Written by: Monique Jones

The time has finally come.  After four seasons, Sleepy Hollow has been canceled. For many, the news was met with as much jubilation as if they had just heard Nicole Beharie would be coming back. In many ways, it’s a shame that the show’s cancellation is a positive, since Sleepy Hollow started out with everyone, fans and critics alike, rooting for it to succeed.

Sleepy Hollow gets what it deserves, speaking frankly. It played the game of not listening to its core fan base and understanding their needs. When it tried to “rectify” things, it was too late, and most if its core audience had moved on to bigger, better things, like Into the Badlands, American Gods (with Sleepy Hollow alum and self-proclaimed “fangirl” Orlando Jones), Luke Cage, The Flash, Supergirl, and so on. The show is definitely a lesson to others that ignoring or writing off your fans doesn’t win you longevity in television. It’s a miracle Sleepy Hollow lasted as long as it did without Beharie holding down the fort as Abbie.

I’ve written about Sleepy Hollow ad nauseum for Black Girl Nerds, and for my own site, and as many of y’all can attest to, I have tried to see the brighter side to all of the injustices leveled against Abbie. from Katrina being a wedge between her and Ichabod’s relationship to the Season 2 leadership writing Abbie out of her own story in the most painful way possible. Even though I knew that everything happening could have the potential to backfire on the show, I still hoped that everything was being built up towards a vindication of epic proportions—that Katrina would finally die (or gain immense evil power to become the best villainess of the show) and Abbie and Ichabod would finally become the ultimate Witness team in both their professional and personal lives. But due to Beharie’s understandable growing malaise about the work and ineffective writing, Abbie was killed off, a final act of injustice towards such an important character.

A lot of this sounds like water under the bridge, I’m sure. But what I’m trying to say is that Sleepy Hollow’s first season was a fantastic example of social issues melding together with fantasy in an oddly believable and relatable way (even with everyone was fighting a headless horseman). Key moments such as Abbie and Irving schooling Ichabod on the original hypocritical “liberal” Thomas Jefferson and Abbie rekindling her relationship with Jenny affected black audiences in particular in a way the show probably didn’t hit other audience members. Here was a show that was putting black sisterhood first and was intent on making an intense social critique on American society, which included critiquing how America’s Founding Fathers weren’t really as forward-thinking as some would like to believe.

Just as important as Sleepy Hollow’s focus on black sisterhood was its focus on black femininity and desirability as well. Abbie was the romantic interest for several people on Sleepy Hollow’s first season, including Andy, Luke, and Ichabod despite being married (perhaps a lot of Ichabod’s interest falls squarely on how Tom Mison played Ichabod, giving the character much more subtext than was probably ever initially expected of the character). Ichabod also always treated Abbie with respect, but even more than that, Ichabod treated her like a lady. That’s even more remarkable seeing how Ichabod comes from a time when black women weren’t even seen as human. Having a black woman at the center of several men’s lives showcased her desirability as a woman, something other shows gloss over when it comes to their black female characters. Abbie was the center of attention, the treatment that is an old hat for many white female characters, including Katrina.

I think, though, that a lot of these points never connected for many of the Sleepy Hollow writing team. I don’t know if many of them understood how aspects of the show would affect the audience it seemed like they wanted to capture—black people, black women in particular. To be even more nuanced about it, I don’t know if many of them understood how certain plot points or character choices would resonate with audience members of different races in different ways. What might be seen as a “standard” move by some to push Abbie’s storyline to the backburner to focus more on Ichabod’s relationship with Katrina was also interpreted as a way to erase Abbie out of her own story and give off the idea that she is less than.

This critique is leveled more towards the Season 2 writing team, since that season sent the message that, as a group, they felt Abbie wasn’t worth the title of Witness, especially when it was written for Ichabod to tell Abbie to take care of Katrina during an episode, as if Katrina’s not supposed to be an all-powerful witch. That moment alone showcased how Abbie was viewed by members of the writing team—she was viewed as a stereotypical vessel of black strength, as a mindless caretaker for white femininity and safety. She was an object, not a person. That season proved the point about how not knowing your target audience and their interests can bite you in the butt. It also proves the point about how a diverse writing staff can help showrunners and other writers see the pitfalls in certain storylines and character treatments.

