Why was Gentleman Jack cancelled – could it still return?

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On July 7, 2022, it was announced that HBO would not be continuing with a third series of Gentleman Jack

The series, a dramatization of Anne Lister’s diaries, is now in a difficult position having lost the support of a major funder.

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Here’s everything you need to know about Gentleman Jack’s early cancellation – and the potential for his return.

When was Gentleman Jack deposed?

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Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack stood nervously by a fireplace with her hands on her hips (Credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks)

On July 7, 2022, it was announced that HBO would not be continuing with a third series of Gentleman Jack.

The channel was criticized by some fans for prominently featuring Gentleman Jack during Pride Month promotions in June, only to announce the series’ cancellation in early July. (This perceived cynicism became all the more notable following the airing of the celebratory documentary Gentleman Jack Changed My Life, which interviewed lesbian viewers about the impact of the series and their personal relationship with the series.)

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Why was Gentleman Jack deposed?

Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones on set, surrounded by crew, filming Gentleman Jack (Credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks)

“HBO will not move forward with a third season of Gentleman Jack,” the network said a statement about deadlineto thank the stars and producers of the series. HBO gave no reason for Gentleman Jack’s cancellation.

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The decision comes amid a merger between Warner Bros (parent company of HBO) and telecommunications company AT&T and Discovery to form Warner Bros Discovery. CEO David Zaslav is pursuing an aggressive policy of cuts and is hoping to find £3bn in cuts for the company within two years.

Gentleman Jack is the third current HBO series to be canceled, after Raised by Wolves (cancelled after two seasons) and The Time Traveller’s Wife (cancelled after one). Zaslav has also dropped JJ Abrams’ expensive sci-fi drama Demimonde, which was still in early development and not yet in production.

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How was Gentleman Jack’s viewership?

Suranne Jones in costume as Anne Lister arm in arm with director Fergus O’Brien (Credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks)

Strong, albeit slightly less than Series 1. In the UK, Series 2 averaged 3-4 million viewers in its Sunday night BBC One timeslot – while that doesn’t sound like a lot right away, it’s worth noting that with changing viewing habits, that’s quite a lot is solid result.

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The Series 2 prelude garnered 3.1 million views when it first aired, which was enough to garner a 21% viewership share (i.e. the number of viewers watching television at 9pm that night), making it the most-watched show of the timeslot made.

The original Deadline report noted that Gentleman Jack was among HBO’s lower-rated original series, although it’s perhaps worth noting that HBO aired the series on Mondays, a day that generally receives lower ratings. Fans of the series have also suggested that HBO made limited efforts to promote the series before it aired, which could potentially contribute to low ratings.

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Any chance Gentleman Jack could still return for Series 3?

A behind-the-scenes look at Suranne Jones on the set of Gentleman Jack, smiling in costume next to a clapper board (Credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks)

Provisionally, yes. Gentleman Jack was a co-production between HBO and the BBC. HBO’s cancellation of the series effectively means they have withdrawn from participating in future Gentleman Jack series – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the BBC (or Lookout Point, the production company that produces the series on behalf of the BBC) not doing this can still make it.

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Obviously this is still complicated – while the BBC could keep doing Gentleman Jack, HBO would mean a significant loss of budget. At this point, the BBC would have the option of either finding a new co-production partner, raising the remaining budget itself, or producing a third series at a significantly reduced cost.

Is there a precedent for this type of return?

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Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, holding a piece of paper but looking at the camera (Credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks)

It’s certainly uncommon, but not entirely unheard of. In terms of British television drama, a point of comparison is the ITV series Primeval. Canceled by ITV in June 2009 after three seasons, a new co-production and cost-sharing deal with UKTV meant the series was reinstated for a further two seasons.

In the US, it’s more common for a series to be canceled by one network and then picked up by another: recent notable examples include The Expanse (cancelled by Syfy, reinstated by Prime Video), Manifest (cancelled by NBC, reinstated by Netflix) and American Rust (cancelled by Showtime, re-commissioned by Amazon Freevee).

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It’s not immediately clear who the BBC might be approaching as potential new co-production partners for a prospective third season of Gentleman Jack (although speculating unfoundedly, it might be interesting to note that Lookout Point is currently producing The Ballad of Renegade Nell, a Gentleman Jack-like series written in turn by Sally Wainwright for Disney+).

What did the cast and crew say about Gentleman Jack’s cancellation?

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Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, holding a gun and looking directly at the camera (Credit: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO/Aimee Spinks)

Suranne Jones who played Anne Lister said “While it is sad news that Gentleman Jack will not be renewed, this show brought so many together, allowed people to share their stories, brought joy, emotion and creativity, and made me feel a real connection to you as an audience.”

“I’ve never been involved with a show that had such a huge impact and touched my heart as this one did,” Jones continued. “It hasn’t always been the easiest job I’ve ever had … but it’s always been worth seeing the response.”

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Sophie Rundle echoed these sentiments, saying “What a privilege it was to play Ann Walker and bring her extraordinary love story with Anne Lister back to life. I’m so proud to have been a part of reclaiming her place in history… I am overwhelmed by the love that inspired this show. And proud. So incredibly proud.”

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