FlashForward was doomed from the start. While ABC was looking for its next Lost as the mega-hit entered its final season, HBO decided not to pick up FlashForward, a high-concept series based off a book by Robert J. Sawyer. HBO claimed that the show was more suited for network television and ABC pounced on the opportunity, launching it the same year as their reboot of V (starring Lost alum Elizabeth Mitchell). One of those two series could fill the gap soon to be left by Lost, right?
In addition to the misfortune of trying to fill the void being left behind by a hit show, FlashForward suffered immediate off-screen trouble as showrunner Marc Guggenheim stepped down and left the show less than two weeks after it was picked up for a full season by ABC. David S. Goyer, who directed the pilot, would become the showrunner for the next five months before stepping down to focus on his film career. Goyer would remain involved with the show and was replaced as showrunner by his wife, Jessika Goyer. There were two strikes against this show already, and these weren’t going to be easy ones to recover from.
Despite its off-camera struggles, FlashForward did grab viewers’ attention at first. For the pseudoscience, flirting with apocalypse crowd, FlashForward was an interesting puzzle of sorts, asking viewers to fill in gaps to a mystery we had some clues to. How would you react if you had an inkling of what the future held for you? Over the course of the show’s first and only season, we got to see the rather large cast’s visions during the global blackout that left the entire world unconscious for over two minutes. These glimpses of the future provided motivation for the characters and led to a lot of drama between the characters (and for the viewers, as we often knew more than the characters).
Having a unique concept is half of the battle in television and FlashForward certainly had that. As a viewer, I remember being really invested in the first 10 episodes, before the show took a three-and-a-half-month hiatus to return for its final 12 episodes. This break was not for any narrative purpose but was supposed to be a regroup behind the scenes so the crew could refocus after all of the turnover. While it is completely understandable given the behind-the-scenes drama, this break would ultimately be a large part of what killed the show. The break itself resulted in a decline in viewership, but the second half of the season also changed certain creative gears. Introducing new villains (including another Lost alum, Dominic Monaghan) and jumping into the conspiracy element of the show a little too quickly perhaps made viewers who already felt disjointed after such a long break feel even more disconnected from a show that started with such promise.
Despite the declining audience, the new creative team leading the charge for FlashForward had a plan to go back to the basics, incorporating the novel the show was based on for its big Season 1 cliffhanger. In the novel, the characters experienced visions during the blackout twenty-one years into the future. The show opted for six months, which made complete sense from a television perspective, but in what would wind up being the cliffhanger for the entire series, the characters experienced a twenty-year jump into the future during the second global blackout. Lots of new possibilities could’ve arisen from this but they were not meant to be. The show was cancelled after the season finale was filmed and the cliffhanger was left to linger forever for fans of the show.
In a very interesting bit of trivia, Robert J. Sawyer used Facebook back in 2009 to publicize his pitch on how to “fix” the series. According to his post, he had already pitched this to David S. Goyer long before going public with it. While it’s long, for fans of the show it’s certainly worth reading. Essentially, Sawyer wanted to end the first season with another blackout, only this time the group making the blackouts happen go too far and everyone who wasn’t wearing one of the QED rings (which saved them from the blackouts) died. Sawyer’s idea was for their greed to force the entire world to reboot. Ambitious for sure, but whether it would have worked is a separate question entirely.
FlashForward is truly a television case study of “what ifs?” The show had all of the makings of a success: a great concept, a solid cast, and an audience intrigued by what the series was bringing to the table. Could the show have survived without all of the turnover behind the scenes, allowing for one solid vision to carry through instead of a third showrunner being forced to regroup 10 episodes in? Maybe. Would the show have benefited from a cable-style schedule, only calling for say 10 to 12 episodes in its first year? I absolutely think so. If the first year could’ve been the aftermath of the global blackout and the second season where the mythology began to unfold, the story would’ve felt a lot tighter and less chaotic. Unfortunately, none of these things happened and we were left with a show that has slipped through the cracks of time.
I don’t think FlashForward would’ve ever been the next Lost or any other all-time mythology-heavy favorite. It didn’t have the makings of a classic series, so to speak. Not every show has to be an all-time classic, though, and when this show was good, it was highly enjoyable. It got my mind going. It asked questions about fate vs. free will and about how humans react when confronted with the greatest of adversities. It had the potential for water-cooler-type conversation if it could’ve just caught a break. It might not have been the next Lost but it could’ve been enjoyable on its own. It deserved more of a chance.
V, which was significantly weaker as a whole, was renewed for a shortened second season. FlashForward, despite all of the hurdles they endured, was gaining momentum at the finish line of Season 1. The new creative team had settled in and they threw out their big idea, hoping ABC would respond the same way as the passionate fan base that was still holding on. I will always wonder what they had planned if the show had continued. Could the potential the show flashed earlier on have materialized or was this show simply doomed to fail? Either way, we’ll never know, but I will always contend that FlashForward was cancelled too soon.