Adult Swim’s smash hit Rick and Morty has been canceled following the end of its highly-viewed third season. The decision to end the show came not from the network, but from co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. The duo announced the cancellation Friday in a video posted to the Adult Swim Facebook page.
“The show’s mission is complete,” Roiland states triumphantly during the video in which the collaborators reveal that the entire series was a long con created solely for the purpose of generating a large enough base of rabid fans that they could effectively force a multi-billion-dollar corporation to do whatever they wanted.
The story starts in late 2011, when Roiland says he mentioned to Harmon that he was craving McDonald’s Szechuan sauce, a limited-edition McNugget dipping sauce that the fast food giant had released as part of a promotional tie-in for the Disney movie Mulan. When Harmon confessed that he had never tried the sauce during its availability, Roiland hatched a plan to get it back into production so Harmon could get his hands on it.
“It took a lot of work to convince the big-wigs at Adult Swim that the show was worth the investment,” Harmon recounts mid-way through the video. “It’s honestly the most juvenille—maybe, I would even say, infantile—thing that I’ve ever worked on, which is really saying something when you think back to my involvement with Channel 101.”
“Yeah, this has been really one of my least favorite projects,” Roiland chimes in. “It’s terrible. I hate it. I wish we didn’t have to go through all of this to get the McNugget sauce back. I’m not even sure it was worth it. It’s almost embarrassing to be recognized for this now.”
“Totally not worth it,” Harmon immediately concludes with a frown.
A brief interview with Mike Lazzo, who was Senior VP of Programming and Production at Adult Swim when Rick and Morty debuted, is appended to the video. In the clip, Lazzo details the network’s initial hesitation regarding the sci-fi comedy:
“A lot of people at the network were very concerned with the low-brow humor and rapid-fire pop culture references. They were afraid that half of the show’s jokes would fly right over the heads of viewers who tuned in for the other half of the jokes. A lot of them only agreed to greenlight the show after I reiterated Justin’s promise that this was all just to get some McNugget sauce back on the market and then it was over.”
Indeed, Harmon and Roiland fondly reminisce on the many meetings in which they had to reassure network execs that the show would never survive past its third or fourth season.
“We were really relying on the idea that we could create the same sort of fanbase that Dan had created with [NBC’s Harmon-produced sitcom] Community to drive this project,” said Roiland, as Harmon nodded his agreement. “I told them a few times that I had no intention of keeping this thing going very long. That really put them at ease with the whole situation.”
It was at the end of the show’s second season that the producers decided they had generated enough interest to bully the second-largest fast food chain in the world into resurrecting a long-discontinued menu item. A number of factors went into this determination, including live TV viewership numbers and activity levels on the Rick and Morty subreddit.
“When we saw the buzz we were getting online and we saw how many people were watching, we figured we had probably reached critical mass. It was time to go ahead and start winding things down,” Harmon explained.
Soon, the writing staff had started to put the plan into action. Mike McMahan was selected to write the season 3 premiere, which Adult Swim agreed to air completely unannounced as an April Fool’s Day surprise. The episode’s plot revolved in large part around the Szechuan sauce, complete with a closing scene that mirrored the popular closing moments of the pilot episode for maximum fan recognition.
The network played the episode on a loop for the entire night of April 1, 2017 in the hopes that by catching the viewers off-guard, they could capitalize on frantic web chatter to drive the most dedicated fans into a frenzy. The plan worked, and Google Trends showed spikes for searches related to the sauce every half hour as the episode came to an end and started over.
Fans flooded McDonald’s social media and web contact forms to demand that the sauce be brought back to the menu. The burger chain acquiesced in short order and began working on recreating the recipe. Soon, Roiland had a gallon of the stuff in his possession, and McDonald’s was pushing a one-day-only comeback to promote their new chicken tenders.
With the show’s one true goal fulfilled, Harmon was able to try to elusive condiment for the first time, and the co-creators could finally free themselves of the monster they had created.
“I don’t think anyone caught it, but the episode Meeseeks and Destroy was actually a not-so-subtle hint at what we were doing with the series as a whole,” Harmon revealed. “The show is an abomination, no doubt about it, and it was created to serve a singular purpose. To do that, it had to keep growing and multiplying to the point that we thought it would probably kill us both. Its existence was pain for us, but now that it’s accomplished its goal, it can finally die in peace.”
“That was our series arc, Morty!” Roiland shouts in his “Rick” voice.