In a crowded TV landscape of limited series, specials, and movies, it’s harder than ever to find traditional dramas with a premise compelling enough to support multiple years of storytelling. FX President John Landgraf said as much during his appearance at the summer 2021 Television Critics Association press tour.
“It’s honestly not easy to find sustaining dramas that really hold up and maintain their consistency and quality and also their sort of urgency for the audience over a period of time,” Landgraf told the gathered journalists. “I can tell you we try just as hard to find them, develop them, and program them now as we ever have. We’re awfully happy when we hear a pitch and think it’s got 50 or 70 or 100 episodes in it.”
FX on Hulu’s own Y: The Last Man seemed to be the platonic ideal of what Landgraf was speaking about. Based on a 60-issue comic book saga from Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, the dystopian drama had a lot of story to tell. So much so that its showrunner, Eliza Clark, developed the project with multiple seasons in mind.
“I think this show could have a solid five or six seasons. There’s a lot of story. There is a lot of journey and adventure ahead,” Clark told Den of Geek prior to the series premiere.
Now Clark and Y: The Last Man won’t get to proceed with that vision – at least not on FX on Hulu. FX abruptly canceled the series last Sunday before its first season even concluded. How exactly did this happen? How could a series designed for a lengthy run and a network in the market for series with lengthy runs not make things work? Lesley Goldberg at The Hollywood Reporter has the answer, and it’s more anticlimactic than one might expect.
According to THR, Y: The Last Man was ultimately the victim of its long and tortured adaptation process. Hollywood has been trying to adapt Y: The Last Man pretty much ever since the comic premiered. After several other suitors tried and failed to get an adaptation off the ground, FX secured the rights to the story in 2015.
From there, however, it was just delay after delay. FX didn’t find a pilot it wanted to commission until 2018. Then, in 2019, FX parted ways with original showrunner Michael Green and brought Clark aboard. Following that, the show lost its star in Barry Keoghan and recast Ben Schnetzer in the lead role. Finally, with its full creative team and cast in place, Y: The Last Man was prepared to sta…oh God, it’s a global pandemic. Shut everything down again.
Though Y: The Last Man did eventually make it to viewers’ screens, by the time it had done so it was already a very old show. And old shows are expensive to maintain. THR reports that FX had already shelled out cash to extend the cast’s options a handful of times but the latest extension window was on Oct. 15 and would have cost the network $3 million. Ultimately, FX decided not to continue the investment.
Since Y: The Last Man airs on Hulu via FX’s “FX on Hulu” initiative, public-facing viewership numbers are not available. THR’s sources say that the show’s numbers weren’t bad, or at least not necessarily cancellable. Perhaps that will entice other networks to give future seasons of the show a shot. HBO Max seems like a good fit due to WarnerMedia owning DC Comics, whose now-defunct Vertigo comics imprint first published Y: The Last Man.
Until then Yorick, Ampersand, and an entire world full of women will remain in limbo – something they’ve gotten very used to at this point.