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The Real Reason Quantico Was Canceled

When it first premiered on ABC in September 2016, the FBI drama Quantico was a breakout hit for the network. The Priyanka Chopra-led series was even the highest-rated scripted show on the night of its premiere, per Deadline. Unfortunately, the serialized drama about an FBI agent trying to clear her name in the wake of being accused of a terrorist attack simply couldn't sustain its momentum over the course of three seasons, which led to Quantico's cancellation in 2018.

Right from the start, Quantico featured an ambitious plot for a network TV show. In an era when procedurals reigned supreme, the series told Alex's (Chopra) story across multiple timelines, toggling between the time she spent training to become an FBI agent and the present when she's on the run after becoming a suspect in the Grand Central Terminal bombing case. Sometimes, the show would also move forward in time from the bombing, introducing flash-forward sequences a la another ABC favorite, Lost.

Thanks to shows like Watchmen, Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones, serialized television is a hot commodity for premium channels and streamers, but show's with complex plots that reward weekly viewing tend to struggle on network TV — with NBC's This Is Us and Manifest proving to be two rare exceptions to the rule. Ultimately, Quantico's intricate plot led to its early demise. With frustrated fans tuning out in droves, the show's impromptu series finale garnered just 2.6 million viewers, according to ratings reports at the time.

Quantico could have been a hit had it launched just a few years later

Launching in 2016 may have doomed poor Quantico more than anything intrinsic to the show. Ultimately, it wasn't the quality of the content that led to its early cancellation, it was a combination of the complex narrative structure and lack of live viewers. In 2016, the networks weren't quite ready to embrace the changing viewing habits of consumers, so while Quantico had excellent numbers with delayed viewing factored in, at the time, ABC was primarily concerned with live-plus-same day ratings.

When the axe dropped on Quantico, Deadline noted that, "Quantico has done well in delayed viewing and has been a solid international seller for ABC." These days, even the networks have embraced that streaming is a way of life for consumers, and while drawing in viewers on the night of a show's premiere is certainly welcome, delayed viewing can save otherwise doomed series from cancellation. In October 2019, The Hollywood Reporter wrote about how shows like CBS' SWAT and NBC's Chicago PD have their total numbers boosted by viewers accustomed to watching TV on their own schedule.

If only Quantico had premiered more recently, it may have stood a better chance of making it past its abbreviated third season. That would have been good news for fans, because after the show was canceled, showrunner Michael Seitzman shared with Deadline that he had big plans for season 4.

Season 4 of Quantico would have presented an entirely new challenge for Alex

Quantico's third season ended with Alex rescuing Isabella (Emma Gia Celotto Signorini), the daughter of her ex-boyfriend Andrea (Andrea Bosca), after Andrea is killed by the Irish terrorist Conor (Timothy V. Murphy). In the final moments of the series, it's revealed that Alex is planning to raise Isabella, while also returning to the FBI. Seitzman confirmed to Deadline that season 4 would have featured Alex balancing her role as an adoptive parent with her work for the FBI.

"Season 4 would find her in the uncomfortable yet rewarding position of figuring out how to raise a child while still saving the world every day," he shared with Deadline. He went on to reveal that the show's endgame would have included Alex ending up with Mike McQuigg (Alan Powell), and remaining with the FBI as she continued to take on dangerous new cases. Sadly, viewers never got to see Alex's future play out. Oh, Quantico — you were truly ahead of your time.