Netflix's Marco Polo cancelled after two seasons

The New York Times announced that after two seasons, Netflix had canceled its original series “Marco Polo.” The network did not disclose ratings for the lavish series about the adventures of the 13th century Venetian merchant adventurer in the China of Kublai Khan. As a subscription network, Netflix does not, in any case, have the usual tools to measure viewership that other networks do that get their money from advertising. But the critics were not very kind, and “Marco Polo” the series cost $180 million over two seasons to produce, an immense sum.

“Marco Polo” had a difficult birth. The series was first developed for the Starz premium cable network by the Weinstein Company. However, when efforts to film in China fell through, Starz released the series back to the producers, who eventually sold it to Netflix to the tune of $90 million a season, making it the second most expensive TV show in history, second only to “Game of Thrones.” “Marco Polo” was filmed in Malaysia, Italy, and Kazakhstan. The production values were lavish, as befitted a historical epic.

The cast was diverse. Lorenzo Richeimy played Polo, at the beginning of the series as a young man in his 20s. Gabriel Byrne played Pope Gregory X in Season 2. Benedict Wong, who has also appeared in “The Martian” and “Dr. Strange” played Kublai Khan. Other Asian actors who appeared in the series and are well known in the West include Joan Chen and Michelle Yeoh.

Marco Polo traveled to China from Europe with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo across the Silk Road, a trade route that stretched across Eurasia. The journey took the better part of a year, but merchants who survived bandits, weather, and other mishaps could return with a cargo of silks, spices, and other goods and become fabulously wealthy.

Most of China at that time was ruled by a Mongol dynasty established by the famous and brutal conqueror Genghis Khan. Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China at the time of Marco Polo’s sojourn, had taken on Chinese customs. Kublai took a liking to the young Polo and employed him on a number of diplomatic missions throughout Asia, where he had many adventures.

Polo wrote down his experiences in a memoir in which he described the marvels he saw during his 23-year stay in Asia. At that time, China was a more advanced civilization than Europe, having paper money and gunpowder among other technological wonders. When he returned to Europe, many thought the tales Polo had set down in his memoirs were fiction. But he stood by his account, boasting that he had not told half of what he had seen and experienced.

Season 1 of “Marco Polo” began with ten episodes on December 12, 2014. Season 2 premiered with another ten episodes on July 1, 2016. Netflix announced that the series would be canceled on December 12, 2016.