As fans of the quirky Eli Stone TV show know by now, ABC decided not to order any more episodes, effectively cancelling the series. While the network has abandoned the show, co-creator Marc Guggenheim is still hoping for season three. Will it happen? Will we even get to see the remaining four episodes of season two?
Eli Stone centers around a San Francisco attorney (Jonny Lee Miller) with a promising future. He’s engaged to fellow lawyer Taylor Wethersby (Natasha Henstridge), the daughter of his prestigious boss (Victor Garber). Eli’s idyllic life is turned upside down when he begins to have strange hallucinations. Is he a prophet or sick? With the help of his brother Nathan (Matt Letscher) and an acupuncturist, Dr. Chen (James Saito), Eli learns the truth about his condition and starts to understand his new life. Other series performers include Loretta Devine, Sam Jaeger, Julie Gonzalo, Jason Winston George, and Tom Amandes.
The show debuted in January 2008 as a midseason replacement series on ABC. The Eli premiere attracted 11.83 million viewers and a 4.2/12 rating /share in the 18-49 demographic. The ratings for the subsequent episodes fell as low as 5.88 million and a 1.6/4 rating/share towards the end of the season. Still, ABC decided to show faith in the show and renewed Eli for a second season of 13 episodes.
Season two’s debut numbers were pretty high, thanks mostly to its Dancing with the Stars lead-in. Unfortunately, the ratings began to fall in subsequent weeks and the show lost 60% of its lead-in audience. As a result, ABC decided not to order any additional installments and the cast and crew were informed on November 20th.
Guggenheim has maintained that the series has not actually been cancelled and recently told Newsarama, “I hold a hope that Eli comes back for a third season. Is it a thin hope? Yes. Is it a hope? Yes. But it’s not impossible at this point… And by ‘not impossible,’ I mean that the sets are still standing and the actors are still under contract. It’s possible. I mean, in television, anything is possible.”
As is often the case in series television these days, the writers didn’t know the show’s fate as they were writing the last episode of the season. As a result, they had to write it to work as either a mid-season finale or a series finale. Guggenheim says, “Because of the way the show was on the bubble last year, we’re kind of experienced with that kind of episode so we knew how to do that. And we did write episode 13 to work both ways.”
Guggenheim continues, “After word came down that they weren’t ordering additional episodes, I went in and just wrote in a little extra piece of information regarding Katie Holmes’ character [Grace]. We’re going to find out what happened to her after she flew out of Eli’s life at the end of the second episode this season. It relates to an idea that I had for the back nine episodes. But that was really the only change I made to that last episode that was influenced by the network’s decision.”
What else happens in the unaired four episodes? Guggenheim shares that viewers will see a resolution of the cliffhanger from the December 30th episode, some resolution to the flirtations between Eli and Maggie, some new info about and Matt and Taylor’s relationship, and the fate of the Wethersby, Posner & Klein law firm. Guggenheim says the four episodes “wrap up a lot of things. There’s a laundry list of things that are taken care of by the time episode 13 ends. And we really did end with a bang.”
Though fans may be upset by the network’s decision not to continue the show, Guggenheim believes ABC gave Eli a lot of support. When ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson called him to give him the bad news, Guggenheim told him that he was thankful that the show had been brought back for a second season. He said, “The show wasn’t doing great in ratings at the end of the first season, so [McPherson] would have been justified in not bringing it back, but he did. I think that was an extraordinarily high show of faith in the show. And I think it was an extraordinarily brave thing to do.”
As to why the show didn’t attract a larger audience, Guggenheim believes it’s a very difficult series to market. He says, “It’s hard to distill a show like Eli Stone down to a marketing slogan. I think that’s what makes it special, and I think that’s why the people who like the show like it so much. But, they like the show because they sampled it. They checked it out and watched it and fell in love with it. If you don’t check out the show, it’s hard to figure out what it is. So I have no complaints with how the network marketed the show. I honestly don’t know what they could have done differently.”
The co-creator also believes that, if the economy wasn’t in such bad shape, the network might have been able to afford to keep the show going. He also thinks that Eli might have been just a little ahead of its time. Guggenheim says, “Eli is a very hopeful show. And we’re starting to see this era of hope get inaugurated – no pun intended – with the start of Barack Obama’s administration. Everyone’s starting to feel hopeful again and everything’s feeling more positive again. But this show premiered in the waning years of the Bush administration, and I don’t mean to take a political stance here, I’m just speaking from an opinion poll perspective, but the country was not in a very hopeful place when the series started. The country was not feeling too good about itself. It’s possible that Eli was the right show, but just at the wrong time. You never know.”
While the remaining four episodes haven’t been scheduled by the network as yet, they have been filmed and Guggenheim’s been wrapping up the post-production work on the final two.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like ABC will be airing the final four episodes any time soon — if at all. At the recent Television Critics Association press tour, McPherson said that he’d like to air the final episodes of Eli, Dirty Sexy Money, and Pushing Daisies but there are financial complications.
He said, “We’re looking at ways of amortizing our whole schedule. There are a lot of different things in terms of what shows we’re repeating, which shows we have runs of. As far as Saturday night, on the one hand, fine, we’ll just burn [the unaired episodes] off. On the other hand, we have affiliates and we’re supposed to be scheduling the strongest schedule we can… I love that there are passionate fans, but unfortunately the shows didn’t have enough fans to work”
McPherson said that he’d like to get them posted online but that would require negotiating for online rights without broadcasting them.
As it now stands it looks like the final four episodes of Eli won’t be aired until Summer, if at all. On the positive side, it’s very likely that the complete second season of Eli will be released on DVD at some point in the future. Apparently, like Eli, it seems like viewers are expected to just have faith.
Images courtesy ABC.