In a perfect world, Traveler would be airing its 11th episode tonight on ABC.
However, ironically, ABC is instead airing one of the shelved episodes of another drama it ended before its time, The Nine, in the timeslot. Traveler, meanwhile, concluded its season after its eight episode. This was a shortened order from its original 13 episodes, and the series ended on a ridiculous cliffhanger having resolved none of its storylines.
And the show didn’t deserve that kind of treatment: it was summer popcorn fun, a constantly moving show that was never quite great but also declined the invitation to fall into ridiculousness. And yet, ABC refused to give it a decent shot at succeeding, and its failure is entirely the fault of the network. Traveler was not the best new show of the summer, but it is without question the most mistreated show of the season.
First, as mentioned above, ABC cut the initial episode order for the midseason series from 13 to 8. This was essentially ABC throwing in the towel…before the series had even aired. It wasn’t just a bad sign for the series’ future, it was also a bad sign for the show creatively. Eight episodes wasn’t nearly enough time to resolve the storylines set forward in the pilot, and it showed: when the finale aired, it failed to wrap up anything worthwhile, and left an audience waiting for a resolution that will never come.
Second, ABC gave the series what can only be called a half-assed launch. The show was “previewed” behind Grey’s Anatomy in early May, ahead of its late May premiere, but that has never worked. People operate on a consistent TV cycle, and they like to know when something is on. If they wanted to use Grey’s to launch Traveler, they needed to treat it like they did October Road, which stayed in the timeslot full time. And got renewed. That’s not a coincidence.
This didn’t create a whole lot of faith in the series: ABC wasn’t willing to launch it at midseason, choosing to hold it until the summer, and they reduced its episode order before it even aired. For casual TV viewers, it was some random show after Grey’s Anatomy that disappeared. For critics and more dilligent viewers, it was a show doomed to be canceled and unlikely to provide a resolution.
And, unsurprisingly, it proved a self-fulfilling prophecy: Traveler debuted to weak ratings in its timeslot premiere, continued to struggle, and unceremoniously left the airwaves in July have resolved none of its storyline and guaranteed to never return to answer the questions left unanswered. The show wasn’t poetry, but its viewers and those who worked on the series deserved better than this.
They didn’t give it enough time, they didn’t give it a decent debut and they didn’t give it a fighting chance. ABC failed to create a single summer hit this year while other networks paraded out major success. They could have done it with Traveler, but their mistreatment of the series kept it from overcoming the obstacles the network itself placed in front of it.