Suranne Jones has issued a statement after Gentleman Jack, the BBC One drama she starred in, was cancelled by US co-producers HBO.
The series, a dramatisation of the diaries of Anne Lister, is now in a difficult position, having lost the support of a key funder.
Here’s everything you need to know about the untimely cancellation of Gentleman Jack – and the potential for its return.
When was Gentleman Jack cancelled?
It was announced on 7 July 2022 that HBO would not be moving forward with a third series of Gentleman Jack.
The broadcaster came under criticism from some fans for prominently featuring Gentleman Jack during pride month adverts throughout June, only to announce the series’ cancellation at the start of July. (This perceived cynicism made all the more notable after the airing of celebratory documentary Gentleman Jack Changed My Life, interviewing lesbian viewers about the impact of the series and their personal relationship with the series.)
Why was Gentleman Jack cancelled?
“HBO will not be moving forward with a third season of Gentleman Jack,” the network said in a statement to Deadline, going on to thank the stars and producers of the series. HBO didn’t offer a reason for cancelling Gentleman Jack.
The decision comes in the wake of a merger between Warner Bros (HBO’s parent company) and telecoms company AT&T and Discovery, forming Warner Bros Discovery. CEO David Zaslav is pursuing an aggressive policy of scaling back, hoping to find £3bn in cuts for the company within two years.
While much of these cuts are going to come in the form of job losses, it’s also leading to a reduction in the scale and extent of HBO’s output, with Zaslav arguing that the channel should make fewer programmes generally.
Gentleman Jack is the third recent HBO series to be cancelled, following in the wake of Raised by Wolves (cancelled after two seasons) and The Time Traveller’s Wife (cancelled after one). Zaslav also cancelled JJ Abrams’ expensive sci-fi drama Demimonde, which was still in early development and yet to go into production.
What has Suranne Jones said?
In a statement, Jones wrote on Instagram: "I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on our beautiful journey making this show. While it is sad news Gentleman Jack will not be renewed, this show has brought so many together.
"It has enabled people to share their stories, brought joy, emotion and creativity and gave me a real connection to you as it’s audience.
“Anne Lister now has a statue in the Piece Hall. There is a Blue plaque in Holy Trinity church yard celebrating Anne and Ann’s union in 1834. There is a college named after Anne Lister on the east campus at the University of York.
"Shibden now has more visitors than ever before and you will find Anne Lister walks, tours and trails galore when visiting Halifax and it’s surrounding areas. I have never been involved in a show that has made such a huge impact and touched my heart like this one has. It wasn’t always the easiest job I’ve had… but it was always worth it to see the response it got."
She ended her post: "THANK YOU for all your support. Thank you to Sally Wainwright for bringing us this amazing story and passion. Thank you to @lindaviemakeup and @tompye33 for the stunning work over both seasons and to our design team who blew me away on set everyday.
"To our cast and crew who are just so talented and beautiful and finally I love you @sophiesophierundle." She added: "You are a true friend and a total star. Love Suranne."
What were Gentleman Jack’s viewing figures like?
Strong, if down a little on Series 1. In the UK, Series 2 averaged 3-4m viewers in its Sunday night BBC One timeslot – though that doesn’t immediately sound like much, it’s worth noting that with changing viewing habits that’s quite a solid result.
The Series 2 opener earned 3.1m views on first broadcast, which was enough to earn a 21% audience share (i.e. the number of people watching television at 9pm that night), making it the most watched programme of the timeslot.
The original Deadline report noted that Gentleman Jack was amongst the lower rated of HBO’s original series, though it’s perhaps worth noting that HBO broadcast the series on Mondays, a day that tends to attract lower ratings generally. Fans of the series have also suggested that HBO made limited effort to promote the series ahead of broadcast, which could potentially be a contributing factor to low ratings.
Is there any possibility that Gentleman Jack could still return for series 3?
Tentatively, yes. Gentleman Jack was a co-production between HBO and the BBC. HBO cancelling the series effectively means they’ve withdrawn from participation in future series of Gentleman Jack – but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the BBC (or Lookout Point, the production company that makes the series on behalf of the BBC) aren’t still able to make it.
Obviously, this is complicated still – while the BBC could continue to make Gentleman Jack, HBO pulling out will represent a significant loss of budget. Options at this stage would be for the BBC either to find a new coproduction partner, to make up the remaining budget themselves, or to produce a third series at a significant reduced cost.
A spokesperson for the BBC told Metro.co.uk that they “are tremendously proud of Gentleman Jack, a show which has made a huge cultural impact, and we are in discussions with Sally about what’s next.”
In a recent interview discussed further below, Sally Wainwright explained that the BBC had effectively greenlit a third series (albeit depending on HBO involvement) – while still enthusiastic, their participation would now be conditional on finding a new co-producing partner.
Is there any precedent for that sort of return?
It’s unusual, certainly, but not entirely unheard of. In terms of UK television drama, one point of comparison is the ITV series Primeval. Cancelled by ITV in June 2009 after three seasons, a new co-production and cost sharing deal with UKTV meant the series was recommissioned for a further two seasons.
In the US, it’s more commonplace for a series to be cancelled by one network and then picked up by another: recent notable examples include The Expanse (cancelled at Syfy, recommissioned by Prime Video), Manifest (cancelled by NBC, recommissioned by Netflix) and American Rust (cancelled by Showtime, recommissioned by Amazon Freevee).
It’s not immediately obvious who the BBC might go to as potential new co-production partners for a prospective third series of Gentleman Jack.
What has Sally Wainwright said?
In a new interview with Pat Esgate of Anne Lister Birthday Week (a group celebrating both Anne Lister the historical figure and Gentleman Jack the series), Sally Wainwright discussed the news about Gentleman Jack and gave some information about potential next steps.
While Wainwright was clear that any potential third series was unlikely, she did also stress that both the BBC and Lookout Point were in active conversations searching for a new co-production partner.
Wainwright also noted that the BBC didn’t want to continue the show at a reduced budget, and that it wasn’t practical for the BBC to meet the full budget on its own, meaning that a third series would be reliant on a new producing partner being found.
Esgate suggested Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Netflix, and Disney+ as potential partners – Wainwright offered no comment in each case, but did say her personal ideal scenario would be that HBO found a reason to continue with the series, having enjoyed working with them on the series up to that point.
Both Pat Esgate and Sally Wainwright suggested fans show their enthusiasm for the series as loudly as possible, noting that in the rare instances that shows have been saved from cancellation, it’s always those with a passionate fanbase. A petition currently exists with several thousand signatures.
The full interview – which discusses Gentleman Jack’s viewing figures, its reception and impact in both the UK and the US, and Wainwright’s approach to writing the series – is insightful and informative, well worth watching for fans of Gentleman Jack and television drama in general.
What have the cast and crew said about the cancellation of Gentleman Jack?
Suranne Jones, who played Anne Lister, said “while it is sad news Gentleman Jack will not be renewed, this show has brought so many together, enabled people to share their stories, brought joy, emotion and creativity, and gave me a real connection to you as its audience.”
“I have never been involved in a show that has made such a huge impact and touched my heart like this one has,” Jones continued. “It wasn’t always the easiest job I’ve had… but it was always worth it to see the response it got.”
Sophie Rundle echoed those sentiments, saying “what a privilege it has been to play Ann Walker and bring her and Anne Lister’s extraordinary love story back to life. I am so proud to have been a part of reclaiming their place in history…. I am overwhelmed by the love this show inspired. And PROUD. So fiercely proud.”