Television has now tied one of its least-desired records: Quickest cancellation of a show.
Viewers watching the CW network at 9 p.m. Sunday suddenly saw a “Supernatural” episode. The scheduled show, “Taskmaster” (shown here), had been dropped after one episode.
It ties other shows that were dumped after one outing … or maybe less. “It wasn’t even a full episode,” George Schlatter, the “Turn-On” producer, has said. “One guy canceled us at the commercial break.”
That proved that successful people could have instant flops. Schlatter was riding high with “Laugh-In,” TV’s most-watched show, when he launched “Turn-On”; most ABC stations aired one episode, but the Cleveland station dumped it at commercial time.
Other gifted producers have had one-episode cancellations: Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (“thirtysomething”) had “Quarterlife”; Steven Bochco (“L.A. Law,” “NYPD Blue”) had “Public Morals.” (Afterward, Bochco didn’t want to talk about “Morals,” which had been the domain of Jay Tarses, the “Molly Dodd” and “Buffalo Bill” creator.)
And “Taskmaster”? It’s actually drawn plenty of fans elsewhere; in fact, it recently won a BAFTA (sort of the British equivalent of an Emmy) for best comedy.
The show has a flamboyant “taskmaster” (Greg Davies, left in the photo here) and his minion (Alex Horne, right). Davies hands out odd tasks – turn found items into a ventriloquist’s dummy, find the ofther half of a baby monitor, survive hide-and-seek, etc – and awards random points.
Horne – mostly a silent sidekick on the show – is actually its creator and writer, bringing a droll style that works best in his English homeland. There, “Taskmaste” has had nine seasons and 75 episodes, with a tenth season ready; it’s also had a book, a home game and a half-dozen international versions.
One of those was in the U.S. in 2017 and was canceled by Comedy Central after an eight-episode season. But in recent years, CW has been importing foreign shows to liven its summers – an idea that has expanded during the COVID shutdown. CW set “Taskmaster” for Sundays, then saw the opener get only 212,000 viewers (see list at the bottom of story).
That’s the lowest viewership of any CW imports; three had more than twice as many viewers; one of those had more than three times as many. During the regular season, CW’s top show (“The Flash”) had six times as many viewers; TV’s overall top show (“NCIS”) had 55 times as many.
Still, some shows have had worse fates. Fox has had some that it put on its schedule – then pulled before airing. “The Ortegas” starred Al Madrigal and Cheech Marin; “Manchester Prep” (based on the movie “Cruel Inrentions”) included Amy Adams … who has gone on to get six Oscar nominations.
Then there was “You’re in the Picture,” a primetime, CBS game show that started and ended on Jan. 20, 1961. You could say it had two episodes, but not really.
As the Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows (Facts on File, Inc., 1995) tells it: “Instead of presenting the second telecast, … host Jackie Gleason, sitting in a chair on an empty stage, apologized for the first broadcast and spent the rest of the time just talking to the audience.”
Here are the average audience totals for the CW summer imports; the figures are from Nielsen, gathered by tvseriesfinale.com:
“Coroner” (9 p.m. Wednesdays), 715,000; “Burden of Truth” (third season concluded), 505,000; “Killer Camp” (season-finale 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13). 456,000; “Fridge Wars,” (8 p.m. Sundays), 398.000); “Bulletproof” (second season concluded), 340,000; “Being Reuben” (9 and 9:30 p.m. Fridays), 254,000; “Taskmaster,” 212,000.