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The Real Reason Timeless Was Canceled

Eric Kripke has a gift for creating genre shows that attract passionate fan followings. The CW's hit series "Supernatural" was launched by the writer and producer in 2005 and managed to build a large and eager enough audience that it would become the longest-running sci-fi genre series in the history of American broadcast television. Kripke is also behind one of Amazon's most popular series, "The Boys," a comic book adaptation about the not-so-nice side of superheroes that has impressed both critics and audiences

"Timeless," an NBC time travel series, is another well-loved — if less-known — entry on Kripke's resume. Debuting on NBC in 2016, the science fiction drama starred Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett as a trio focused on preventing a mysterious organization from changing the course of history. As all three characters — a history professor, a soldier, and an engineer — jump through time, they find themselves trying to keep history on track during some of the world's most significant events, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the launch of Apollo 11. 

Co-created by TV veteran Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "S.W.A.T."), "Timeless" aired for two seasons before getting the chance to wrap up its story with a two-hour series finale movie event. It was a hard-earned and costly finale that nearly didn't happen because "Timeless" was actually canceled twice over the course of its two seasons. Now, it's worth asking: How did that happen, and what was NBC's reason for doing it? The answer comes down to network politics and the most crucial consideration in broadcast television: ratings. 

Timeless was saved thanks to Sony and a last-minute deal

The first time "Timeless" was canceled was back in May 2017, following the airing of its 16-episode first season. While the show had strong reviews and a timeslot right after NBC's ratings goliath "The Voice," the drama never managed to capture a broad audience. The one it did was loudly loyal, but by the end of its first season, "Timeless" was averaging lower ratings than "Chicago Med," a TV series already in its second season. Kripke and Ryan's co-creation never quite lived up to the legacy of other post-"Voice" series like "The Blacklist" and "Blindspot."

But that didn't stop its fans and the show's distributor, Sony, from trying to keep the series alive. Fans jumped on social media to tweet and post their support while Sony attempted to shop it around. "Sony will look for another outlet. Don't know the viability of that, but know there's intense fan love," Ryan tweeted following the cancellation news.

It appeared that was Sony dedicated to finding the show a home, and that, coupled with a vocal viewership, was enough to change NBC's mind. The show was uncanceled only three days after the initial news was announced. As it was later revealed, the deal happened after Sony agreed to hand over 50% of its stake in the show to NBC sister studio Universal Television (via Variety). This ultimately helped keep the show's production costs down for NBC while also providing the network with extra content to help fill out its upcoming schedule. 

Timeless' ratings weren't strong enough to keep it on the air

When "Timeless" returned for its second go, NBC didn't exactly give it a grand return. The network only ordered ten additional episodes of the series, which debuted in March 2018. Despite getting a second chance, the show's ratings fell even lower than its first season's numbers, and NBC canceled "Timeless" again just days ahead of the expiration of the cast's contracts. 

Despite that, almost as if someone had tinkered with time, a two-hour series finale was greenlit. The announcement came as an immense relief for the show's fans, who had been left with a cliffhanger by the "Timeless" writers at the end of its second season. "Behind the scenes, Sony has been trying hard to set it up elsewhere, but no luck so far," co-creator Eric Kripke said on Twitter. "I think this 2 hour movie is our best shot. We're ready to make it if @nbc really wants it."

In the end, NBC did want it, and the show's final renewal warranted an even bigger celebration. Two-hour finales are costly endeavors that require new contracts to be struck, and sometimes even for part or all of a show's set to be reconstructed. Offering little financial return for networks, they're rarely handed out to series, especially ones that struggled with getting a big audience in the first place. One of the few broadcast series that had done this in recent memory was CBS' "CSI," which had launched a lucrative TV universe.  

In a statement celebrating the finale win, Kripke and Ryan said the show's fans were why "Timeless" managed to crawl back from the TV graveyard. "The studio, network, cast and crew are all doing this for one reason only: the fans. Because they deserve it. Because the fans made this happen and we thank them for their passion, support and helicopters."

Where can fans watch Timeless?

"Timeless" may have gone off the air in December 2018, but the good news is that fans can still go back and watch the series whenever they want. In fact, not only are the show's episodes still available to rent and purchase on a number of online platforms, but as of this writing, the complete series is also present on one popular streaming service.

The streaming service in question is none other than Hulu. The platform's content library currently includes Seasons 1 and 2 of "Timeless," as well as the show's two-hour series finale. That means anyone with a Hulu subscription has access to the show right now. Meanwhile, for those who aren't subscribed to the service, Hulu has a number of subscription plans available, including a $12.99/month ad-free version and a $6.99/month plan that does include ads. Both plans also offer one-month free trials.

Additionally, there are alternate plans that allow subscribers to bundle a Hulu subscription with ones for both Disney+ and ESPN+. There are three different versions of that particular bundle, including a $19.99/month ad-free plan and a $13.99/month plan that does come with ads.

In other words, all anyone needs to do to stream "Timeless" again (or for the first time) is take a quick trip over to Hulu.

Where is the Timeless cast today?

The stars of "Timeless" have all kept fairly busy in the years since the NBC show's unfortunate cancellation. Abigail Spencer, for starters, played the lead role in the Hulu original series "Reprisal" and had a recurring role in the Katey Sagal-led ABC legal dramedy, "Rebel," both of which were canceled after their first seasons. Fortunately, Spencer also continues to reprise her role as Dr. Megan Hunt on "Grey's Anatomy" (via IMDb).

For his part, Matt Lanter has continued to voice Anakin Skywalker in a number of non-live-action "Star Wars" projects, including the final season of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and 2020's "The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special." He also appeared as George Hutchence a.k.a. Skyfox in the first (and only) season of "Jupiter's Legacy" (via IMDb). Meanwhile, Malcolm Barrett has appeared in multiple episodes of Amazon's "The Boys" and recently had a recurring role as Ted White in "Genius: Aretha" (via IMDb).

In recent years, Paterson Joseph has similarly had recurring roles in "Avenue 5," "Noughts + Crosses," "Vigil," and "That Dirty Black Bag" (via IMDb). Sakina Jaffrey has had a particularly busy past few years as well (via IMDb), thanks to her roles in everything from "Lost in Space" and "Defending Jacob" to "Snowpiercer" and "Billions." Additionally, while Claudia Doumit hasn't scored quite as many recurring TV roles as Jaffrey or Joseph, she did make her debut as Victoria Neuman in "The Boys" Season 2, and she's set to reprise that role in the Amazon show's third season (via IMDb).

Rounding out the central cast of "Timeless" is Garcia Flynn himself, Goran Visnjic, who has appeared in recent years in shows like "Santa Clarita Diet," "Dollface," "General," "The Boys," and "This Is Us." He also, notably, played Nikola Tesla in one memorable 2020 episode of "Doctor Who" (via IMDb).