“The Bastard Executioner” achieved a certain nobility in death that mostly eluded it in life. Indeed, if you watched the season finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t) and know what role Kurt Sutter played, it’s fair to say the show’s creator went out in a blaze of glory.
Sutter took out ads thanking everyone involved in the FX series, but basically saying that the audience voted, and it was time to move on. And in this age of reboots and contortions to keep series alive, there’s something refreshing about acknowledging that failure is simply a part of television, even if there was a little bit of “You can’t fire me, I quit” bravado underlying that, since FX would have likely reached the same conclusion.
In today’s fragmented and ambitious age, it often seems like every series is somebody’s favorite show, no matter how small the audience might be. Yet even with ratings having splintered, TV – or at least, the kind of expensive drama that “The Bastard Executioner” represents – remains a medium that requires enough tonnage to justify the cost of production.
This rather simple fact has been somewhat lost, thanks to the ability of premium services to sustain programs with narrow cult followings; and a proliferation of outlets, including streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which have swept in to rescue a number of low-rated shows. At a certain point, though, there are only so many times people can renew “Community” when the audience – however loyal – comes a little too close to friends-and-relatives territory.
Not all that long ago, those who worked in TV not only accepted their flops but embraced them. NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff often seemed to derive as much pleasure talking about something like “Manimal” or “The Misfits of Science” as his hits. Ditto for producer Stephen J. Cannell. And when ABC canceled “Cop Rock,” producer Steven Bochco and company tacked a big send-off number onto the final episode, one that joked about how the show’s budget “almost cost as much as ‘Heaven’s Gate.’”
By contrast, even the threat of cancellation these days is frequently met with a lot of whining – from producers, from fans, from critics. Spend enough time perusing platforms populated by a few thousand like-minded enthusiasts or in a ballroom at Comic-Con, and it’s easy to draw the conclusion that everything’s a hit just because, well, everyone here likes it.
Sutter’s farewell ad makes clear he’s proud of the show, even if it didn’t work. The final hour (OK, 93 minutes, just one of “Executioner’s” many excesses) even provided a modest element of closure – and something approaching a happy ending – for those who had invested their time watching all 10 episodes.
Yet if some people liked the show, they were too few in number. And the trend lines were wrong, with the audience having dropped by more than 50% since the premiere, suggesting that for many, whatever curiosity existed at the outset didn’t survive the execution.
Fair enough. No need to tweak the concept or try to jump-start things with stunt casting. Onward and upward. Next. So even if the show wasn’t great, give “The Bastard Executioner” credit for being self-aware enough to see the writing on the wall, and recognize when it was time to pull the plug on itself.