Timeless: How the cancellation and subsequent renewal impacted Season 2

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Apr 5, 2018

There is a plethora of time-travel shows on TV right now. In fact, the other day when a man I was working with told me he was really into TV shows about time travel (a very specific love, but who am I to judge), I listed five for him to watch without even thinking. One of them was (of course) Timeless, which, in a sea of time-travel shows, has a unique behind-the-scenes fairytale story that sets it apart.

Last summer, NBC canceled Timeless, a series about a group of time travelers who go back in time to specific events in history. Within a day of the cancellation, the fans launched a campaign to save it and in an unprecedented move, NBC listened and reversed course, essentially un-canceling the show.

The show has just returned with Season 2, so SYFY FANGRRLS spoke to showrunner Shawn Ryan about the whirlwind experience, which he compared to the 1993 Jeff Bridges movie Fearless—where Bridges' character survives a plane crash (among other terrible events) and is given a second chance at life.

"Not only for creative reasons, I felt there were ratings reasons why we should be back and I was disappointed when I was told we weren’t," said Ryan. "And then, I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t completely shocked when they brought us back. Only because I knew they loved the show and I knew what the ratings data points were that were in our favor. I was like, 'I’m surprised but that should have been your decision three days ago.' But it was really exhilarating."

Malcolm Barrett, who plays Rufus on the show, was shocked by the intense fan campaign to get Timeless back on the air. The actor is no stranger to shows with dedicated fanbases, but still, this was a different experience.

"I’ve never had a fan reaction play like that," said Barrett. "I was on Better Off Ted and that was two seasons, and I had a cult following there but this took it to a whole new level because this was huge families, kids, moms. My crowd before, I could tell my demographic, like white dudes, knew me from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, black people knew me because I’m black, but then this was the first time some young 17-year-old white kid would be like, 'Are you Malcolm Barrett?' And I’d be like, 'Yeah.' [And they'd say], 'My mom loves you.' So that’s definitely a completely different world that I’m happy to be a part of."

The fans of Timeless helped give the show another shot, but the creatives were then tasked with actually making the 10 episodes. Once you've come back from the dead, how do you meet those expectations? Ryan felt some of that pressure.

"In the writers' room, we realized what an opportunity it was," said Ryan. "We realized the responsibility for the fans to be so passionate and to have their voices heard by NBC and for NBC to so publicly say, 'You know what? We rethought this and we think we made a mistake and we’re bringing it back.' All that good will goes away if you then make 10 episodes of suck, you know what I mean? All of a sudden it’s not such a feel-good story. So we felt freed but also a lot of responsibility. Like, wow, people really want these episodes and they’re going to get some attention because of this story. We want to make them as good as it can be."

In an interview with Vulture about the cancellation/renewal, Ryan said, "a lot of financial things and ownership issues go into all these decisions," something that can be difficult for fans to understand. Ultimately, television is a business and money is a factor. For the second season, Timeless moved production from Vancouver to Los Angeles to take advantage of a tax incentive program but the move ultimately left the show with a smaller budget, which Ryan says they took "as a challenge."

"How do we make a better show on less money? Fortunately, we have these characters that our audience really loves. How do we lean into them? We moved our characters into this bunker this season which allows us to have them not just working but living with each other. But I’m still amazed at the things we are able to do."

Don't worry: the show still has some big moments to come this season, like a huge suffragettes march down the streets of 1919 New York in the seventh episode. "I don’t want to overstay the scaling down of it," said Ryan. In a recent episode, the "Time Team" (as they've been dubbed by fans) were driving vintage cars around a race track. "So we’ve been able to do it but we try to be strategic about when we do it, how we do it and also leaning into our characters more which, I think ultimately is what attracts our audience the most," Ryan added.

Timeless isn't just another time-travel show. The passion of the fans, actors, creators and even the network contributed to making the show one worth fighting to keep on the air. But what about Season 3? Will fans once again need to #SaveTimeless? Ryan seems optimistically hopeful.

"Eric [Kripke] and I came in and said, 'We’ve got this second life. Let’s tell the absolute best stories. Let’s not hold anything back,'" said Ryan. "But at the same time we also believe you don’t want to assume failure. We’re not in the business of giving NBC a reason to go, 'Hey, we ended the show, there’s no reason to continue.' Our attitude is let’s do the best Season 2 and end it in a way that would allow for the best Season 3. I don’t want to say too much about how we end it, other than to say that our attitude is we’re going to go forward assuming there is a third season and the show will be a success in that regard and we’ll be proven right or wrong."

Timeless airs Sunday nights on NBC.