When the surprise un-cancellation of NBC’s Timeless was announced Saturday morning, the first reaction was “Wow!” It was followed by “How?” as in how a show that had been canceled was able to land a renewal less than three days later.
There has been the inevitable speculation about some armwrestling and back-room dealings between NBC and Timeless producer Sony Pictures TV that led to the reversal. That may not have been the case, at least not this time.
It is true that NBC has been tough in its renewal negotiations with outside companies this season. With the economics even on NBC’s most successful owned series, the Chicago franchise, challenging with lack of off-network deals and modest international sales, I hear the network set strict guidelines for its bubble drama series with outside suppliers, Warner Bros. TV’s Blindspot, EuropaCorp. TV USA’s Taken and Sony TV’s Timeless. (Taken is a co-production with Universal TV and NBC owns 50% of Timeless). There was a number each show needed to hit in terms of what it would make for the network, in order to come back.
“The negotiation process for returning shows is always a complex one,” NBC chairman Greenblatt said on the NBC upfront call Sunday. “We all saw the value of having more of these shows; we like these shows. We have tough negotiations in many places. Sony and Warner Bros. are very pleased with having these shows come back.”
While Timeless was still on the bubble, Sony TV is believed to have offered guaranteed profits — which is one of the avenues pursued by networks these days, along with ownership stakes, license fee reduction and domestic/international distribution rights — but couldn’t get to the level required by NBC. With the two sides apart on the financials, the network moved in to cancel Timeless, while renewing Blindspot and Taken, both lower rated than Timeless.
“We loved the show creatively hoping for it to have bigger numbers in the fall,” Greenblatt said on Sunday. When the network executives convened to discuss its 2017-18 lineup, the questions surrounding Timeless, considered a “borderline” series, were “Can it grow, and do we have place for it”, Greenblatt said. “There was a moment earlier in the week where we said, we have all these shows coming back, new shows. Maybe there is no space (for Timeless). We decided to move away from it.”
Greenblatt and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke were “heartbroken” when they delivered the news to creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke on Wednesday afternoon, as Ryan noted.
Here is what happened next as described by Greenblatt on the NBC upfronts call Sunday.
“And then we woke up the next morning, heard the outcry (from fans). We went back to the drawing board, with our partners at Sony, and we found a way to bring it back. It’s extraordinarily well produced and deserved to come back.”
By Thursday morning, fans’ reaction to the cancellation of Timeless had reached fever pitch, with them rallying to save the show while Sony TV was trying to find a new home for the series on a cable or streaming network.
I hear the core group that worked on making the renewal possible at NBC included Greenblatt, Salke and head of current programming Vernon Sanders.
“We love the show, we just said, let’s figure out a way to bring it back,” Salke said. “We proposed something, they accepted and 40 minutes later Shawn and Eric were tweeting about it,” she said.
That would be the Saturday 10 AM PT joint announcement by Ryan and Kripke on Twitter.
It is unclear whether there was any back-and-forth between NBC and Sony TV over these less-than-72 hours between the cancellation and renewal but I hear that may not have been the case. From what I understand, Timeless will return for a 10-episode second season at the same budget, as exactly the same show and not a low-cost version of it. And NBC executives’ decision may have been driven entirely by listening to what their viewers want and fulfilling their wishes, with no financial strings attached to the renewal beyond a very small license fee trim.
Ryan alluded to that in his tweet announcing the renewal, comparing Greenblatt and Salke to legendary NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, who was known for making decisions with his gut and passion, sticking with such low-rated-at-the-start series as Cheers and Seinfeld, which went on to become blockbuster hits.