It is unequivocally true that the myriad of streaming sites and other avenues of producing and showcasing films and television programming has resulted in greater opportunities for minority stories and voices that would have been previously ignored by traditional media. It is also true that these chances are given even less resources for promotion, advertisements, press tours, etc. Add to this the unclear metrics for success and renewal compared to the standards of broadcast television, and a lot of these as before unseen opportunities end up on the chopping block.
Rutherford Falls is the latest such casualty. Rutherford Falls is an American sitcom series that “aired” on the Peacock streaming service for two seasons. It was unfortunately canceled this month of September though it is seemingly being shopped around for potentially more at other networks or streaming services.
While obviously not every program will find an audience, this show had some serious strength behind it. Created by, and starring, Ed Helms, Michael Schur, and, newcomer, Sierra Teller Ornelas, the series tells the story of small town Rutherford Falls and the argument over a founder’s statue in the middle of the main street of the town. Of course, there is actually more to the disagreements and stories of the small town. This is not surprising considering Schur’s pedigree and past shows (Parks and Rec, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, etc.). Rutherford Falls, like Schur’s other works, uses the framework of small town politics and discourse around the removal of a statue to discuss and examine larger American political and social issues. And just like Schur’s past work, it manages to do so while still being humorous, engaging, sad, triumphant, and not really having a “villain” in the show. Characters are flawed but understandably human and humane in a show and premise that could have easily ventured into caricature, posturing, and simply preaching.
By all accounts, even with new emergent audience trends, this show should have been a hit. It had all the markers of past and current successes. But, I am guessing that for many reading, it is the first time ever hearing of the program. And the news of its cancellation is the most press and interviews it has received since its premiere. The simple fact is that the Great American Novel would still never get read if no one knows it was published. No one will watch a television show, regardless of quality, if they do not know of its existence. So, even with more opportunities to create, the access of attention is still veered away, and that will never bode well for the stories outside the accepted norm.
Yet, they still get made and continue on. Literally, on the day she found out, Ornelas went on interviews to discuss the show and its meaning and legacy and how she was trying to shop it around. As well, nearly every Native cast member emphatically stated out their support and praise for the show. They were joined by Native actors and creatives from other series. The entire community rallied around this show and hoped for more. Strength and unity was found amid loss. It is not the first time nor will it be the last. However, after sharing condolences and encouragement, they went back to work and to creating and spreading their stories. Because that is all they could do, and, regardless of the results, simply creating and risking rejection is doing enough.
May Rutherford Falls find a new home. May the stories of the cast and crew continue. And may others like them, against the odds, have more and more opportunities.