Why Showtime Is Ending 'Penny Dreadful'

Showtime president David Nevins and series creator John Logan talk with THR about the decision to end the monster drama with Sunday's ultimate series finale.
Jim Fiscus/Showtime

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's Penny Dreadful.]

It's the end of the road for Showtime's monster drama Penny Dreadful.

Sunday's two-hour Penny Dreadful season three ender ultimately will stand as a series finale, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The decision to wrap the series, which concluded with the stunning death of Eva Green's Vanessa Ives, comes as little surprise after the second hour concluded with a definitive "The End."

To hear series creator/showrunner John Logan tell it, the plan all along was for the series — featuring famed monster characters including Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and figures from the Dracula novel — to run three seasons.

"John has decided the show really, at its core, has always been Vanessa Ives. John has said three seasons is enough and I think it's really interesting that we live in this world where every show can have its own rhythm and create its own destiny," Showtime president David Nevins told THR. "This is a case of your creator says this is the best thing for the show and eventually you just say OK, do it, just do it well." 

For Showtime, meanwhile, Penny Dreadful marks its third series wrap announcement in the past two months as comedy House of Lies concluded its run this month, and Matt LeBlanc entry Episodes was confirmed for a final season in 2017.

With the conclusion of Penny Dreadful, Showtime's drama roster now consists of Homeland, The Affair, Masters of Sex, Ray Donovan, Billions and hourlong dramedy Shameless, as well as a lengthy list of upcoming series including Patti Smith's Just Kids, Cameron Crowe's Roadies, Jim Carrey's I'm Dying Up Here, recently ordered Daniel Craig starrer Purity, Twin Peaks and John Ridley's Idris Elba miniseries Guerrilla.

Below, Logan — for whom Penny Dreadful was the first TV series — and Nevins talk with THR about the decision to wrap the show. (Plus watch videos with Logan and the cast, both below, addressing the news.)

When did you first know this would be the final season?

Logan: It was midway through season two, about two years ago when I was envisioning season three. I knew at the end of season two that Vanessa Ives steps away from God and burns the crucifix and she's left completely alone without the one thing that sustained her and the one source of strength she truly has — which is her faith. Since the show for me has always been about a woman grappling with God and faith, I thought the idea of her scratching her way back to God and finally achieving some some of apotheosis was the appropriate ending. As the season began to dance about in my head, I realized where it was going to have to go and have to end. I thought that was the right end and the graceful end for the character. I discussed it with Eva and then talked to David about where I felt the season was going. 

Nevins: I spent a short amount of time trying to say, "Are you sure you want to do it? There's all these other wonderful characters." It became clear John was right and it needed Vanessa or it wasn't smart to continue the show beyond Vanessa. I fairly quickly said yes. And then the question was how do we handle that information and position it? The traditional thing to do was announce this is the last season. It felt like that would give away the surprise and part of the pleasure of watching TV now is experiencing it for yourself and the emotions in an unspoiled, unmediated sort of way. The episode begins with not the usual main title and that signals something different is going on here and it ends with "The end."

Many viewers felt Vanessa's arc suggested she was doomed at the end of the first season. Do you think this is an example of one great performance shifting the focus of an ensemble show more than anticipated?

Logan: From a writer's perspective, this was always a show about Vanessa Ives for me. That character was the spine of the show.

Nevins: This was not a change. It was clear from John's perspective, the show was about Vanessa Ives' story. I encouraged an ensemble a bit, but its spine and trunk was always Vanessa.

What parting message do you hope viewers take away from Penny Dreadful?

Logan: Love your demons, they're who you are. If there's anything about these characters that I loved, it's that they're all flawed. The more they embrace who they are, the more peace they achieve.

Showtime is ending Episodes, House of Lies and now Penny Dreadful. Was there any conversation about a fourth season or some sort of spinoff to keep the franchise alive?

Nevins: John and I talked about various possibilities. But it didn't go for long. He was resolute that this is the right time. [As for spinoffs,] anything is possible at any time. We're staying close to John [who has an overall deal with Showtime] — he's deep into Just Kids with Patti Smith, which is going to be amazing. It's going to be really singular and an interesting relationship with two great characters at the center of it. That's where TV is. Fortunately we have a very strong core of shows. Penny Dreadful will be missed, but our core is strong and the things that are upcoming are strong. And John is going to be a big part of it. We'll be his television home for a long time. 

You were a first-time showrunner with Penny Dreadful. You wrote the first 22 episodes and added new writers for these last handful of episodes. Looking back, what's your biggest lesson here?

Logan: Delegating and looking for support. When I went into it, my experience with auteurs was Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott and this was a filmic version of it, and that's not sustainable in television. That's the biggest lesson I learned. To be able to bring in young writers was something I try to do, and to encourage and bring them into the Penny Dreadful world was thrilling for me and allowed me to sit back and not have to write every word, which was a relief. 

Nevins: This story got to its right ending and a very satisfying conclusion. It's a marker of where television is today that there are lots of different ways to do it. Twin Peaks is one fashion, Purity is going to be 20 episodes. You don't have to get to 100 episodes to have a lasting impact or to have business financial success.

What will fill Penny's slot next year? Showtime is making a big push to bow at least one original series a month, and you've got a deep bench of dramas: Purity, Guerrilla, I'm Dying Up Here

Nevins: I've thought about it. You've got some of them — and Billions. Any one of those, and it won't be one; there will be multiple series. I think you said them all. Add Homeland and Billions and I'm Dying Up Here, and it's going to be some combination of those.

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