The Canadian national broadcaster, CBC Television, announced March 2nd that it is cancelling its well-received Western TV series, Strange Empire, after one season. Launched in October of 2014, the show was set in the Alberta-Montana border region of 1869, and centered upon a group of women that find themselves isolated in that territory following dramatic events in the first episode. Created by Laurie Finstand-Knizhnik, the series was shot in British Columbia and featured three strong female lead characters; Kat Loving (Cara Gee), a Métis woman from the Red River region, Rebecca Blithely (Melissa Farman), a socially-awkward but intelligent & medically-skilled girl from Toronto, and Isabelle Slotter (Tattiawna Jones), the ambitious wife to coal mine & brothel owner John Slotter (Aaron Poole).
In this writer’s view, Strange Empire has been a singular show that used strong acting & writing to frame an important interpretation of such issues as the expansion of settler society into the North American West of the 19th century, Indigenous rights, race relations, and gender roles & expectations. From a college instructor’s perspective, I can share that within the Western genre classes I teach, a number of college students, particularly young women, were excited to learn about a show that featured such strong and complicated female characters. For some students, regardless of gender, it expanded their idea of what a Western could be.
It will be interesting to track the public and social media reaction to the show’s cancellation. It is worth noting that a similar fate recently befell the very popular contemporary US Western TV series Longmire (2012-Present). Despite averaging some 5.6 million viewers per episode in its most recent season, its founding network, A&E, cancelled the show in August of 2014. Speculated reasons for the move include the idea that Longmire didn’t reach a specific (i.e. younger) demographic and that A&E desired more ownership of the content it broadcasts.
There was a massive social media reaction to Longmire ’s cancellation, with coordinated weekly Twitter actions to make the hashtag #LongLiveLongmire a trending topic. The show’s production companies were able to find a new home for the series on Netflix, which has ordered 10 new episodes for a Season 4 debut later in 2015.
CBC has yet to provide a public statement as to why Strange Empire was cancelled. A number of other questions also now emerge. Will CBC continue to make the Season 1 episodes available online at Strange Empire? Will the network produce a DVD package with expanded content for fans of the show? Finally, and most importantly, will those involved in the production of the series look for other host networks, whether a traditional broadcaster or online? Westernsreboot.com will track developments. Hopefully, the current cancellation is only a “dramatic pause” and not a definitive end for Strange Empire.
For those interested in learning more about the show, this site reviewed each of the thirteen episodes of the first season and a chronological listing of links to each review can be found Strange Empire – Review Collection.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)