'Swamp Thing': Inside the Sudden Cancellation as DC Universe's Role Within WarnerMedia Remains a Mystery

Swamp Thing_Canceled - Publicity - H 2019
Brownie Harris/Warner Bros. Entertainment

In 2014, Fox bet big on pricey Egyptian drama Hieroglyph — handing out a straight-to-series order for the hour that was envisioned as the broadcaster's version of Game of Thrones. The network scrapped the series, which was produced by its then in-house studio, in a cost-saving move after execs were unimpressed with the pilot. 

After its surprising June 6 cancellation, Swamp Thing has become a case study in how a series gets axed in the Peak TV era. The drama, from Warner Bros. TV, was canceled a mere five days after its first episode debuted on the studio-backed DC Universe streaming platform.

The remaining nine episodes of the drama will continue to be released weekly as the series, from exec producer James Wan, now becomes part of the upstart streamer's programming library.

The timing of the cancellation — days after it launched to warm reviews (92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) — raised eyebrows. Trouble began April 17 when Warners trimmed Swamp Thing's order from 13 to 10 based on the creative output.

Despite promising reviews, insiders believed that they had a dud on their hands and, rather than pull the plug on the show and lose millions already invested with nothing to show for it — like Fox and Hieroglyph — the studio opted instead to complete work on the series and use it to bolster the library content on the DC Universe platform that serves as a value-add to its massive digital comic book library. 

The show was the third live-action drama to debut on DCU, joining the already renewed Titans and offshoot Doom Patrol, with the latter awaiting word on its future.

Sources say the timing of the cancellation was spurred by the studio's decision to bypass paying millions to store the show's physical sets in North Carolina. That decision led to the cancellation leak. Contrary to some early unconfirmed reports, tax incentives had nothing to do with the sudden cancellation as Swamp Thing was awarded $5 million in incentives for the pilot and an additional $12 million for the remainder of the season. "We are as disheartened as others are to learn of the cancellation as the series did provide job opportunities in our state for our highly skilled film workforce," North Carolina Film Office director Guy Gaster told THR

Meanwhile, it's unclear how DC Universe's scripted originals will fit in with parent WarnerMedia's streaming platform when that launches in beta this year as the three executives (Kevin Tsujihara, Diane Nelson and Craig Hunegs) who were instrumental in its creation are no longer with the company. DCU next has live-action drama Stargirl (pushed from October to 2020) and animated entry Harley Quinn

Sources say DCU fare could be folded into the WarnerMedia service, remain exclusive to its own platform, or employ a windowing strategy between the two brands. For its part, WarnerMedia's yet-to-be named streaming platform will feature scripted originals (including the recently ordered Ansel Elgort vehicle Tokyo Vice and a female-focused Dune sequel) and bundled content from brands including HBO, TNT and TBS as well as from its TV studio. 

DCU executives, for their part, have yet to receive clarity on how the dueling platforms could co-exist, something Wan alluded in a June 10 Instagram post: "Don't really know or understand why #SwampThing was canceled."

This story first appears in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.