The cruelest injustice was killing Abbie in Season 3 to start anew, as if she was the problem with the series when, in fact, she brought a lot of the fans to the series. The way she was killed left fans and critics shocked, with many fans vowing not to return to the series. I also vowed not to return to the series, however, I did catch half of the first episode just to see how bad the fourth season would be. It wasn’t great, to be honest.

If you like Bones, you might have caught some of the Bones-esque writing that was going on. Also, in an attempt to recreate the magic of the first season, the cast got a diversity upgrade similar to the type of diversity we saw in the first season. But a new focus and new diverse cast don’t mean that Sleepy Hollow could get back to its original glory without one-half of the heart of the show, and as we now know, it never did.

How do I, as Black Girl Nerds’ resident Sleepy Hollow expert, feel about the cancellation? Well, I feel like it couldn’t be better news. There was a time when I had dreaded hearing about Sleepy Hollow on-the-bubble talk because I didn’t want the show to end. I didn’t want to lose the characters I’d grown to care about so much. I didn’t want to lose my escapist program that allowed me to see a black woman in charge on a fantasy show. I know how rare those opportunities are, which means there are other shows, like The Expanse and Z Nation that we as sci-fi and fantasy fans should hold very dearly. But, as it turns out, some of the folks behind the scenes didn’t understand why I and others like me were attracted to Sleepy Hollow. It wasn’t just because Abbie was a black face on the show. It was because she represented us in an authentic and realistic way. She was us. When they threw Abbie away, it was like they were telling us we were disposable as well, so we as fans turned the tables on them and quit watching.

So, if they haven’t learned it by now, everyone now knows for certain that if there’s no Abbie, there’s no Sleepy Hollow.

Monique Jones is an entertainment blogger/journalist. She’s written for Entertainment Weekly, Black Girl Nerds,Racialicious, and many others. She runs JUST ADD COLOR (originally called COLOR) and has introduced a new online magazine, COLOR BLOCK Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @moniqueblognet and the official Twitter for JUST ADD COLOR and COLORBLOCK Magazine,@COLORwebmag.

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  • Georgia Devinshire

    hmmm….didn’t you just have the character jenny on a podcast not too long ago promoting this show?

    • LoL you must not have been at the podcast. We talked about the actress Lyndie Greenwood and barely about the show. Black women can walk and chew gum at the same time ya know.

      • Georgia Devinshire

        well, many of your followers you banned on twitter thought differently

        • Not sure how one can be “banned from Twitter” but oh wellz. You’re entitled to your opinion. Thanks for stopping by the site!

          • brownstocking

            I guess y’all made it, trolls coming to comment on things they don’t care about, LOL.

          • LoL and that same hater went to our Facebook feed to share the same comment. The petty is strong in that one. ::laughs hysterically::

  • PJDean

    Face it. White females have a tough time when it’s not all about them. Katrina indeed.

  • Reverend Ron

    <3 you BLACKGIRLNERDS

    • Love you right back!!

  • misskyokom

    *LOUDLY SLURPS TEA, LAUGHING GLEEFULLY IN BETWEEN GULPS* Serves them right.

    I mean, after all our loyalty, after we were furious about season two but we gave them another chance with season three, not only do they kill Abbie with zero lead in, but they actually renew the show with an entirely new character as if they thought the fanbase was just going to stick around. How? How could they not pay attention to literally the millions of POC who were excited about this show BECAUSE it was about a black woman? And even more importantly, a black woman who was in an urban fantasy setting? Sure, black women have had roles in hundreds of TV shows, but most of the time it’s supporting roles, not main leads. That’s exactly the show’s appeal, but somehow the writers’ room ignored it and thought we were all here for Crane. Dude, Tom Mison is a babe and a darling and so sweet and handsome in person, but he’s not why most people tuned in, and for the FOX execs and the writer’s room to be so arrogant to assume this show could make it without its core audience blows my mind. If I remember correctly, when season four debuted, they were down 80,000 viewers. We told them no Abbie, no us. I guess they thought we were bluffing. Joke’s on them.

