It was news that shocked everyone. After only three weeks, Chris Carter’s fledgling series Harsh Realm was cancelled.
The initial episodes of the high-concept sci-fi/action show adapted from Andrew Paquette and James Hudnall’s comic book of the same name had received critical praise for its ambition but low ratings. Fox executives concerned about how their fall line-up would fare against that of other networks abruptly cancelled the series, explains executive producer Frank Spotnitz.
“It goes without saying, I think it was a terrible decision made by people who were panicked,” Spotnitz says. “I think if these people had been in charge when The X-Files launched, X-Files would have been cancelled. It came out of left field for us because all we’d been hearing from the network for the first three weeks was mia culpas — that they had botched the launch of the show and that they were aware that no one knew the show was on the air. We’re deeply disappointed. Our best episodes were about to be broadcast. We feel bad for us, and we feel bad for our crew and all the wonderful actors we’d assembled. It’s a shame.”
Spotnitz cites the network’s sporadic promotion of the series as key to its quick demise; when compared to Fox’s other new series, he says, Harsh Realm suffered from a lack of publicity. “I think the fact that it was underpromoted created vulnerability for us because the ratings were low and that led to the panic that drove the Fox executives to cancel the show,” he says. “If you look at the fall schedule for the Fox network, its understandable why they would be desperate, but I think they really just made their situation worse.”
The announcement came not only as a surprise to Carter’s fans but to Carter himself. The network had signed a 13-episode commitment with Ten Thirteen Productions, which the cancellation violated. “Aside from how poor the decision was, the way it was handled was equally poor,” Spotnitz says. “We found out the same day everybody else found out. I even heard from TV critics who had not given the pilot a good review that they certainly didn’t think it was going to get cancelled after three weeks and they were willing to stick with it and see where it went. It’s nice to hear words of support from all quarters but frustrating that what we felt very strongly was a great show didn’t get a chance to find itself.”
With only eight episodes completed, production wrapped on Harsh Realm at the end of October, leaving the cast and crew to go their separate ways. Whether or not the remaining five episodes will be shown is unclear. “There are eight complete episodes and where they will turn up and when I don’t know,” Spotnitz says. “We are finishing up those eight episodes. I would think they would see the light of day somewhere, sometime, but I don’t know.
“I think everybody believed in the show and felt so good about the work we were doing and was just as shocked as we were that the network made a decision like this,” he continues. “It’s one thing when you’re on a show and you can feel you’re struggling and you don’t have confidence in the material, but that wasn’t the case here. Everyone from the lead actors to the grips really felt like they were working on something they could be proud of. It’s a particularly hard decision to swallow.”
Spotnitz says the possibility of the series returning or being picked up by another network is remote at best. “Since the show was cancelled, not put on hiatus, they’ve created a situation where you’d have to rehire everyone,” he says. “If they’d done anything else other than what they did, that would have been possible. But they didn’t put the show on hiatus, they didn’t ask for a pause. They put an end to it.”
The move comes at a critical juncture in the relationship between Carter and Fox, as speculation about a possible eighth season of The X-Files builds and talks surrounding the follow-up to 1998′s feature film get underway. Could the network’s decision to end Harsh Realm affect Carter’s other projects? “I don’t know,” Spotnitz says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”