If there is an unexpected Cinderella story that came out of the otherwise grim first half of the broadcast television year in 2021, it was the surprising second life of the former NBC drama Manifest.
The network decided against picking up another season after the show wrapped its third season a few weeks ago, and for most shows, that would be the end of the story. Yes, a few canceled shows do find a new life somewhere else, but it's an extremely rare situation. And as the cast of Good Girls can tell you, these resurrections can fall apart at the last minute.
To be fair to NBC, despite having accomplished the impressive feat of lasting three seasons, Manifest was never a critic's darling, and while the ratings were solid, the show wasn't a massive hit in the ratings. But maybe that relatively low profile on broadcast television will help make its second life possible.
The first two seasons of Manifest were added to Netflix in early June, and the show quickly rose to the top of the Netflix Top Ten list in the U.S. It spent more than a month at #1 or just below the top, which would be an impressive feat for any series. Sure, that viewing performance was helped because there were two seasons of episodes to binge at once. But it was also the result of a well-made show with a cast that brought the complex mythology to life. And it was a well-made show that most people have not seen.
Since the first days of Manifest, various cast and crew members have been highly engaged in social media, helping to build a community that was ready to fight for the show when it needed saving. And they have been fighting - using social media to promote everything from watch parties to email campaigns in hopes of saving the show. And one of the most vocal voices on social media has been show creator, showrunner, and executive producer Jeff Rake. He's a constant presence online, and I wanted to talk to him about his approach to social media and how he is leveraging that online presence to try and save the show.
I spoke with Jeff by phone, and here is the complete conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
From the very first days of Manifest being on NBC, you have been very engaged on social media with fans. You've been a strong advocate for the show, and that's not something a lot of showrunners are comfortable doing. Can you walk me through your thoughts about why this approach made sense for you?
Jeff Rake: When I think about the relationship between social media and Manifest, there is a deep connection that has always felt very organic. In my opinion, one of the satisfying aspects of the show for the viewer is that you're not only watching a show; you're on a shared journey with the characters and everybody else who is watching the show with you. And I think that social aspect - in a really wonderful way - has elevated the television viewing experience. Because it allows us as a community of entertainment consumers to communicate with each other, brainstorm together, and puzzle-solve together when it comes to the mysteries of the show. And then also to just emote communally. To just share in the emotional journey together.
I think we've always done that. But it was always at home. Alone or with whoever was with us on the couch. But in this modern era, to have the opportunity to find like-minded people and have the ability to have an ongoing conversation about the journey makes the experience all the more satisfying and powerful. So as the creator and showrunner, I like to participate in that aspect of the experience as much as I can. Because I like to think that my contribution to the dialogue is additive and hopefully brings additional insight into the viewing experience.
And honestly, I do it because it's fun for me, just like it is for everyone else. Ultimately, we're all communicating with each other on social because we get a kick out of it, and I must admit, I certainly do.
Manifest is a show in a real sweet spot for me when it comes to broadcast television. It's heavily serialized, it's got a complex mythology. And the recent success rate for these types of shows is not especially positive. I think in the past ten years, Manifest might be the only one to get past season one. And aside from the show's quality, I think one reason Manifest survived through three seasons is that it had such a strong social media following. I enjoyed Debris this past season (an NBC series canceled after one season), but the showrunner wasn't active on social media, neither was a lot of the cast. Even the official NBC Twitter account just had a few hundred followers. So there wasn't anyone out there championing the show, and I think that matters in 2021.
I suspect that you're right about that. I think any savvy creator who is lucky enough to have a show on broadcast - or on cable or streaming for that matter - is thinking about how to engage on social with its fanbase.
And in the case of Manifest, it was a perfect storm of an incredibly appealing cast. A cast that includes many actors who themselves are very engaged on social. And they've been great partners of mine in keeping up the dialogue on Twitter, Instagram. I pop onto Facebook, and I pop onto Reddit. Or truthfully, it's my wife popping onto Reddit, and then she tells me what's going on. So I apologize to anybody who is on Reddit who is disappointed I haven't been directly active there. I've been lucky because of that cast of mine being so engaged, so that's a giant asset to the show.
Another aspect of the show that makes it very effective on social is the storytelling itself. To your point, we're a broadcast, serialized mystery. A show that defies the norm of what has been succeeding on broadcast in recent years. You would arguably have to go back to Lost for the last time where there was a home run with a broadcast serialized mystery. And look, Manifest isn't that. We're done fine on broadcast. We had three great seasons on broadcast. Obviously, NBC felt the numbers weren't strong enough to keep us going. I think they're thinking twice about that now, given the strong showing we've had on the platforms.
But getting back to your original point. It's important to take social very seriously when you are launching a show in the modern era. You can make the argument that there's a level of expectation among consumers of entertainment that not only will they be able to watch a show, but that they'll also be able to somehow on social with the storytellers - creators, writers, directors, actors or crewmembers. Or at the least, a vibrant social community engaging in the conversation throughout the season. It's almost become the new normal. And I think because a show has an upside in growing popularity in the face of adversity - case in point, Manifest . Canceled by NBC, blows up on a platform, social blows up again talking about it. And it becomes arguably the most talked-about show for the summer of 2021.
Can you talk at all about where the fate of Manifest stands right now? You're still out there pushing it on social media as if it was the second episode of season one. You must have some optimism that something might happen with the show?
One of my favorite movies is Field Of Dreams, and we both remember the mantra, "If you build it, they will come." So there is a little bit of reckless optimism going on here, and I have just set out to keep the conversation alive. A lot of the actors, as well as a number of fans have been engaging in the conversation with me. I have seen enough Cinderella story endings over the years with other shows. A show is canceled, and then due to overwhelming popularity in reruns or a platform or social media engagement, either a third-party studio or a third-party network stepped in and created a number of new episodes or a movie or kept the show going. I've seen it happen often enough that I have to ask myself, "Why not Manifest?" Here we are a month, almost five weeks after the cancelation announcement, and more people than ever are watching the show.
All I can report from Hollywood is that the incredible support and enthusiasm for the show has been noticed and has resulted in some conversations. I know that NBC is aware of the interest. I know they've taken notice. Obviously, Netflix is aware. They've taken notice. And other people have taken notice. We have taken several calls discussing financing assistance. These are companies that produce television and movies and music, and they've reached out to us and sat down with us and had a serious conversation about figuring out how we could keep the show going.
I can't speak to it any more specifically than that. Other than I know it is being noticed. I know conversations are happening. Whether or not that will result in the tangible result I'm hoping for - additional episodes, a finale movie - time will tell.
I am assuming that the cast contracts have expired at this point?
Typically when a large-scale studio production launches, the studio makes sure that they have long-term options with the actors, so they continue should the show be picked up for additional seasons, and that was the case here. The contracts expire, and there is a set expiration date, in this case, sometime around the middle of June.
And in the weeks following the cancellation, the studio asked for the actors for a several week extension so they could shop around and see whether anyone wanted to pick up the show. And all of the actors were kind enough to do for a couple of more weeks. And then we got to a point where no one was immediately stepping up, and at this point, those contracts have expired.
So right now, those actors are out there as free agents. So that's just one more hurdle we would have to overcome should we find our partner to continue producing the show.
But here's what I do know. All the actors love the show and love working with each other. I'm in constant touch with the actors and we're all paying close attention to what's happening out there. They want to finish the story just like I do. I'm hopeful that when the time comes for us to produce something, we'll be able to get the band back together.