Lucifer's Past, and the Road Ahead
The show weathered a cancelation on cable TV and lived on to become a pop culture sensation.
As DC Comics looked to populate the small screen with adaptations of its most-coveted characters, the Warner Brothers-owned entity cast its net wide across different networks to complement their theatrical offering as the competition with Marvel Studios was in full-swing. While a good portion of those adaptations found their home on the CW, the rest aired on other networks with varying levels of success–Lucifer’s stay on FOX seemed promising enough, and while abrupt cancelation eventually came, it proved insufficient to foil the Devil’s plans, and his bidding would soon be carried by Netflix as mass fan outcry proved too loud to dismiss.
Such a change in scenery isn’t without its pains though, and the flagrant incompetence of FOX — the previous distribution rights owner — is important to highlight here. Before the network sold their TV business to Disney, a broadcasting deal with the NFL put a shortstop to all but the best performing shows on the network as its allotted airtime for prestige television got much slimmer–given Lucifer wasn’t exactly a priority for the network in the first place, the sports-induced programming clashes manifested in schedule changes and haphazard off-air haitises that further hammered away at ratings, leading to the show’s eventual cancelation.
Despite Lucifer’s then-unceremonious end, FOX made its intentions clear about selling distribution rights to another entity–the show would get an extra showing of a few episodes to gage interest, but it seemed to be more-so done for potential investors rather than regular viewers. This happened in the background of a massive social media campaign spanning millions of posts across multiple platforms with explicit backing from the actors and writers to bring the show back, and they eventually struck gold–the show’s new permanent home would become the worldwide streaming behemoth Netflix, blasting the doors open wide for increased exposure as global audiences get to finally watch the show without the hoops of licensing deals overseas.
Now that the show had free reign to experiment with themes previously restrained by the limitations of cable, it was bound to deliver its best possible showing on Netflix. Critics were unanimous about the fourth season — and the first since the show’s streaming debut — being an overall good step forward, but it seems as though Netflix didn’t see a proper return on their investment, and a fifth season is announced as a last hurrah to the show, doubling as a much more compelling syndication package for the streaming service.
Shortly before the fifth season dropped, Netflix ordered yet another extension, making it the second time writers thought they were about to end the story far too abruptly, only for them to have to write themselves further into it–needless to say this isn’t an ideal situation for a show’s development, and the writers have expressed as much. “To be honest, we actually were like, “No!” Because we had crafted what we thought was a really satisfying ending. We thought we had stuck it, and we were very worried about having a subsequent season,” Lucifer showrunner Ildy Modrovich told Collider. “It just felt like a denouement to what we thought was such a swan song, but then we talked with the room about it for a couple of days, and just tossed ideas around until we found a story that we realized was a whole other chapter that we just hadn’t thought of. We realized we have one more story to tell. Now we can’t imagine not telling that story.”
With Lucifer’s future looking bountiful yet, it has two directions it can conceivably go: Either the show sticks its original plan and concludes after its slated episode count has been delivered, or the streaming giant soft-reboots it to make it a more permanent staple of its offering. If the latter is true — and despite indications that this might be the case, it is highly unlikely — then the show would perhaps see itself last a little longer than it needs to. There’s a reason shows like Supernatural and The Good Place are placated against each other as perfect respective examples of what happens when a show runs for as long as its cast is willing to stomach it, versus when the writers see no point to stretching it for far too long–Lucifer treaded that balance carefully in the past, but it might overstay its welcome if the pace of renewals doesn’t give.
Still, that Netflix granted the show a longer lifespan doesn’t necessarily mean that it found sudden purchase from audiences previously disinterested, at least not in the traditional way–evidence is circumstantial at this point, but there’s reason to believe the company might’ve artificially bumped Lucifer up on its algorithm to elicit more engagement.
If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be the first time the company did it. When The Witcher launched, it had boasted Netflix’s strongest debut to date, but it was later revealed that a great portion of that was precipitated by the service’s numerous recommendation avenues–conversely, shows like Tuca and Bertie were heavily punished by Netflix’s algorithm and got subsequently canceled as a result. Lucifer, if it indeed got its newly-found popularity thanks to the service’s recommendation algorithm, it’s more data for the streaming giant to further optimize what type of content it makes for its subscribers–even if the show ends soon, another is sure to supplant it, perhaps even with Lucifer’s creative team assigned the duties of making it.
But the story of Lucifer’s success is more about its potential favors with the Netflix algorithm–it’s also a testament to how Joe Henderson, Ildy Modrovich & co managed to salvage such a good idea from the ravages of inept management and proceeded as if completely unbothered. There’s an emotional core to the show that keeps viewers coming back, but more so crucial to its success is a creative team that didn’t abandon it even when the moment seemed opportune–fans’ delight notwithstanding, it is one of the most thrilling stories of creativity triumphing above corporate interest, despite how often all-consuming the latter is.