TV shows get cancelled all the time. It’s part and parcel of an industry that runs on ratings and business decisions. The fans are left disappointed, crying out for a resolution to tantalising cliffhangers, but soon the noise dies down and everyone moves on.
So much so that Ellis – who played the eponymous Lucifer Morningstar for three series – has since flown to Los Angeles to take part in some important conversations “sparked” by the cancellation backlash. The social media groundswell has been so strong that even Newsnight came calling. “I was dumbfounded when they got in touch with me,” Ellis tells RadioTimes.com. But he saw it as a chance to help the show’s many fans to understand why the axe fell.
“I knew I’d have an opportunity to have a proper intelligent conversation as to why these things happen and to try and explain so people could understand the model by which we work.”
Speaking to Ellis, it’s clear his main concern is the show’s fanbase. “It’s so disappointing for fans when they don’t understand the decision making process and it’s important to talk about that right now because people get left in the lurch.”
He adds: “The hardest thing for fans to understand is these decisions are business decisions and not decisions that are there to disappoint them.”
The move to omit Lucifer from Fox’s schedule came after the show’s audience figures dipped below three million, but Ellis says “ratings only reflect how many people are watching the show on that network… What it doesn’t do is tell the story of fans’ passion and social media does tell that story.”
The volume of tweets since the news broke speaks to the passion of the show’s fans, but also to the power they now wield thanks to social media and the increasing influence of streaming services. There’s a blueprint for cancelled shows finding a second life on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu; The Mindy Project, The Killing, Arrested Development and Ripper Street have all secured a second life online.
The latter, which was cancelled by the BBC after two series only to be picked up by Amazon, acts as a particular inspiration for Ellis – “that’s more of a model that I would assume that if anything did happen from this point, we’d go down that road. I remember when Ripper Street got picked up and I thought ‘isn’t that great’.”
At this stage, a revival by a traditional network looks unlikely. The CW – home to fellow comics series Supergirl, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow – have ruled out rumours of a pick-up, with president Mark Pedowitz stating: “We are happy with what we have. There’s been no discussion about it.”
Ellis says he never pinned hope on that particular outcome. “I was expecting that, I wasn’t disappointed by the news. I knew it was coming because, from what I’ve learned about the show and what I’ve learned about the business behind the show, it just was not the right fit.”
Instead, a streaming service is looking like Lucifer’s best chance of survival. “If it were to move forward that seems to be the strongest option right now,” says Ellis who, for now, is “putting [his] energy” into the campaign, basing himself in LA with Lucifer’s producers at Warner Bros. and Bruckheimer TV as they “try to find a home”.
The strongest weapon in their arsenal is surely Lucifer’s ardent fan base who have spurred on Ellis and his showrunners. “I’d have moped around for a few days trying to get my head around [the cancellation] and then moved on. But in this circumstance it’s been very difficult to ignore the noise – the outpouring of love for the show has mirrored how I’ve felt about it.
Not sure if you’ve crashed Twitter yet but you’ve definitely crashed my phone! It literally can’t keep up…You guys are Rampant! And I love it ? #SaveLucifer#PickLuciferUp ✊?
“The response has spurred me on to at least go, ‘OK, well I’m going to go and take part in these conversations’. When you spend so much time working on something it’s hard not to be passionate about it, certainly for me, and the producers want to harness my passion for it and take it around because it’s helpful for them.”
Would these “conversations” have taken place if the fan response hadn’t been so strong? “I think there would have been a lot of disappointed people… but it really has galvanised. This whole thing has galvanised us to at least try.”
Whether it will work is another question, but 39-year-old Ellis is not naive enough to assume he’ll receive his Lucifer paycheck next year. “I’m putting my energy into this for the time being – I’m not going to do this forever and ever… I don’t want to get to a point where it seems desperate or anything like that because I’m not desperate in that sense. But I feel like people want me to talk about this at the moment so I will talk to them about it.”
For now, he’s keeping his schedule clear and says the rest of the cast are keen to continue making Lucifer, “should it happen”.
If a revival were to go ahead, the new episodes would deal with the shocking events of the series three finale which saw a shocked Chloe witness Lucifer’s devil face after he finished off his adversary Cain. The events were so dramatic that co-showrunner Joe Henderson took to Twitter to apologise to fans for leaving them on such a cliffhanger:
We created a season finale with a huge cliffhanger so that there was no way Fox could cancel us. Instead, we're going to frustrate the hell out of you fans. I'm so sorry for that. #Lucifer
Designated Survivor has also left its fans in limbo – despite being “on the bubble” (US TV speak for “at risk”), both sets of showrunners closed out their series with plot threads left dangling in the wind. But Ellis remains resolute about Lucifer’s daring finale. “You can’t do this with one foot out of the bath – you’ve got to be committed and we needed to commit to our story on Lucifer and you just hope that it’s going to carry on.
“There is something to be said for if that is the last ever episode of Lucifer then we have honoured the old adage of leave them wanting more.”
He is coy about the sketched-out plan for series four – “let’s just say it was going to deal with the repercussions at the end of season three” – but was looking forward to playing out the inner struggle of his character. “I’ve always said the show is like Beauty and the Beast but in reverse and we’d finally got to the point where [Chloe] saw the Beast.”
The new series would also have seen the introduction of new characters. “Part of the model that has worked for Lucifer is we’ve had a big adversary come in and challenge everything so I imagine that would have been the direction we would have gone in.”
That storyline may never make it to screen – but the show will still release two previously unaired standalone episodes that have already been filmed. One of them features Lucifer creator Neil Gaiman playing God. “We were chuffed to bits to get him,” says Ellis.
The man who first dreamt up the character playing the creator of earth itself? It’s neatly meta. And while it may be the note upon which Lucifer ends, fans can live in the knowledge they did everything they could to pull their devil out of purgatory.
“This whole backlash and outpouring has created something that wasn’t going to happen,” says Ellis. “It has just proven that we did reach people and people do care about the show. As far as I’m concerned, job done.”