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The Heathers TV show was pulled following a mass shooting — for the third time this year

Paramount hasn’t been able to air episodes of its adaptation of the 1988 movie because America’s constant mass shootings keep making it feel tasteless.

Brendan Scannell, Melanie Field, and Jasmine Mathews in Heathers (2018)
The cast of Heathers, preempted yet again by another mass shooting.
Paramount Network
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

America in 2018 is a bleak and hopeless hellscape of a country, one in which the banal horror of everyday life is marked intermittently by periods of senseless cruelty and violence. But recent events have made it clear that America in 2018 is such a dystopian hellscape that the same TV show can be kept from airing three different times by three different outbreaks of violence.

The TV show in question is Heathers, the remake of the 1988 movie, and the Hollywood Reporter has just announced that two episodes have been pulled from cable television’s Paramount Network following the tragic shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Sunday. This is the third time this year that episodes of Heathers have been pulled following a shooting.

The original Heathers was a dark satire that featured two teen outsiders embarking on a killing spree, murdering the most popular students at their high school and ultimately plotting to blow up the school. The movie was pitch black, and while it rapidly became a cult classic, it remains just on the edge of going too far in its satire: As Vulture put it in 2011, watching Heathers in the 21st century means internally reciting, “I can’t believe this movie got made, this movie could never get made now.”

So the TV adaptation of Heathers was always going to have a tough road ahead: By its nature, making this series means making a show about school violence, and that’s much more of a hot-button issue in a post-Columbine, post-9/11 world than it was in 1988. But no one involved in the project seems to have anticipated just how much more difficult it would be to get Heathers on the air.

Early reviews were not kind to Heathers, and it’s possible that network executives would have been more willing air it if there had been a critical consensus that it was tackling its tricky subject matter as deftly as the original movie did. But as it was, Paramount found itself stuck with a show that was rapidly gaining a reputation as an offensive piece of shock comedy, in an America so bleak and hellish that there was no time to release it that wouldn’t come off as tasteless.

Here’s a brief timeline of all the times Heathers got pulled from the air following real-world gun violence — which, as a bonus, doubles as a non-comprehensive overview of a few of the worst shootings of 2018. America!

February: the Parkland, Florida shooting

Heathers was originally set to premiere on Paramount on March 7, 2018 — but on February 14, a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead. In response, Paramount announced that it would push back Heathers’ premiere.

“Paramount Network’s original series Heathers is a satirical comedy that takes creative risks in dealing with many of society’s most challenging subjects ranging from personal identity to race and socio-economic status to gun violence,” the network’s statement said. “While we stand firmly behind the show, in light of the recent tragic events in Florida and out of respect for the victims, their families and loved ones, we feel the right thing to do is delay the premiere until later this year.”

While Paramount never officially announced a new premiere date for Heathers, the Hollywood Reporter says that internally, the network committed to a July premiere and began planning a second season. (Apparently it was going to feature the same cast but be built around a separate story, anthology series style. It was reportedly set to be a period piece and involve Marie Antoinette.) After all, what were the odds that the new premiere would be knocked out of place by a second horrific school shooting?

May: the Santa Fe shooting

Before Paramount could announce Heathers’ new premiere date, a May 19 shooting at Santa Fe high school in Santa Fe, Texas, left 10 people dead. The planned July premiere was immediately scrapped.

By that point, the survivors of the Parkland shooting had begun an intensive nationwide campaign against gun violence, which Paramount Network executives said they supported wholeheartedly. Yet the network’s buzziest new show was a dark satire about gun violence at schools.

In June, Paramount Network announced that it was no longer planning to air Heathers, but that it was hoping to sell the show to a new home. “To be clear, I love this series and I believe in the franchise,” Paramount’s president of development and production Keith Cox told THR. “In the end, we didn’t feel comfortable right now airing the series and I’m not sure when there might be a time that we as a youthful brand at Viacom would feel comfortable. That said, we are very diligently trying to sell this because we believe in the show.”

As the network shopped the series around, it also began to heavily edit it. A storyline involving a school bombing was scrapped, as was a storyline involving a video game sequence of fantasy violence, ultimately transforming the original 10-episode season into nine episodes.

The show ultimately aired overseas in July. But Paramount was unable to find it a new domestic home. Instead, it decided to air the re-edited series itself, in the run-up to Halloween, airing multiple episodes each night from October 25 to October 29.

October: the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

On Saturday, a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania left 11 people dead. And in response, Paramount elected to pull two of the nine remaining episodes of Heathers from the air rather than air them as scheduled on Sunday night. (Saturday’s episodes made it to air as scheduled.)

Reportedly, the two episodes involved students at a high school going through active shooter training. Paramount has made them available to stream online and on demand, but opted not to air them live.

The final episode of Heathers is scheduled to air Monday night, barring any horrific act of mass violence.