FOX’s “Monarch” Canceled as Showtime’s “George & Tammy” Soars

It’s the tale of two television shows, as two networks try to tap into the rich narrative of country music, one via fictionalized drama, and another via the true story of Tammy Wynette and George Jones. One didn’t go very well at all. Another is setting records.

FOX’s scripted country music drama Monarch starring Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins was supposed to be the network’s cash cow for years to come. It was the network’s first fully-owned franchise, hoping to not just accrue high ratings from the high drama the series promised each week, but also through soundtrack distribution and merchandising activations that the series hoped to achieve. Now, that’s all for naught.

Monarch has officially been cancelled by FOX. Reported on Thursday morning (12-8), the show’s season (now series) finale aired on December 6th, and that’s all she wrote. Trashed by critics and unable to pull even decent ratings (0.3 rating in the key ad sales demographic of adults 18-49), the frenetic pace of the show and hard-to-believe plot twists just tried too hard, while the acting wasn’t a saving grace, but a burden in itself.

This is a massive loss for FOX, which had spent two years promoting Monarch in prime spots during the NFL season. The show was initially set to debut on January 30th right after the NFC championship game on FOX, but got pushed back. COVID-19 was blamed, but it was reported later that scenes were being re-cut and reworked due to the departure of a key actor, and a general sense that she show wasn’t coming together well.

When Monarch finally did debut on Sunday, September 11th, FOX was hoping it would be the anchor of their fall season. After bad ratings and worse reviews, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the show. It was no country music version of Yellowstone like the network hoped. It wasn’t even ABC’s decently successful show Nashville that ran from 2012 to 2017.

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It’s a completely different story for Showtime’s limited series George & Tammy though, starring Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon. Some serious country music fans have been slightly disappointed in some of the singing or slights of the historical timeline, but the series so far has been universally praised by critics, with an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (Monarch had a 31% rating, for reference).

Perhaps most exceptional is that according to Showtime, the debut episode of George & Tammy was the most-watched premier in the cable network’s history, tracing back nearly 50 years. The show received 3.3 million Live+Same Day viewers. Granted, the debut was helped by being broadcast right after Yellowstone, and was simulcast on the Paramount Network, CMT, and Showtime. Henceforth, it will only be available on Showtime or on a streaming package.

Nonetheless, the creators of George & Tammy must be happy about the early reception. Perhaps it’s true that in country music, truth is more compelling than fiction—though most certainly, George & Tammy takes its own liberties as well. But it is interesting to see that two legendary country artists who’ve been mostly brushed under the rug by the mainstream for decades can draw a large audience when given an opportunity, and a more sustainable one compared to whatever sensationalized drama Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins were acting out.

Similar to what we saw with the 2022 CMA Awards that took a significant step towards highlighting more music of the past and expereinced a boost in ratings for it, when traditional country is given an opportunity through mainstream media, it tends to succeed. Traditional country fans are ones who will show up for their favorite artists compared to fleeting pop country fans, and the true life stories of country music are more compelling than fiction. The downfall of Monarch, and the early success of George & Tammy help verify this.

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