    I am so sad that the lovely Tom Mison is out of a job, but this show dug itself into a grave and now it’s got to lie down in it. I hope Tom finds something great where he is appreciated, and that Nicole has nothing but bigger and better opportunities ahead of her. FOX is probably too stupid to learn a lesson from this disaster, but I hope that other networks recognize the power and appeal of intelligent, competently written black leads, especially in sci-fi/fantasy genres. Hell, it’s why I write what I write. I love seeing diversity in SFF and I hope the demise of Sleepy Hollow at the very least teaches others to do it right and respect the millions of people who love POC and WOC in those genres, and in main roles in TV/movies/fiction in general.

    In summary, bye Felicia.

    *happily continues slurping tea*

    • This is exactly what is meant when we say representation matters. Seeing someone like you portrayed as a hero, a love interest, a partner (not side kick) is inspiring.

      I’ll never forget reading Octavia Butler for the first time. I’d been reading SFF for years, but those Parable books… Right then and there I wanted to be a SFF writer.

      • Weeks

        I love Octavia Butler 🙂

    • lkeke35

      As my Momma says: Y’all gon’ learn!
      And they will.

  • Melilew

    I agree with everything you wrote. SH was cancelled in my mind at the close of season 3. I’ve been passing over my Hulu notifications of season 4 eps like, Nah, that show is dead to me, lol. Even white fans were like WTF. It’s not to say their opinions hold more weight, bit we finally had a character who was widely accepted by all as this beautiful strong/vulnerable black woman. It almost like they didn’t mean for her to be as popular/likeable as she ended up being. Either way….eff that dead show.

    • laddibugg

      I deliberately took the show off my watch list. I NEVER do that. I’ll let them wither up there. But this mad me so mad I had to do it.

  • Sarah woodward

    Nicole wanted out. I thought they did a good job trying to save a show she left in a lerch. The show didn’t turn on anyone. Stop with the chip on you shoulder.

    • Thanks for traveling all this way to comment. I would want out of a show too that mistreated and disrespected me as the lead. It sounds like you are absolutely clueless of the environment of Sleepy Hollow and how Beharie was treated. Qwhite interesting of you to share your thoughts.

      • k8dee

        Qwhite! I. Fell. Out. I’m stealing that one!

        NB wanted out because they didn’t even have the basic decency to include her on the cast commentary of the episodes. It was one indignity after another. They treated her like crap and she was done.

        If folks make it too uncomfortable and miserable for you to stay…

        • I remember that! How do you not include the lead of the show in the DVD commentary?

    • Delor Bee

      She wanted out because she was being treated badly. Jeez. You guys always pull that ‘but she wanted to leave’ crap, while glossing over the REASON she wanted to leave. I would say it’s like the people who claim the Civil War was over states rights, while failing to point out the state right to legalize SLAVERY!, but that’s kinda stretching things a bit.

    • Lurker

      “Stop with the chip on you(r) shoulder” = wypipo attempt to diminish someone black making a VALID point ON THEIR SITE.
      EPIC FAIL.

      • KA

        Yes, the oh-so-familiar chip on the shoulder…

        If I had a dime for every time I read that in the comments section….

    • Winn

      Girl, you tried it. You failed, but an (ig)noble attempt was made.

      • Velma Bonner

        Glad you mentioned the ‘lerch’. I saw it and was wondering if it was an American thing.

    • Camille Pendragon

      So the fact that she wanted out because of how she was treated was just…no nevermind to you?

  • The show lost me during the ethnic cleansing of season 2-3 and the fact that Abby was left to suffer in another dimension while the white couple was reunited. She was a complex, indepependent character was reduced to a mammy.

  • Delor Bee

    “When they threw Abbie away, it was like they were telling us we were disposable as well” Like they were telling us? They actually told us to our faces (via Twitter, LOL) just how little they thought of us. IMO, they hired Leigh just so he could deal with us. And like a man he got down to putting us black womenfolk in our place. They and their minions (the Trubador Midshipmen fans) gleefully told us that if we didn’t like the direction the show was heading in, we should just, you know, stop watching. So we did. How you like them apples?

    • k8dee

      Wait, who was Leigh? I like to remember folks who move against black women for petty actions later…even if it’s 10 years down the line.

      • Delor Bee

        The black writer they hired to squelch Abbie fans when we pointed out how they were sidelining her. He did his job initially by fighting everyone who had the gall to say something about Abbie on his various feeds. Even someone who he misread as insulting his ‘talent’ for writing. When he was fired prior to season 4, his whole attitude changed, LOL. He’s Leigh Dana Jackson, if you’re nasty. LOL.

