Ash vs. Evil Dead’s cancellation after its third season was a major disappointment to fans. Bruce Campbell’s return to the series that made him a star was big news back in 2015, and the show proved more true to the original trilogy than anyone could have hoped for, featuring many returning cast members, lovingly re-created sets from the first films, buckets of blood and gore and a heavy coating of camp. Given how loved this show was, why did it end?
A CULT CLASSIC
I first discovered the Evil Dead series back in the early 2000s, shortly before graduating high school. The series’ unbridled madness appealed to me, seamlessly transitioning from a straight 80s horror film to a wacky dark age themed comedy. Ashley J. Williams, played by Bruce Campbell became one of my favorite characters ever. I became deeply entrenched in the cult of The Evil Dead.
The Evil Dead trilogy has one of the most endearing fan bases in the horror community. What is a cult classic? Cult films and tv shows aren’t exactly mainstream. When compared to more mainstream franchises, they have comparatively small fan bases. What makes them special is the devotion those fans have. I’ve been a happy member of the Evil Dead fanbase for over a decade. But since cult properties appeal to a much smaller crowd than most, it can be a lot harder for them to find a wide enough audience to keep going during its initial run. The third Evil Dead film, Army of Darkness, may be considered a classic now, but it was a flop when first released. It was the warm regard of fans that saved from obscurity.
Still, many properties much like Evil Dead that have achieved great success recently. Stranger Things for example began as a show with seemingly limited appeal before blossoming into a cultural phenomenon. So why has Stranger Things continued to survive while Ash vs. Evil Dead suffered a premature death? It may be as simple as audience and venue.
The viewership during the show’s first season was actually quite high, indicating that the series had a bright future. But there are a few things to consider. Since Ash vs. Evil Dead was a cult property, it’s entirely likely that most of these initial ratings weren’t from longtime series fans. Undead themed properties are a hot item these days, so many viewers may have come on board without being familiar with the Evil Dead mythos. They would have been shocked to see it wasn’t just typical zombie slaughter.
Actor Bruce Campbell himself has also achieved a wider fanbase since Evil Dead, becoming a regular on the long running TV series Burn Notice from 2007 to 2013. Burn Notice was a comeback hit for Campbell, giving him a new generation of fans as well as some clout on the television scene. Many of Campbell’s fans from Burn Notice may have tuned in to see Sam Axe fighting the undead, unaware of the oft insane universe that Evil Dead encompasses. Both of these factors could have contributed to declining viewership.
Then of course there is a third contributor, one that may be uncomfortable for my fellow Ash lovers to admit. Some fans of the original trilogy didn’t like the show. It’s a conversation I’ve had a few times in various coffee shops, people who loved the original films calling the new show ‘terrible’ and ‘campy.’ Evil Dead of course always was campy, but I digress. The point is many of these fans would have initially tuned into the show, only to lose interest as the first and second seasons wore on.
Now before we begin, let me say I’m not claiming Starz conspired against this series. What I am going to say is that the format of Starz itself may have been the problem. Time and time again throughout history, shows like Ash vs. Evil Dead and Stranger Things have consistently failed to catch on with television audiences, only to find new life on home video. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Firefly, Eerie Indiana and many others got terrible ratings when they first aired, and have only sold well since they were made available on home video. Maybe better availability was the key to their success.
Ash vs. Evil Dead, like the aforementioned shows, followed a set schedule. Those shows were from a time before services like Netflix revolutionized how television series were viewed. The flexibility of when to view certain programs turned many series into hits that would have likely failed had they been released a mere few years ago. Starz is a notoriously rigid platform, having the same requirements as Netflix but still forcing viewers to follow a set schedule if they want to see their favorite shows. Netflix allows viewers to watch each episode at their own pace, repeatedly if they decide. Is it possible that this method of distribution is what allowed Stranger Things to catch on where it otherwise would have failed?
One critical clue supports this possibility. Stranger Things was more popular than Ash Williams’ return to slaying the undead, but it wasn’t the most illegally downloaded show. Ash vs. Evil Dead held that honor. Many of Ash’s so called devotees didn’t support the show by watching it legally, opting instead to pirate it. Stranger Things had more fans, but Ash vs. Evil Dead had more illegal downloads. Could the show airing on Netflix have changed that and help it reach a wider audience? It is possible.
FUTURE FOR ASH
What exactly lead to Ash vs. Evil Dead not surviving to a fourth season? Was it only one, or a combination of these factors? It’s hard to say. What many are wondering now is what the future will bring for everyone’s favorite slayer of demons. Will Ash rise to fight the forces of darkness again, or was this truly his swan song?
I would say not. Though Bruce Campbell has stated he wants to retire from the role, there are plenty of ways to continue the story of Ash, from comics, to graphic novels and video games. Graphic have given us a pretty amazing battle between Ash, Freddy, Jason, and even Marvel zombies. If that’s any indicator, though Bruce Campbell may have left the stage, I don’t think this is the last we’ll be seeing of Ash Williams. The financial failure of Army of Darkness couldn’t kill him. Odds are this won’t either, especially if Ash vs. Evil Dead proves a hit on home video.
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