The show's sixth season was announced as its last, with CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl saying, "It's hard when a show 'poof goes away.' We like to be able to do this and send the show off with a great deal of respect and celebration." The final season's episode count was also pared way down, from the usual 20-23 episodes per season, to just ten (via Deadline). It's clear that while CBS had a lot of respect for the show, the powers that be just couldn't justify keeping it on the air.

Is there a possibility for a Madam Secretary spin-off, Madam President?

When the first episode of Madam Secretary's final season aired, there was a big change to the show's opening credits. Owing to the fact that the series was now picking up with McCord after she'd become the first female president in U.S. history, the title card reflected the change. Where the title card had read "Madam Secretary" in past seasons, it now reads "Madam President."

This led to some speculation from fans of the show who were devastated to know that the sixth season would be its last. Was it possible, they wondered, that the cancellation of Madam Secretary would give way to a spin-off focused on McCord's time as Commander in Chief, perhaps titled Madam President? Twitter user ForeverDownton summed up the sentiments when they asked, "Can we Have Madam President right after Madam Secretary?? I feel like there are so many stories that you can still show us."

Unfortunately for those fans, due to the poor ratings, it's unlikely that a Madam President spin-off will materialize, and at this time, there are no announced plans for one. On the other hand, we are living in the age of shows getting snatched from the jaws of cancellation by other networks, so never say never. For now, fans will have to be happy with the six seasons of Madam Secretary that CBS delivered.