  • Sara Kaulitz

    I didn’t watch the last half of season 2 and beyond cause the show didn’t feel the same. I was so excited every week in season 1 but it felt like I was forcing myself to watch in season 2. Katrina killed the series to me cause I was rooting for Abbie and Crane to fall in love. Once I saw that wasn’t happening, bye bye. But I did Google each week in hopes for spoilers that they actually did go in that direction. Once they killed Abbie off, I forgot the show completely.

  • James Morgan III

    An opportunity that I think was VERY BADLY MISSED was how they left Abbie at the end of season 2 back in the 1700’s. I really had hoped that season 3 would pick up from that plot point so that we could see Abbie perhaps interact with her ancestors that we had heard so much about> Maybe we could learn of their African originated powers, perhaps a cameo by the likes of Bishop Richard Allen, Phyllis Wheatley, Crispus Attucks, Prince Hall or Paul Cuffee?? Maybe we could learn how Abbie might have been present at Cranes funeral or maybe even protected his grave/body from some time traveling super demon after whose defeat she would have found her way back home…. These are all great plot points that we will now never get to see….

  • Awesome article! They almost lost me for good with that season 2 BS. They lost me forever after killing Abby. Usually I would root for the series to continue on Hulu or Syfy, but not this time. Remember Sleepy Hollow for the magic of season one. The rest should be set on fire and burned to ash.

  • Alright. I tagged this yesterday because I had so much to say and not enough workday to day it.
    This article says a lot of what I am thinking and have said myself over the last 2 seasons.
    I am sad and torn. I am not sad because I think there wasn’t a huge mistake made, or at the truth the show was beyond repair after Nikki Beharie was removed horribly. I am sad for the writers and staff of the show. While I will not pretend to know or understand everything about tv staff writing. I understand that what I get excited about weekly on a show is not 100% because of the producers or even director… or the TV POLITICIANS. Its the writers and actors and I have always wondered how hard did they fight with Sleepy Hollow. I wondered from mid season two (I was slow to notice the subtle changes) who was really pulling the strings and why. I know it wasn’t that staff writer making 30-50K a year writing scenes as he was directed to in his staff meeting? It’s not the true creative minds of Sleepy Hollow. In my euphoric mind of creativity it can’t be those people. True fiction, creativity minds can not treat their character creation that way. And those people are the ones I am sad for. Even some of the cast members, especially new ones on the scene. They had an opportunity and now so quickly it’s gone. Yes they should have seen the cancellation and fanbase turn coming, but maybe… maybe they had car insurance to pay or had not worked on film in months and this was the only opportunity? And now, because top creators and producers would not admit the MAJOR error of letting Nikki Beharie leave… and of changing the empowering woman focus of the show to HMM…..something else.. because they could not fix that appropriately, those people are out of work again. Lyndie Greenwood was amazing on that series and I truly think she will be fine, but I am sad that I may not see her in the fantasy role for a while. I think she really tried after the shows front runner left. This show goes into my sad vault of TRUE DISAPPOINTMENTS (Forever, Hawthorne, Sleepy Hollow).
    This article has balanced out my sadness with a little more anger and reality so thank you. I have read it twice and it has helped with my resolve. Ultimately I am sad a great fantasy tale is off the books. Conceptually this show had everything a girl like me loves and I don’t see it coming back in the near future.

  • Krys

    As fine an actor and as FOINE a man as Tom Mison is, I fell in love Nicole and her character, Abby and his pretty self just wasn’t enough. They slighted us. And they learned.

  • I mmmhmm’d this entire article like I was at church! It’s sad we are celebrating the demise of a show we once loved, but oh well!!!

  • I pretty much gave up on the show after season 2. There was nothing that could save it aside them returning to their roots and giving the fans what they wanted. I felt empowered and in love with the show seeing a woman of color in a lead role and just waiting for something to happen initially between her and Andy. #AMBW FTW <3 and then when you know….that didn't pan out I was waiting for Abbie and Ichabod. I was just let down time and time again and I just didn't want to continue to watch a show where the leading lady couldn't enter into a relationship and Ichabod was pushed to meaningless relationships even though he appeared to hold a candle for Abbie.

    I completely agree with everything in this article!!!!! Thanks for writing this!