Why Katey Sagal's Rebel Was Cancelled After Just Five Episodes, According To ABC's Boss

katey sagal angry in the courtroom on abc's rebel
(Image credit: abc press)

Though not always stated, one of TV's greatest truths is that "life is always better when more Katey Sagal shows are on the air," and ABC viewers were living in splendor thanks to the actresses work on both the freshman legal drama Rebel and the established sitcom The Conners. But while the latter series was recently renewed by the network for a fourth season, Rebel did not fare nearly as well, as it was shockingly cancelled after only five episodes made it to air. Many fans, as well as Sagal and creator Krista Vernoff, wondered what the deal was.

It appears there aren't any legitimate smoking guns to be found when it comes to Rebel's cancellation, by way of problems behind-the-scenes or with the cast, and that ABC's decision largely came down to the lack of immediate success. Here's how the networks' bossman Craig Erwich put it to THR:

Krista Vernoff is brilliant. She’s a vital partner to us and part of the Disney family. She created something very special there. Given the show and given our partnership with Krista, we gave it a really big launch. We focused a lot of our efforts across the entire company in telling people about this show, and unfortunately the audience didn’t amass the way it needed to. We tried to give the decision and the show every benefit of the doubt, but ultimately we just couldn’t find a path forward.

Now, because Katey Sagal is obviously still part of The Conners, and because Krista Vernoff is still the showrunner and EP on both Grey's Anatomy and Station 19, everybody higher up at ABC probably felt comfortable knowing that ending Rebel wouldn't be fully severing ties with anyone. (Although I guess the show's inspiration Erin Brockovich could certainly move to another network.) Still, it's interesting to hear him use the phrase "tried to give the decision and the show every benefit of the doubt," and yet Rebel wasn't allowed to get six episodes in front of audiences before the choice was made to pull the plug. To many, that might just sound like "doubt" without any benefits.

That said, it's not like Craig Erwich & Co. looked at tea leaves and astrological charts to arrive at the decision to cancel Rebel. The exec further explained the rationalization as guided by the drama's viewership data, saying:

It was a very carefully considered decision and one we tried to be methodical about. Part of the process was examining the behavior in terms of on-demand viewing and catch-up. How is it performing days after its performance on multiplatform viewing? And there was just not a trend there toward continuing to build the audience. Ultimately that’s what led to a very difficult decision.

(Image credit: abc press)

It's true that for a show with such big names attached (not to mention Andy Garcia as Katey Sagal's co-star), Rebel got off to a pretty slow start, with its premiere episode netting just 3.65 million people with the live airing. And that's in a pristine Thursday-night time slot right after Grey's Anatomy, so that scheduling was definitely set to give Rebel a statistical advantage, even though it didn't come through. And while the DVR numbers are indeed pretty decent, they would probably have to be outrageously good to make up the difference from the Thursday-night viewership.

So while the decision may not be the most agreeable one, as far as likeability goes, Rebel's cancellation boils down to just not enough people watching. So if there's anyone out there griping about losing the show, but hadn't actually watched it so that they could just binge it later on Hulu or Netflix, that kind of mindset is part of the issue here.

For those who don't want to say goodbye to Rebel just yet, you're in luck, since there are still another 8 episodes or so still left to air on ABC on Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m. Check out all the big shows that are coming to the 2021 Summer TV schedule, and see which of the biggest network TV shows are still waiting on renewal and cancellation decisions.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.