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SYFY WIRE Y: The Last Man

Report: Blame the pandemic for Y: The Last Man's cancellation, but don't give up on the show yet

By Matthew Jackson
Y The Last Man

It took more than a decade to finally bring Y: The Last Man to the screen, and the wait was made even longer by the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the pause button on virtually all TV and film production for a big chunk of 2020. According to a new report, we can blame those pandemic delays, not low ratings, for the show's abrupt early cancellation.

Fans were shocked and crestfallen earlier this month when FX on Hulu revealed that Y: The Last Man -- based on the beloved comic book series of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra -- would end its run on the streaming service after just 10 episodes. It's not something that happens very often with FX shows, which are usually at least granted the opportunity to come back for some kind of concluding chapter even when ratings drop, so viewers were understandably caught off guard by the decision, wondering why the series couldn't get a little more time to develop its audience. Now, a new report at The Hollywood Reporter is breaking down exactly why it happened so quickly, and it turns out the show's constantly stretching timeline is a major factor.

After years of development, FX ordered Y -- the story of a world in which a mysterious mass death event kills every mammal with a Y chromosome with the exception of one man and his pet monkey -- to series in early 2019, seemingly paving the way for production to kick off. Then the delays kicked in. Eliza Clark stepped in to replace original showrunners Michael Green and Aida Croal, who left over creative differences, and by early 2020 original star Barry Keoghan was out as series lead Yorick Brown. Ben Schnetzer was quickly announced as the show's new Yorick, but another complication loomed: the COVID-19 pandemic and its public health dangers. Production was put on pause for much of the rest of the year.

When you lock in actors to commit to the long haul of a TV series, you have to essentially secure their long-term involvement by renewing contract options that will keep the cast financially anchored to the series so they won't wander off and start taking on a bunch of other projects that will conflict with yours. By 2020, Y: The Last Man had some cast members -- including co-star Diane Lane -- who'd been locked in for two years even as the show's pre-production dragged on. It cost money to keep them committed to the show, and it cost more money to keep Schnetzer and other new cast members committed during the pandemic shutdown. That tangle of contract options also brought with it a ticking clock: FX executives had to make another decision on the cast's Season 2 options this month, before they expired, and before the network had full data on Season 1's performance.

Ultimately, according to THR's report, the decision was less about the show's ratings and more about network execs declining to pay the reported $3 million it would have taken to keep the cast on the hook for more episodes. Had the show been able to get on the rails just a little earlier, the decision might not have come until after Season 1 had aired.

“Without COVID, the show would have been on a different clock,” a source told THR.

From the beginning, Clark has remained committed to finishing Y's planned five-season story, and made it clear after the cancellation news that she intends to fight hard to find the show a new home. Though FX Productions is not usually in the business of supplying content to other networks, the studio also reportedly shares in Clark's enthusiasm, and HBO Max is reportedly a top contender to take over the show, whether that means buying the rights to Season 1 or collaborating with FX Productions going forward.

So, despite this tangle of production delays, cast contracts, and a jumbled timeline behind the scenes — don't count Y: The Last Man out just yet.