Series creator and showrunner Kurt Sutter has gone to unusual lengths to salute the hard work that went into producing the show while boldly acknowledging that the ratings weren’t strong enough to justify a renewal.
The sword-and-sackcloth drama about the struggles of warrior knights in 12th century Wales proved to be “an acquired taste,” by Sutter’s admission. And “Bastard” was produced on much more than a Medieval budget. “We did not hold back from showing the brutality of living in 1325 Wales,” he told Variety.
Sutter and FX Networks CEO John Landgraf had a candid conversation recently that sealed the decision about the show.
“The numbers just didn’t sustain the cost of the show, quite frankly,” Sutter said. “It’s all math at the end of the day. We couldn’t establish that core audience that allows you to figure out your advertising paradigm and whether or not the show is affordable.”
Sutter is putting his money where is mouth is via an ad running in the Nov. 24 edition of Variety, among other outlets, thanking the “Bastard” cast and crew for their hard work. He also gives a shoutout to Imagine Television, which produced the series with 20th Century Fox TV’s Fox 21 banner, numerous Fox execs and Landgraf, among others.
“I have been awed by the talent and commitment of this ‘TBX’ cast and crew,” Sutter states in the ad. “The audience has spoken and unfortunately the word is, ‘meh.’ So with due respect, we bring our mythology to an epic and fiery close.”
Sutter said the experience of detaching from Hollywood to produce a period drama in a remote part of Wales was exhilarating, enlightening and by the end, a little emotional.
“I love this cast and crew so much,” Sutter said. “They’re primarily British actors. They have a different mentality about the work. They’re not plugged into the numbers or worried about ‘Do I have a job?’ They’re so used to be journeymen. They were there to do the work. By the finale the whole cast and crew had bonded and everyone was so excited about this show and the mythology. And by that time I already knew it wasn’t coming back. It was heartbreaking for me.”
The bar was high for “Bastard” from the start as it was the follow-up to Sutter’s highly successful FX series “Sons of Anarchy,” which ended its seven-season run in 2014.
“Bastard” opened to modest ratings on Sept. 15 and has declined steadily with each of its 10 episodes. It fell from an average of 4.02 million viewers for its premiere in Nielsen’s Live Plus 7 ratings to 1.9 million viewers for episode six. In adults 18-49, the show dropped from 1.9 million viewers in its premiere to 856,000 by episode six.
Sutter credited Landgraf with being “kind enough” to allow him to address the decision to pull the plug in his own way. Few showrunners have the stomach to publicly acknowledge defeat. Most shows go out with a whimper. But Sutter is not most showrunners.
“I loved this f—ing show,” Sutter said. “So did the studio and the network. Landgraf is probably more disappointed than I am. Everybody gave this everything they had. The studio never said ‘no’ to me. Everybody gave me the tools that I needed to do this job. … I just didn’t want to let it disappear without acknowledging the effort that everyone put into it.”
The production process was hard on Sutter and his wife and “Bastard” co-star Katey Sagal, as it required long periods of separation from their 8-year-old daughter in Los Angeles. The pair tried to get home every couple of weeks during the 10-episode shoot that began in July and ended earlier this month. “It got a little crunchy toward the end,” Sutter said. “This show almost f—ing killed me.”
As for what’s next, Sutter is hoping for a discovery along the lines of “Bastard Executioner,” which came through a pitch over lunch with Imagine’s Brian Grazer. Sutter is still helping to shepherd a potential “Sons” spinoff at FX revolving around the Mayan motorcycle club featured in the series. That project is searching for a writer as Sutter intends to serve only as a producer. And he’s working on a feature screenplay for producer Brian Oliver, “Delivering Gen.”
Sutter is fairly unbiased in citing the reasons “Bastard Executioner” failed to connect with audiences.
“It was a dense mythology,” he said. “It was historically based. I do think they’re harder to plug into. It takes more time for people to find those shows and to have the energy to sit and watch them. … My sense is a year from now when people have the time and energy, they’ll watch and some of them will be like, ‘What happened?’”
Sutter swears he has no regrets. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” he said. “I love this story.”