Why NBC Canceled Debris After Just One Season (What Went Wrong)

NBC canceled Debris after season 1, and there are a few reasons why the network ended its new sci-fi show. The high-concept show originally seemed promising: An X-Files-like dynamic of two agents traveling around the country and investigating mysterious anomalies caused by the debris from an alien spaceship that crashed to Earth and broke up in the planet’s atmosphere, scattering the pieces all over. The buzz around it was high, particularly with two charming leads in Jonathan Tucker (Bryan Beneventi) and Riann Steele (Finola Jones) and Fringe creator J.H. Wyman behind it. Unfortunately, after being canceled, Debris season 2 is highly unlikely.


Sadly, the series never truly got off the ground and the network will be moving forward with a Debris season 2. On the surface, the reason for the cancelation was the reason for all cancelations: the numbers just weren’t there. After such promise, the show never really found its footing and failed to hit big numbers, only reaching a 0.7 average rating in the all-important 18-49 demographic and under five million viewers per episode. And numbers kept dropping. Its last ratings were a dismal 0.38 rating and 2.8 million viewers, awful numbers for a network series.

Related: Debris: Every Property The Alien Technology Has Shown (So Far)

Low ratings, however, don’t come out of nowhere. If audiences aren’t watching a show, there’s a reason for it. Debris failed to connect with viewers, and that was because it lacked the one thing all TV shows need to succeed: a story engine. Here’s exactly why Debris got low ratings that led to it being canceled and whether or not there’s hope for a Debris season 2.

What Happened To NBC’s Debris

Debris on NBC

NBC’s cancelation left many wondering: what happened to Debris? Ultimately, the show’s lack of a story engine undermined the sci-fi series from the beginning. A story engine is a concept that is a little hard to define, but in essence, it’s exactly that: the thing that powers a show. It’s the reason the characters do what they do, rooted in who they are and what they want. No matter how exciting an initial pilot or premise is, eventually, a TV series needs something that keeps audiences coming back week after week. It needs to give them a reason to care about the characters and what’s happening to them, and Debris‘ lack of that driving engine led to its cancelation. Without it, audiences just lose interest and drift away.

After 13 episodes, Debris still didn’t know where it was going. The greater problem is that it didn’t offer a compelling reason for why audiences should have stuck with it until the show figured it out. Unfortunately, without a story engine, the characters didn’t resonate with viewers enough to make up for the lack of direction. Despite the valiant efforts of Steele and Tucker, Debris‘s Finola and Bryan only ever remained sketches rather than fully-formed people because there was no engine powering what they wanted. Without it, audiences failed to care.

Why NBC Canceled Debris Is A Common Sci-Fi TV Problem

Debris series properties of alien technology

Debris isn’t alone in being canceled for this reason, however. TV is littered with shows that could charitably be described as all head, no heart, high-concept series that seem great on paper but lack an emotional hook to keep people watching. Debris is just another example of a flawed show that is structured as a procedural but relies on the “mystery box” conceit. The problem is that the concepts do not work in conjunction with one another. Investigative procedurals are a simple structure and concept: a person or people are presented with a crime or mystery and walk through the steps until it’s solved. A larger, overarching mystery can be laid on top of a procedural’s story-of-the-week format, but by the end of the episode, the central story for the week better be resolved and by the end of the season, most of the main questions should be answered.

Related: Debris Can’t Be The Next X-Files Until It Fixes Its Modern Sci-Fi Problem

Mystery boxing, however, is fundamentally the opposite of a procedural by its nature, which is why Debris season 2 is unlikely. While the concept has been around a while, the modern mystery box was popularized by J.J. Abrams. If an audience has watched Abrams’ Lost, then they’ve familiar with a mystery box show. The meta nature of a mystery box show isn’t bad on its own, the problem is when the show becomes a Jenga tower of mysteries added to mysteries just for the sake of it; eventually, the audience needs answers. They need payoff after the time they’ve invested. When nothing is ever resolved, it’s impossible for viewers to get a firm grasp on what a show is or where it’s going. That’s largely what happened with Debris and led to its cancelation.

Will Debris Season 2 Happen

Riann Steele as Finola Jones in Debris Season 1 on NBC

In recent years, when series are canceled prematurely on networks, they’re often picked up by streamers and given new life. It doesn’t seem that that will be the cast with Debris season 2, which will almost certainly not happen after NBC canceled Debris. Occasionally, if a streamer sees something in a canceled cable or network show worth saving, even a troubled show can be resurrected. However, that decision usually hinges on the show having a passionate fanbase; the series may not pull big network numbers, but streamers count on the loyal audience following the show over to their platform. While the Debris premiere set up its spaceship story, which wasn’t fully addressed by the season finale, the show didn’t really have time to build up a small but passionate fanbase. It’s a shame, as Debris had the seed of something great. Unfortunately, Debris doesn’t seem to have any of the factors that streamers usually look for when considering whether picking up the option for a show is worthwhile and its early cancelation says as much.

If Debris were to see renewed life down the road, it likely would not come in the form of Debris season 2. Instead, it’s likelier that the core idea of the canceled Debris would be salvaged and reworked into a reboot in a few years or another show with a different title. In the end, despite having a very cool concept, Debris just didn’t have enough of a hook to keep audiences going. Whatever adventures Finola and Bryan were meant to have will remain as undeveloped storylines.

Next: Why Battlestar Galactica Ended After Season 4 (Was It Canceled?)

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