It’s been a wild year for Showtime series Ray Donovan already, and it’s only February. The award-winning show starring Liev Schreiber wrapped up its seventh season just a couple of weeks ago, but the writing was already on the wall. A comment from the network’s Co-President of Entertainment Gary Levine said the series would come to a close sooner than later, prompting Schreiber to encourage fans to speak up if they wanted more. Too little, too late it seems. Ray Donovan was cancelled by Showtime just this week. And as much of a shock as that news was to fans of the show, it was doubly so for the creative team behind the scenes.
Ray Donovan showrunner David Hollander spoke to Vulture about that surprise cancellation. He talked at length about the history of the show at the network and how executives aggressively renewed it and “dragged” the writers/cast back “kicking and screaming” season after season; this wasn’t a show on the bubble or one scraping by. Hollander also mentions contacting the cast and crew individually after speaking with Showtime; it’s clear that no one saw this sudden cancellation coming.
We’re still scratching our heads. We had no indicator that the show was ending. We were behaving creatively as though we were in mid-sentence. And so, there was no sense that this was going to be a completion. This was in no way a series finale.
So there was clearly no early indication that the acclaimed drama with the passionate fan base would be coming to a close, but was there a clear reason for it?
The corporate elements of show business are complicated and often mired in things that will never be spoken out loud. I think the easiest external impact was the merger [between CBS and Viacom]. Whatever new environment grew from the merger clearly had some impact on their choice.
Like I wrote about at length, a ViacomCBS streaming service that unites the megacorp’s brands all under one umbrella would be a powerful entity in the Streaming Wars; perhaps the future of Ray Donovan isn’t yet written in stone but is simply on pause while the powers that be figure out a way to transition it to CBS All Access or some future streaming platform. So what would a Season 8 look like should it be revived?
The pivot we had been making narratively was to move the backstory into the present and run it concurrently. So there were actually two stories to be told: What happened then, really, and how will that impact what happens now? The next step was what happened with Ray and Mickey in the ‘90s, which would have been the creation of Ray Donovan as a character and as a fixer. That’s why we went into such detail to find the right cast.
That [flashback] story was a helpful pivot, at least for me creatively. I felt really good about it. And so, that story was going to run directly against the idea of Ray and Mickey now.
Season 8 was intended to be the actual endpoint. So what are the chances it pops up elsewhere?
I never know. This is a big show. To be fair to our bosses, Ray Donovan, for the Showtime model, was a very expensive show. We were going into our eighth season with salaries and all the step-ups for union. And the move to New York was extraordinarily expensive, so there’s that. Is there an audience that wants to see this, that will create a demand cycle where someone will absorb the risk? I would never say never. It is much easier to do in the now. The sets are still standing. The people are still contracted. The mechanisms are in place. Once we tear down the sets and put the costumes away… it’s a lot of actors who are in demand.
Hollander also addressed the fans who were blindsided by the news as well:
Thank you, first and foremost. A huge, huge thank you. All we can do is hope that we have an audience that cares. The gratitude is really meaningful to those of us who are feeling a little bit lost by what’s happened.
The other thing that I feel is a bit apologetic. I’m proud of the work that we all did. I’m proud of the way that this year ended. It was powerful and well-acted and they achieved what I hoped they would. However, this wasn’t meant to be [the ending]. You could spin it one way and say that it’s hard to satisfy an audience with a finale, not that I didn’t want to try. I always want the opportunity to try. I just wish I had.
For more on Ray Donovan, including the way it could have ended if Hollander and his team had been given more of a heads up, be sure to head to Vulture for the full chat.