“Please pardon the random intrusion,” Paul Giamatti wrote. “I hope this isn’t a breach of etiquette.”
Breach of etiquette? No. But finding an email from an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor in one’s inbox is most definitely rare. It turns out Giamatti, executive producer of “Lodge 49” — a blissed-out, anti-corporate adventure set inside an Elks-like order known as the Lynx — cares enough about the series to risk ruffling feathers. Including those of the network that aired and recently canceled “Lodge 49" after two seasons. (AMC also produced the series via its AMC Studios shingle.)
“It breaks my heart to think this show will die a stupid death at the hands of a network that seemed, bizarrely, afraid to promote it,” Giamatti’s email continued. “We are determined to take it somewhere else.”
As described by Giamatti, producing partner Dan Carey, creator Jim Gavin and showrunner Peter Ocko in a conference call with The Times, the plan to save “Lodge 49" — leveraging effusive critical reception, a small but passionate fan base and a star-studded social media campaign to shop the series to other outlets — reflects the increasingly fraught relationship among networks, TV series and viewers. While the intimacy that develops between a series and its fans is a promotional boon, it can also create a sense of betrayal if that series’ life is cut short. (See, for instance, this summer’s protests against the cancellation of Netflix’s “The OA.”) One contributing factor may be changing audience expectations. As the number of TV series to find a second life on another platform continues to grow, from “Arrested Development” — a pioneer in the canceled-then-revived category — to more recent examples such as “One Day at a Time,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” “Lucifer” and “The Expanse,” it becomes harder to swallow when your own favorites fail to make a comeback.
“The cancellation, weirdly, is a strange form of marketing, and it has brought people to the fore in a way that has overwhelmed me,” Gavin said, echoing Carey’s belief that the reaction suggests “untapped possibilities” for “Lodge 49.” Prominent figures including Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Ken Jeong and Amy Schumer have also joined the chorus to #SaveLodge49, which Giamatti says is a combination of coordination on the producers’ part and organic interest on the celebrities’.
Though the “Lodge 49" team declined to name specific outlets, Ocko confirmed that they are shopping the series to cable and streaming platforms — not broadcast networks — though the emphasis appears to be on the last of these. (The first season of “Lodge 49" is currently streaming on Hulu. The second is available via AMC and its ad-free subscription streaming service, AMC Premiere, before coming to Hulu at a future date.)
“Having a streaming situation would be nice for this show, because I think it really blossoms more for the viewer when you can watch it end-to-end,” Giamatti said. “It seems like a rich thing that could fall in somebody’s lap.”
“To the streamer that might pick it up, this is a time, in their parlance, to ‘complete the asset,’ ” Ocko added, referring to his and Gavin’s vision of a four-season arc. “That seems like, from a purely mercenary, money point-of-view, a worthwhile investment.”
Exactly how worthwhile is debatable. According to ratings data provided by AMC, “Lodge 49" averaged 428,000 total viewers (Live+3) per episode in Season 2 — a decline of 43% from Season 1 — making it the 77th-ranked drama on cable. Based on its live/same day viewership of 198,000 per episode, “Lodge 49" is currently the lowest-rated scripted or unscripted series on AMC.
Of course, streaming has extended the window that networks and platforms use to measure viewership and make programming decisions, and the addition of Hulu data may draw a different picture of the audience for “Lodge 49.” Indeed, given that Hulu already holds the streaming rights and has previously picked up canceled comedies “The Mindy Project” and “Please Like Me,” it would seem to be “Lodge 49’s” best bet for a reprieve. (Hulu declined The Times’ request for comment.)
Still, while the producers maintain that the series can reach a larger audience if “this little riddle about getting it out there can be solved,” to use Gavin’s phrase, it won’t be easy. That riddle is one TV networks and series from across the spectrum are eager to crack, as experimentation with episode release models, recommendation engines and promotional strategies abound.
“We really were lucky to make a Season 2, because Season 1 ratings were not great,” Ocko said, noting that the wave of interest in “Lodge 49" crested too late to save it at AMC. “When we came back [for] Season 2, we were really counting on word-of-mouth spreading, helping the Hulu numbers, and certainly the critical response creating an awareness. And it happened. It just happened very slowly.”
As for his emailed remark that AMC was “afraid to promote” the series, Giamatti told The Times that his “temperature was up” following the cancellation. While granting that the network “let us make the show we wanted to make,” though, Giamatti reaffirmed his contention that “Lodge 49" “wasn’t necessarily a thing that seemed to gel entirely with them.”
A source at the network told The Times that AMC Studios supports the effort to bring the series elsewhere, but refuted Giamatti’s criticism of AMC’s promotional strategy for “Lodge 49.” Among other efforts, the source cited the airing of more than 20 “Lodge 49" teasers and trailers each season across the four brands under the AMC Networks umbrella, including during such high-profile episodes as the “Killing Eve” finale and “The Walking Dead” premiere; the hiring of a “Lodge 49" writer to run the series’ social media presence; and AMC’s direction of a six-month “catch-up campaign” to drive potential viewers to stream Season 1 on Hulu earlier this year.
Whatever the exact calculus that led AMC to not pick up a third season of “Lodge 49,” Giamatti pointed to the seeming arbitrariness of which shows live and which shows die in the current TV ecosystem as a source of frustration — echoing fans fed up with the opaqueness of programming decisions in a world where traditional ratings metrics are further and further out of step with viewing habits.
“I’m distressed more at the larger sense that a show like this doesn’t have a place in the world. It’s absurd to me. There’s a place for this. In the larger landscape of TV, it fits in fine. There’s all kinds of weird things on. ‘Fleabag’ is weird,” Giamatti said, highlighting this year’s big Emmy winner.
If “Lodge 49" is to continue — with “the Lodge under siege,” protagonist Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell) moving from squire to knight and sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) “about to find her own knight,” per Gavin — the plan to save it will have to work, fast.
“We’re in a situation with the actors where we’re looking at weeks before that decision has to be made,” Ocko said. “Not months.”
And if it should end here? While Carey refused to speak in the past tense, Gavin called the experience “miraculous,” and Giamatti described “Lodge 49" over the phone with the same pungent flair one finds in his emails: “I’m going to miss its strangely cock-eyed — but clear-eyed — view of the world.”