Why 'Sanctuary' and other imaginative shows failed this season

Yahoo Contributor Network

Our television sets are absent three very entertaining shows: "Sanctuary," "The Secret Circle," and J.J. Abrams' "Alcatraz." You can bet "Sanctuary" (which ran four seasons) will join the SyFy Channel's roster of syndicated programming, but the other two didn't live long enough to go that route. At best, you'll eventually find "the complete series" DVD or Blu-ray offered; otherwise, it's a less-than bittersweet curtain call.

It's not that imaginative TV shows are languishing, but they may be failing to reach their targeted audiences. Perhaps, it's the aging television model that swept these shows away, as most people are viewing television online and via DVR.

New imaginative shows are on the way this fall, but now might be a good time to look back on a few canceled sci-fi shows from the 2011-2012 season.


Though its initial "it's mostly green screen" promos were more a gimmick than anything, "Sanctuary" eventually found its footing and provided some relief from the burgeoning reality series movement on the SyFy Channel. There's a fan base for nearly every show, and if there was a letter writing campaign to save the show, clearly it didn't work - SyFy wasn't budging. Ratings alone won't kill a show on the SyFy Channel where a few million viewers and a robust online community can keep one going, but mostly, "Sanctuary" ran out of steam. Even the beautiful and brilliant Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) wasn't enough to keep the show going. The show, which dealt with genetic engineering, alternate universes, gene therapy, and cloning did innovate the way sci-fi TV shows are made, and was nominated for an Emmy award for visual effects in 2009.

'The Secret Circle'

Seemed like a very good idea at the time: a companion show to the popular "The Vampire Diaries." Built as another take on the popular paranormal romance genre, "The Secret Circle," based on the book series by L.J. Smith couldn't connect with audiences. Most viewers watched "The Vampire Diaries" and didn't stick around for "The Secret Circle." The show, which followed six teenage witches (there's also a witch on "The Vampire Diaries") had all the makings of a CW hit (young, good looking cast members, a decent budget). According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Secret Circle" started strong and was initially offered a full-season order, averaging 2.4 million viewers in its first three weeks, but the numbers "dimmed considerably." It's safe to say that the mystery of Chance Harbor will remain a mystery, at least on television sets.


J.J. Abrams is a busy man today, and it shows. With the success of "Star Trek" and "Super 8," it's a safe bet that Abrams won't be running another TV series for awhile (if ever again). "Felicity," "Alias," and "Lost" were all hits in their own right, and benefited from Abrams's close involvement. Subsequent series since his Hollywood breakthrough, "Fringe," NBC's failed "Undercovers," and now, the recently canceled "Alcatraz," might be a sign that the old Abrams' magic has moved from the small screen to feature films. The series, about an investigation into the reappearance of 302 of Alcatraz's most notorious prisoners and guards, after a 50 year absence, might have been as great as "Lost" if given time. Then again, without Abrams or Damon Lindelof (a "Lost" co-creator and Hollywood screenwriter), the show might have been doomed from the start. Or maybe that brand of serialized storytelling is so 2004, and audiences simply don't have the patience for overly complex, slow moving mysteries.

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