“Got it,” Covert Affairs lead Annie (Piper Perabo) said in the final seconds of the USA Network series’ recent fifth-season finale, indicating she had made a decision on the two offers she had at hand: Ryan McQuaid’s (Nic Bishop) marriage proposal and Joan’s (Kari Matchett) invitation for her to join her CIA task force. We might never find out what Annie’s decision was as USA has opted not to renew the globe-trotting spy drama for a sixth season.
This is a somewhat surprising development because, as part of USA’s recent shift in strategy away from original half-hour comedy series, focusing on the network’s core drama brand, there were indications it would renew most and possibly all of its pending series sans departing White Collar. All others — Suits, Royal Pains and Graceland — have been picked up, making Covert Affairs the only casualty among USA’s established series, joining freshman drama Rush, which was axed in early October when the network renewed fellow rookie Satisfaction.
Economics played a key role in the decision to end Covert Affairs. Unlike the case with Fox 21 TV Stuidios-produced White Collar the same time last year, ownership was not a factor as Covert Affairs is owned by USA. As is the case with older series, its production costs have gone up over the years. In addition to rising talent fees, the series also went bigger on locations, from the clunky green screen shots in the first couple seasons to filming around the world in recent years.
Covert Affairs has posted significant gains in shifted viewing — Season 5’s average of 990,000 adults 18-49 in Live+7 represents a +136% jump over Live+Same Day, 1.3 in adults 25-54 (+141%), and 3.3 million total viewers (+117%). But in Live+Same Day, Covert Affairs ranked dead last in live viewing among all original USA drama series this year in 18-49 with 445,000 viewers, behind Suits (976,000), Royal Pains (663,000), Graceland (552,000), Satisfaction (517,000) and even cancelled Rush (509,000). Covert Affairs also finished last (No. 6) in 18-34, No. 5 in 25-54, and a little better, No. 3, in total viewers.
An indication of the challenges linear networks face in the increasingly digital viewing universe, USA has been finding it hard to monetize the Covert Affairs demo audience that watches days after the original broadcast. Additionally, even with the big DVR bumps, Covert Affairs still ranked No. 4 (out of six USA dramas) among 18-49 and 25-54 in L+7, No. 5 in 18-34 and No.3 in total viewers.
USA is going through a slate changeover, parting with veterans White Collar and Covert Affairs and gearing up to launch a slew of new drama series in 2015. Three already are in the pipeline — Dig, Complications and Mr. Robot — with four more drama pilots — Colony, Queen Of The South, Evil Men and Stanistan — awaiting word on a series pickup.
The Season 5 finale planted a number of story seeds for a potential sixth season — Annie’s dilemmas, Auggie’s (Christopher Gorham) plan to leave the CIA and travel the world with his hacker girlfriend Natasha, Arthur’s (Peter Gallagher) potential Senate run. In cases like this, when a series is cancelled without closure, fans always hold out hope for a final chapter in the form of a movie or a miniseries.
While that always is a possibility as Covert Affairs producer Universal Cable Prods. has been high on the series and is a sibling to the network, making it happen is usually prohibitively expensive. Therefore, chances for a different conclusion to the series are slim, despite Covert Affairs creators/executive producers Matt Corman and Chris Ord’s hope for a sixth season. “For us, these characters and the actors we’re working with are so infinitely talented that we think we could keep telling stories forever,” Corman told TVLine after the Season 5 finale. “Maybe we’re delusional in that sense, but we just love this show so much. We don’t like to think about it in terms of the end.”
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