What Happened with the Legend of Korra Season Three?

Television is in a strange time. As many report, we have recently entered a second “Golden Age” of television shows. House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, I could go on and on. Wherever you look, there is a plethora of quality entertainment… except on actual television channels. Yes, what makes the times truly strange is that, despite the killer lineup of quality programming, television as a viewing medium continues to die. It simply cannot compete with internet streaming – and that is before piracy is factored in. There is just no incentive to watch shows on TV anymore. Which would you rather have: commercials or no commercials, binge watching or pre-planned air schedules, tight plots vs. weekly escapes… there really is no contest. It is a strange time and, as networks adapt, bizarre things can happen. So, let’s talk about just what the heck Nickelodeon is doing with its critical hit, Legend of Korra.

For those out there not in the know: Nickelodeon is pulling Korra off the air midway through its third season. Tonight, the eighth episode will air and… that will be it. The final five episodes will only be viewable through digital distribution (find the episodes here). Wait… what?

The bizarre pulling caused a lot of panic amongst the fans of the show. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko posted this image to console the panic.
The bizarre pulling caused a lot of panic amongst the fans of the show. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko posted this image to console the panic.

On the face of it, this is a real head-scratcher. The Legend of Korra is a very story-driven show so this type of disruption will create chaos with the fans and could potentially damage the show’s viewership. Also, it is not like Nickelodeon is enjoying a quantity of quality shows being created at the moment. Korra’s spot is currently being filled by reruns of Spongebob… with reruns of Full House following that…. really, Nickelodeon? So, it must have been ratings, right?

Gotta get my Full House fix! Party like it's 1995!
Gotta get my Full House fix! Party like it’s 1995!

Yes and no.

Season three of the Legend of Korra had the worst premiere ratings of the series. The third season premiere had less than two million viewers, which is a really low number for a season premiere apparently. It really does not look like much when compared with season one’s impressive 4.5 million viewers. However, the low ratings do not necessarily reflect no interest. Consider this: there was no advertising for the Legend of Korra until one week prior to the premiere. Nickelodeon rushed the show out of nowhere in one week.

What?

There is a reason, but it is not a good one. Piracy. The Legend of Korra was not supposed to air so soon in the summer… which really is a bizarre launch window when considered. It is also strange that Nickelodeon would give up all the hype they usually enforce during the San Diego Comic Con (going on now), which is the past has been used to really promote the coming season. Okay, so how did piracy “force” Nickelodeon’s hand?

Legend of Korra is one of the first in the "animated drama" genre, and book three took the series to new heights of maturity, exploring adult themes including the relationship between Lin Bei Fong and her half-sister.
Legend of Korra is one of the first in the “animated drama” genre, and book three took the series to new heights of maturity, exploring adult themes like the relationship between Lin Bei Fong and her half-sister, Suyin.

According to this report, four mid-season episodes were leaked online during production. Rather than dismissing the leak, it seems like someone at Nickelodeon hit the panic button. Oh no, they thought, four episodes that people can just watch online – we better scramble to get our episodes on TV! Rather than let any word of mouth occur or give marketing a chance to build up hype, season three was vomited forth less than two months after the leak. Three episodes, then two, then two… in three weeks over half the season had aired. With only thirteen episodes, that means Nickelodeon intended to spit out the entirety of season three of Legend of Korra in less than two months. How was this plan supposed to work?

In a manner that perfectly highlights the weaknesses of traditional television programming, Nickelodeon shot itself in the foot. Why show Korra at all if it will be done in such a foolish and costly manner? Indeed, that appears to have been the reasoning behind the pull. Should fans be worried about Korra going digital? Not really. Will Nickelodeon cancel Legend of Korra? Not likely but they might. They have already purchased a fourth season and it is unlikely that this season will be held accountable for mistakes made at the network.

Surely nothing bad has ever happened to a great show when the network has screwed up airing it... right?
Surely nothing bad has ever happened to a great show when the network has screwed up airing it… right?

That said, Nickelodeon might balk on purchasing a fifth. It would be its loss, however, and Netflix/Hulu/Amazon’s gain. After all, this action only proves that the future of TV lies anywhere except through traditional broadcasting channels.

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