One week after Netflix’s somewhat surprising cancellation of Marvel’s Iron Fist, the streaming network followed up with what has to be viewed as a shocking decision: Luke Cage will also not be renewed for a third season.
As with the Iron Fist news, Deadline was the first to report that Luke Cage is being canceled. (No soft landing for Danny Rand on another Marvel Netflix show.) What makes Netflix shutting down the series especially unexpected is that a renewal for a third season was considered a formality. Not to mention that the announcement comes on the same day that Daredevil’s Season 3 debuted. (Maybe this is sort of a warning to fans: If you want a fourth season for Daredevil, you’d better watch.)
According to Deadline’s Dominic Patten and Nellie Andreeva, scripts had been written for at least half of Season 3 and received notes from both Marvel and Netflix. The production wheel was turning. But Marvel and Netflix executives reportedly didn’t like the scripts that showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker and his staff had produced, nor the direction that the writers were pointing Season 3. As much as “creative differences” can often be a vague explanation for why a project fell apart, that’s apparently what really happened here.
“Add to that, the writers’ room was put on hold for a week in September, as the streamer and the Disney-owned company were figuring out the mechanisms of changing the deal for the planned Luke Cage third season from the original 13 episodes to a slimmed down 10 episodes. It eventually escalated to behind-the-scenes turmoil in the past two days and demands for changes in creative regime. With Marvel and Netflix seemingly intractable and in different sides of the disputes, a harsh cancelation became the only viable exit strategy, it appears.”
Many might think that Luke Cage and Coker earned the creative benefit of the doubt after two successful seasons on Netflix (although we don’t know exactly what “successful” means, since viewership numbers and ratings aren’t released). And asking for a shortened 10-episode season seems justifable, considering the prior two seasons felt stretched out to fill 13 episodes.
But the Deadline report points out that Netflix is a very different landscape than it was when those four Marvel series were greenlit. Netflix doesn’t own the series, as it does with shows like Narcos, Master of None, Altered Carbon, Ozark and so many more that now exist on the network. So an expensive show like Luke Cage (along with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher, Iron Fist, and The Defenders) really has to perform. The presumption was that it did, but obviously, the series didn’t perform so well that it was a no-brainer to renew.
So does Luke Cage have a future? The immediate response from many fans was that the series could bounce over to Disney’s streaming service, which could probably use the content. Yet the Marvel Netflix series are of a more adult nature and it’s unclear whether or not Disney Play wants that sort of programming alongside family-friendly movies and TV shows.
With both Luke Cage and Iron Fist canceled, however, the opportunity is there for an overhauled series that could give comic book fans the “Heroes For Hire” team-up that they’ve wanted ever since those characters were adapted for TV. Such a show could also incorporate the Misty Knight and Colleen Wing characters that are just as, if not more popular than the marquee superheroes.
Frankly, it could also provide some programming that features minorities, something that is arguably lacking among the current content set to launch on Disney Play.
But if Luke Cage isn’t right for Disney, what about one of Netflix’s streaming competitors? The show has an established brand, and star Mike Colter is a popular, recognizable face now. Amusement Park Podcast co-host Chris Cox suggested that Hulu would be an excellent landing point, and they’re already in the Marvel business with Runaways. That could be a really good fit. (Some might suggest Amazon too, but the guess is that the same issues with ownership and expense would come up there.)
Netflix is still in the Marvel business. Jessica Jones has been renewed for a third season (though that might be it for the series, with showrunner Melissa Rosenberg moving to Warner Brothers) and The Punisher will get a second run. If Daredevil’s Season 3 is successful, a fourth season seems likely. But a “Daughters of the Dragon” or a new series with another street-level Marvel character like Moon Knight probably isn’t going to happen at Netflix.
The creative leash clearly isn’t as generous as it was before and the pressure to perform has increased. At this point, maybe it’s natural that Marvel and Netflix will eventually part ways (especially with Disney Play now in play). What’s become clear is that nothing can be taken for granted. Yet will one door closing mean another one opening?