The writing was on the wall the moment Ray Donovan’s cast publicly appealed to fans on social media to lobby Showtime to keep the series going. If Ray Donovan of all people needs someone else to be a Fixer, all is lost. Cancelation was already imminent and underway.
If you’ve been following the TV industry for any length of time, you know ratings and social media numbers are the de facto judge and jury. When those numbers fail to exhibit much-worshipped growth for an extended period, the series will meet its executioner via guillotine in short order. There is no escaping this symbiotic waltz. No critical acclaim or eyewitness testimony of prior good deeds/scenes can rescue from the fate of the public square.
Thus, when cast members of any show, not just Ray Donovan rally the troops for one last run, consider it a last stand. The Alamo. Sure, once in a blue moon, the strategy works and a series gets to live on borrowed time like Designated Survivor did for one more season on a different platform or network… But it’s typically staving off the inevitable cancellation if the numbers were already dwindling.
A good portion of the gavel is a simple game of math. Showtime’s Homeland made it to a final season not because it was an objectively better show than Ray Donovan but because it was able to maintain its numbers over a 1 rating consistently. Homeland has not dipped under a 1 rating for more than three episodes of its entire run, a pretty remarkable achievement. Family Guy lived on because of exceptional DVD sales after its initial cancellation, Last Man Standing was averaging high ratings still on ABC when it got the axe and FOX was always its parent company.
Despite Ray Donovan’s consistent output of excellent writing and acting, the series genuinely seemed to never fully recover in the ratings department after Abby’s character death. Paula Malcomson’s impact and dedicated fanbase can’t be understated, in fact, her departure from the series may have led to its end. Some may argue it was the move to New York narratively. But it was the logically place to go to soft reboot the series after Ray lost Abby. A universal concept of ‘getting away from it all’ after losing a loved one.
Ray Donovan’s opening Season 6 episodes were a thing of beauty even if you had never watched the series before. Domenick Lombardozzi as Mac was a perfect new addition alongside Ray and you had Hollywood royalty in Susan Sarandon as Samantha Winslow continuing on a series regular. The scripts were must see TV. Yet, Ray Donovan’s sixth season slipped under a 1 rating until episode six “A Girl Named Maria” (1.05 rating)…
Let’s be a bit more generous and count episode 5 “Ellis Island” which scored a 0.99 according to Show Buzz Daily, that’s still close to midway through the season. The show would once again slip below a 1 for episodes nine (0.93 rating) and ten (0.95 rating). The warning signs were in place. Perhaps, had Mac lived on another season, numbers would have gradually improved as the character was much loved on social media.
However, Ray Donovan’s seventh season opened under a 1 (0.91 rating) and only hit over it three times all season (1.00, 1.02, 1.05). Just enough to make Showtime consider giving the long running series another chance but apparently not enough to grant it. Ray Donovan’s Season 7 Finale scored a 0.12 in the coveted 18-49 department according to Show Buzz Daily, that’s #52nd for cable shows that evening. Behind Lego Jurassic World on Nickelodeon and ‘Naked and Afraid: Alone’ on Discovery Channel.
Mike Tyson Mysteries in comparison on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block scored a 0.37 in the 18-49 demographic and came in sixth. Starting to get the brutal, icy picture of what happened? Remember, if actors are appealing to an audience they likely already know something the audience doesn’t. It would have taken Ray Donovan trending #1 on Twitter for a few days at the very least to fight off the cancellation reaper.
Truly, when is the last time you really remember a cast appealing publicly and fortunes being reversed? It certainly did not work for Lodge 49. A public plea is almost like a kiss of death to a Television series, a surefire warning signs thing are even worse behind the scenes than imagined. The castle has been infiltrated, and there’s not enough firepower to fight them all off. Before you know it, another excellent show is buried before its time.
Notice earlier, it’s mentioned a good portion is numbers. A hearty slice, not the entire pie. It’s not necessarily all black and white, hard math. Even raw numbers aren’t always enough. 24’s original run was canceled with a 9.31 rating for its eighth season finale. Married with Children’s close to end of Season 11 two-parter hit a 15.20. Yet, their overall ratings at the time were still considered ‘declining.’ It’s all relative. They would be an advertiser goldmine today in the age of streaming. One of the greatest TV shows of all time in Deadwood, once got cancelled due to budgeting concerns.
Don’t underestimate how an executive board’s subjective pen can change the entire fate of a show or network either. Just don’t bring critical merit into the equation. Merit never had anything to do with why a show lives or dies.
Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat’s interview with Sandy Martin on Sandy Patrick, interview with Bill Heck on Young Mickey Donovan, and more series coverage in the Ray Donovan category section.