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Why Was the Sci-Fi Series Sliders Canceled? Not Even the Multiverse Could Save It
In this universe or another one?
What if you could find brand new worlds right here on Earth, where anything is possible? The same planet, different dimension. I’ve found the gateway! On Sliders (streaming now on Peacock) anything really was possible, except avoiding cancellation. Of course, every television series has an expiration date and five seasons is a perfectly respectable length for an hour-long genre series. Still, we can’t help but wonder what ultimately drew the curtain on the show and closed the multiverse portal forever.
Sliders emerged at the perfect time to strike a cultural chord with viewers. It premiered in 1995, right when home computers were gaining a toehold and the internet was just coming into its own. Emerging technologies were rapidly transforming how people interacted with the world and with one another. The world was at our fingertips for the first time and a college student building a multiverse-jumping portal device in his basement felt possible in a way it never had before.
In each episode, young genius Quinn Mallory (Jerry O’Connell) travels from one reality to the next with his sliding companions Professor Maxamilian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies), friend and occasional love interest Wade Welles (Sabrina Lloyd), and local semi-celebrity Rembrandt “Crying Man” Brown (Cleavant Derricks). Throughout the series, showrunners highlighted failings, opportunities, and successes in a wide variety of alternate realities, as a way of examining the success, failings, and opportunities in our own.
The show ended after five seasons, having explored dozens of realities, lost most of the main cast, and entered into a multiverse-spanning war with malevolent Kromaggs.
Sliders Had Two Warring Realities Behind the Scenes
In a show that can literally go anywhere and do anything, it was probably inevitable that there would be drama behind the scenes about where the show should go. During the first couple of seasons, the show remained mostly true to its original premise, visiting a new world in each episode and exploring the massive consequences of seemingly small differences.
Some believed the premise could be best used by crafting thoughtful, slow-moving stories while others wanted a faster, more action-packed narrative. Those behind-the-scenes battles for the soul of the show eventually led to John Rhys-Davies and Sabrina Lloyd leaving in season three.
Series lead Jerry O’Connell departed in season four, leaving only Cleavant Derricks remaining from the original crew. Rhys-Davies has gone on record as saying he felt Fox mismanaged the opportunity the show presented and those disagreements contributed to his departure. He has also maintained a deep love for the concept of the show, even lending himself to a possible revival, provided the stories are right.
When Rhys-Davies and Lloyd left the show in season three, they were accompanied by creators Tracy Tormé and Robert K. Weiss. O’Connell has said he felt as though everyone “left the party too early” and left him behind.
Continuity and Characters
During the third season, production of the show shifted from Vancouver to Los Angeles. Producing the show meant flying the cast and crew across North America, increasing the cost of production even before the cameras started rolling.
As a result, decisions were made to cut a number of recurring characters and bring in new ones played by actors who lived in the area. The loss of supporting characters in addition to Wade and Arturo further eroded the show’s foundation, forcing later seasons to push the narrative into increasingly novel territory, generating confusion among viewers.
That confusion only exacerbated continuity problems that haunted the show from the beginning. For reasons that aren’t totally clear, Fox decided to air a number of episodes out of order, requiring viewers to accept plot points that hadn’t yet been established. Like the fictional story they were telling, the reality on set was just too in flux for anyone to survive long term. Fox canceled the show after its third season.
The Revival and Reinvention of Sliders on Sci-Fi Channel
Sliders was saved from an early demise when it was picked up by SYFY (previously the Sci-Fi Channel) where it would air for another two seasons. The change in network brought a change in narrative as well. In season four, Quinn and crew find their way back to Earth Prime but discover that, as the old saying goes, you can’t go home again.
Earth Prime had been overrun by the Kromaggs, a humanoid race that was driven from their own world and is now bent on conquering the entire multiverse. Once at Sci-Fi, the show largely shifted away from episodic explorations of unique realities and toward a larger overstory with the Kromaggs. What started as a relatively low-stakes adventure about a few friends trying to get home, became a massive story about the fate of all universes and it necessarily lost a little of its humanity.
In making the story larger, Sliders was burning the candle at both ends. It burned a little brighter but it couldn’t last forever. Quinn and friends could have gone on sliding forever, but a Worlds War can only go on so long.
O’Connell left the show after season four but, despite having lost three quarters of the regulars including the series lead, Sliders continued for one more season. A sliding accident involving multiple Quinns explained the sudden change in Mallory’s nature and appearance and the final series wrapped up (for the most part) the conflict with the Kromaggs.
Looking through the rearview mirror, it becomes clear there was no one cause for the cancellation (either the first or the second) of Sliders. Instead, like many shows before and since, a series of decisions both creative and political led to seemingly small changes that, over time, backed the show into a corner.
Of course, in the multiverse anything is possible, and Sliders could appear through a portal and make a triumphant return. Rumors of a reboot or return have been swirling around the media multiverse for years. The only question is how much time we have to stay in a universe without Sliders in it before the countdown reaches zero once again.
Until then, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the five seasons we’ve got. Catch Sliders in its entirety, streaming now on Peacock.