"The Bastard Executioner," FX's show about 14th-century Welsh warriors, has gotten the axe.
Although networks are now more reluctant to cancel poorly performing TV shows, those whose numbers stay low still don't last beyond the first season, at most. Such was the fate for "The Bastard Executioner," which premiered to low ratings and then continued to lose its audience. By episode six, fewer than a million viewers tuned in.
Sadly for writers, canceling TV shows within the first season is par for the network course. What sets "The Bastard Executioner" apart is the gracious farewell that creator Kurt Sutter — who is also the brain behind the more successful "Sons of Anarchy" — posted to cast and crew across a number of publications.
When Kurt Sutter spoke with The Frame, he explained that he wanted to acknowledge how much support he received, and how much talent was involved with the show. Read more below about his thoughts on the cancellation, and what comes next.
The last time we talked, "The Bastard Executioner" had not come out yet. You were really excited. For people who’ve never been in this world, what does it feel like to have a show not work?
I don’t have TV as a point of reference, but I’ve definitely had movie scripts not work, with different levels of pain. Creatively, it was definitely out of my wheelhouse. But I wanted to flex the muscles. I didn’t want to jump into another urban crime project.
I wanted to do something a little more honorable about going down with the ship when you’ve been on an adventurous voyage, rather than sailing on the same old canal. I think when shows get axed, there’s a sense of evil networks [or] the studio putting the kibosh on creative endeavors because of money. And I really wanted to communicate that the network and studio gave me everything I needed to do this show. At the end of the day, it came down to arithmetic. We couldn’t get the base numbers and the core audience to sustain the show.
When you see those numbers, is it a bit like going through the five stages of grief?
Probably. “Sons [of Anarchy]” also premiered very low. What “Sons” managed to do was sustain that number and slowly tic up. I think it was around episode three [of "The Bastard Executioner"] when we just kept dropping. That’s when I was like, Wow, this is bad news. If this continues, we’ll probably go away. And I really feel like there’s nothing I would have done differently, other than maybe taking a break between “Sons” and “Bastards” so it weren’t quite so physically debilitating.
You would have made the show the same way.
Yeah. The story is the story. I love our cast. I wouldn’t have changed any of that. All the variables for me were in place. It’s all the other variables you have no control over that I think ultimately led to the decision not to move forward.
Typically the network is the one saying, We need to pull the plug, and the show creator pleads for more time. It feels like not only were you in agreement, but you went to an unprecedented step to announce its demise in a public advertisement. How did that decision come about?
Two things. One, I have a really great relationship with John Landgraf...
...who runs FX.
Yes. We’re like an old married couple. We talk all the time. As numbers came in each week, we had a conversation. I knew the writing was on the wall. John basically said, How do you want to tell people? He gave me the opportunity to go out honorably, where I don’t think a lot of networks would ever condone that. What I wanted to do was let people know what a great cast and crew this was. And how, if they ever have the opportunity to employ any of these actors, they should jump on it. Not only are they talented, but their dedication to the work raised the bar for me across the board. So I wanted to shift the paradigm and acknowledge the hard work that everyone had done.
You ran your ad with a font that’s been widely ridiculed in Hollywood as the font of “Avatar” — I think it’s called Papyrus. Did you design your own ad?
I did. I chose the font that would piss people off the most. [laughter]
I think you succeeded there! And for people who do not read Latin, “Uno tempore. Unos amor.” Translate that for us.
I had two sources for my Latin. Every time I ask for a translation, they’re in opposition. [laughter] So my intention was, “One season. One love.” That’s what I wanted to communicate.
So what’s next?
I don’t do well with down time. My deal is with Fox and FX. I love working there. I’m sure there will be something else down the road. I know they’re keen on this ["Sons of Anarchy"] Mayan spinoff. I have to find the right writer for that. There are some feature projects I’d like to get underway. It’s kind of nice to have a little bit of space to decide what to do, rather than jumping from one to the next without any sense of breathing room.