Confusion continues to reign regarding precisely why the live-action Swamp Thing series was cancelled, but we have a good idea of just what went down. Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and comic readers alike, the latest live-action series from DC Universe was cancelled after only a single episode of its first season had released.
Conflicting reports regarding the highly-anticipated horror series have been par for the course. Swamp Thing's troubles began shortly after news reports surfaced in April which claimed that the show's original episode order had been reduced from 13 hour-long episodes to 10 episodes. This led to rumors that Swamp Thing had cost far more than anticipated and that the episode order was cut in a desperate bid to balance the budget. Other rumors pinned the blame on behind-the-scenes drama and artistic differences between the producers and Warner Bros. regarding the content, tone and creative direction of the series.
These rumors were renewed and spread across the Internet like wildfire following the announcement that Swamp Thing had been cancelled. This, coupled with Warner Bros. absence from Hall H at this year's San Diego Comic-Con and the lack of an official statement regarding the cancellation only served to build the sense of gloom and doom surrounding DC Comics' original productions. The end result was a goodly amount of wild speculation that DC Universe might not bother airing the rest of Swamp Thing's first season and that upcoming releases, like Stargirl and Harley Quinn, were in danger of being shelved entirely.
Based on all the evidence, there is not a simple answer for why Swamp Thing was cancelled. The situation is complicated and it is likely that a variety of factors were responsible, rather than one single, solitary reason.
Swamp Thing Did Not Have Quality Issues
One of the more frequent rumors regarding why Swamp Thing was cancelled is that there were issues with quality control and behind the scenes squabbling. This was news to the cast and crew of the series, who were as stunned as anyone by the reduced episode order and the cancellation announcement. Actress Virginia Madsen, who played the role of Maria Sutherland, posted that she and the rest of the team were "beyond sad" following the production being called to a halt and that nobody had seen this coming in a now-deleted Instagram post.
One of the stranger rumors bandied around claimed that Executive Producer James Wan (already well in with DC having directed Aquaman) had originally wanted to develop Swamp Thing as a limited mini-series like Amazon Prime's Good Omens, but was pressured into making a full season series. This would have explained the episode reduction, something allegedly down to creative differences, except for that it was apparently the studio that cut the order from thirteen to ten; they were supposed to be the ones who wanted more episodes in the first place.
Thankfully, these rumors seem to have been proven to be utterly untrue. Bill Saffo, Mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina (where Swamp Thing was filmed) issued a statement to StarNews Online that while he didn't know the full details, the quality of Swamp Thing's production was not a reason for its cancellation. This is unsurprising, given that most of the reviews of the first two episodes singled out the show's production design as one of its best features. Indeed, it seems unlikely that quality control was a problem even ignoring Mayor Saffo's testimony.
Swamp Thing Did Not Have Grant Money Complications
One factor that has been proven not to be responsible for Swamp Thing's cancellation is a grants program run by the State of North Carolina. This claim was originally raised by cartoonist John Gholson, who alleged on Twitter that the paperwork for a grant had been improperly processed. As a result, the show's $85 million budget had been halved, forcing the show's cancellation after reducing the episode order was not enough to save it. While Gholson's claims might sound plausible to a layman, there was no truth behind them.
Hunter Ingram of StarNews Online determined that Swamp Thing had been awarded two separate grants - one for $4.9 million dollars exclusively set aside for the pilot episode and one for $12 million to cover the rest of season 1. This was far below the $40 million Gholson claimed the state had promised to invest in the series. As a result of Ingram's reporting, Gholson retracted his claims and has since then deleted his Twitter account.
Gholson's claims were also refuted by Guy Gaster, Director of the North Carolina Film Office. Gaster rejected any claims that the grant was improperly handled by state officials or Warner Bros. representatives, while confirming the budget numbers in Ingram's reporting. In an exclusive statement to Screen Rant, Gaster explained precisely how the grants program worked and why it would be impossible for the state to take back any money that it gave a production company:
"Like other states that offer these kinds of programs, it's all after the work is completed and has been verified in some way. For us, it's an audit that is to be performed by an independent North Carolina licensed CPA. But they have had an award set aside for just a little north of $4.9 million for their pilot episode, and then an additional $12 million for the remainder of season 1. Those offers were made up front to the production and agreed upon prior to the start of production. So, I certainly would dispute [publications] that have said this was an offer that was somehow pulled back from Warner Bros.""
WB Hasn't Given A Reason For Swamp Thing's Cancellation - So It's Probably Not A Good One
The chief complication in getting to the truth behind Swamp Thing's cancellation has been the lack of any official statement from Warner Bros. and DC Universe. This has only served to encourage various rumors regarding budget problems, creative differences, a change in leadership following the merger of AT&T and Time-Warner and the viability of the DC Universe service operating independently of the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming service. Another frequent rumor on social media is that Swamp Thing was cancelled as a precursor to developing more family-friendly programming in a bid to promote DC Universe to a wider audience.
While it is entirely possible that there are things in the works that nobody at Warner Bros. can comment upon for legal reasons, the lack of any solid facts has only served to stoke the fires of paranoia. At this point, it's likely that Warner Bros. merely wishes to avoid further escalating the situation with an explanation that may only further enrage DC Universe users, but that's a stand that's doing more harm than good. The news of Swamp Thing's cancellation has prompted many DC Universe users to cancel their subscriptions, if the accounts of many people on social media can be believed. That resentment could spell trouble for WarnerMedia, whether or not DC Universe is absorbed into it.
Swamp Thing Doesn't Fit Warner Bros. Streaming Plans
In lieu of an official statement, it seems that the most likely explanation for Swamp Thing's cancellation lies within the plans for the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming service. WarnerMedia is currently projected to have a $16-17 monthly price tag and will offer subscribers access to HBO, Cinemax, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and TCM among other cable networks. It has also been reported that original programming creators are under pressure to create more mainstream HBO shows in order to offer a broader appeal to as large an audience as possible. A property like Swamp Thing, which was designed to appeal to fans of horror and comic books, may thus be too niche for the tastes of The Powers That Be.
This theory seems to have been born out by Hunter Ingram, who is the sole entertainment reporter in the state of North Carolina. Ingram has also been in close proximity to Swamp Thing's production for the last year and reported in April that the reason for the sudden end of Swamp Thing's filming was so that Warner Bros. "could evaluate the future of its DC Universe streaming platform."
While DC Universe issued an official statement on their community forums after Swamp Thing's cancellation asserting that the service would continue to "develop new shows, new seasons, new stories, more availability, and more platforms," a merger into WarnerMedia seems like the best possible solution for both services. While DC Universe is far less expensive at $7.99 per month, DC Comics' main competitor Marvel has already been rolled over into the upcoming Disney+ streaming service, which is expected to charge $6.99 per month. In fact, adding DC Universe into WarnerMedia's offerings would help to justify its heftier price tag.
The Netflix Model Is Too Expensive For DC Universe
Whether WarnerMedia and DC Universe merge or not, it remains to be seen if any streaming service that produces their own programming can survive in the long-term. While Netflix has found tremendous success with their original programming and inspired other studios to follow suit, the company is also billions of dollars in debt. It should also be noted that Netflix only acquired the funds to start producing their own shows after years of slow and steady resource building.
While Warner Bros. might be able to soak an $85 million loss on a failed series if it were part of the larger WarnerMedia service, it cannot afford such a loss from a specialty service like DC Universe. Sadly, this does nothing to help the production team in North Carolina that are now out of a job. Nor does it help those fans of Alec Holland hoping for a long-running, live-action series to recall the full saga of the Swamp Thing.