Manifest Is Coming Back From Cancellation Death For a Final Season
In the annals of television history, Manifest will receive an entry as exemplifying the difference a streaming network can make. The mystery-drama—about a plane that disappears mid-flight and reappears five years later, with its passengers suffering strange visions—was canceled by NBC in 2021. Then the first two seasons bowed on Netflix and the show shot into the stratosphere of popularity. Couple that with a dedicated fanbase and engaged actors rallying for more on social media, and there was a sudden scramble by Hollywood types to see if Manifest could be revived.
On August 28th, or “Flight 828 Day,” Netflix made it official. Manifest will be returning on Netflix—not NBC—for a “super-sized fourth and final season,” per Netflix’s press release. The order is for 20 episodes that “will be presented in parts to be determined.” This implies that Netflix is trying to get the biggest bang for its buck and plans to dole out the final season in different installments to make them watchable events.
I wrote about the phenomenon of Manifest’s newfound streaming fame last month. I was trying to determine why so many of us—myself included—couldn’t stop watching Manifest, although the show is not, objectively, good. It’s soapy, overwritten, and by its third season, it became uncomfortably religious in its themes for some viewers. Yet Manifest is still compelling watchable, having mastered the art of the shocking cliffhanger and the unexpected twist and deploying both to great effect. Its characters are mostly endearing in their earnestness. Like many viewers who found the series a distracting relief from the horrors of our even weirder real world, I hoped Manifest would get the chance to conclude its story.
Amongst those who tweeted about Manifest’s resurrection over the weekend? A man who knows a thing or two about suspense.
MANIFEST has been saved. Netflix is ordering a “super-sized” 4th and final season.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) August 28, 2021
Manifest’s return is a fascinating study in the shifted dynamics of television. Netflix moved fast, and generously, to capitalize on a series that proved a massive hit for its platform. Meanwhile, NBC allegedly dragged its feet and offered less desirable terms for a possible Manifest revival—only 12 episodes, and a tangle of other restrictions. Warner Bros. Television, which makes the show, and creator/showrunner/executive producer Jeff Rake went with Netflix, which is unsurprising. Netflix is the reason people have been talking about Manifest all summer in the first place.
Netflix quotes Rake in all of his enthusiasm and plane-related imagery: “What started years ago as a flight of fancy deep in my imagination has evolved into the jet engine journey of a lifetime,” Rake said. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned the worldwide outpouring of love and support for this story, its characters, and the team who work so hard to bring it all to life. That we will be able to reward the fans with the ending they deserve moves me to no end. On behalf of the cast, the crew, the writers, directors, and producers, thank you to Netflix, to Warner Bros., and of course to the fans. You did this.”
Most of the central cast will be returning with reportedly sizeable pay increases. Considering that they appeared to love being on the show and have also spent the summer rallying to save Manifest, this is a nice outcome for them. According to Deadline, while stars Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh have closed their deals, other actors are still negotiating, since their contracts were up in June. Some, like Matt Long, who plays Zeke Landon, have found work elsewhere, though it appears Netflix will do its best to get everyone back on set. But it’s possible there could be new faces on the next season of Manifest and some old faces missing. My hope is that the infusion of money and interest will make Manifest better as it moves forward, and that the show might course-correct from Noah’s Ark territory.
Former Hollywood Reporter editor Matt Belloni has an inside baseball newsletter, “What I’m Hearing…,” and he had quite a bit to say about the Manifest deal—and how it feels like another death knell for the traditional TV network model.
And NBC gets nothing. Well, you might be saying, these kinds of serialized shows don’t work on broadcast anymore anyway. That may be true, but unless NBC just wants to throw in the towel and go full Jerry Springer in primetime, it needs to figure out how to make the new ecosystem work for itself, too. NBC could have prioritized teaming with Netflix to fully exploit a show it helped make a hit (though an NBC source says that wasn’t really on the table). And NBC definitely could have asked for an extension of its option to pick up Season 4 until after Netflix had aired it for a few months. I’m betting the producers and actors would have agreed to it, and then NBC’s Rovner, rather than Netflix’s Bajaria, would have been in that pole position when the show became a Netflix-fueled hit. Or perhaps NBC should have recognized that streaming was a better fit for this kind of storytelling from the beginning and shifted the show to its own platform, Peacock, rather than allowing Netflix to capitalize.
[…] Traditional entertainment companies can use their broadcast networks for their promotional capabilities and their streamers for the viewing experience. If they don’t, Netflix will continue to win in these situations, and the death rattle for networks will continue to grow louder.
Meanwhile, Netflix knows that it’s important to give the people more of what they want. Netflix Head of Global TV Bela Bajaria said of the series’ revival: “Since its premiere on Netflix in June, Manifest has proven very popular with our members. Jeff Rake and his team have crafted a beguiling mystery that has viewers around the world on the edge of their seats and believing again in second chances, and we’re thrilled that they will bring fans some closure with this final super-sized season.”
I’m crossing my fingers that season four of Manifest soars, doesn’t come crashing down, flies high, avoids turbulence etc. etc etc.
(via Netflix, image: Warner Bros. TV/NBC)
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