Deadline Hollywood reports that TNT’s series about the early years of #William Shakespeare called “Will” has been canceled after only one season. Sadly, this decision was not surprising. The series made a number of bad decisions that turned off viewers who otherwise might have been attracted to a period drama about the life of one of the greatest poets and playwrights in history.

Rock and roll anachronisms were distracting

Will” made heavy use of anachronisms, including modern rock music and garish costuming and set design. This approach was an apparent attempt to make the series “relatable” to younger audiences. However, the transformation of 16th-century London’s theater scene into a psychedelic romp was off-putting to history buffs who wanted authenticity.

Advertisements
Advertisements

The series did not attract enough of an audience that might have been impressed by such decisions to justify a period costume drama, which tends to be more expensive to produce than most television fare.

The ‘Shakespeare in Love’ example

Ironically, whoever put “Will” together had an example of a Shakespearian drama that worked. “#Shakespeare In Love” is a 1998 motion picture starring Joseph Fiennes as the Bard and Gwyneth Paltrow as a lady who gets involved in the theater and who provides the inspiration for “Romeo and Juliet.” The movie worked because in setting, costuming, and dialogue, it was firmly set in the 16th century. The film had its anachronisms, but they were subtle and funny. There were no electric guitars and no portrayals of the Globe Theatre as a mosh pit as in "Will."

Network TV’s misses in period drama

While cable networks have had solid historical series, such as “The Tudors,” “The Borgias,” and “Vikings,” network TV seems to keep missing.

Advertisements

“Still Star Crossed” was the summer’s other historical series, a sequel to “Romeo and Juliet." While it had great story lines, the series fell down because it elevated ethnic diversity in casting that ran not only against the reality of 15th-century Italy but biological science. The CW’s “Reign” was considered a success in that the series about Mary Queen of Scots ran for four seasons, but it too suffered from some of the same artistic choices that sank “Will” and “#Still Star Crossed.”

Network television, by its nature, cannot approach the sex and violence that is common on cable TV. However, the programmers could learn a thing or two about how history has inherent drama and timeless stories that can fascinate and hold audiences. One does not watch a show about a 16th-century monarch or medieval pirates to be reminded of the 21st century. One wants to be taken back to the past to get into a different world.