When Legend of Korra’s original companion series Avatar: The Last Airbender was pitched to Nickelodeon in 2001 by co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, it took years of grueling effort by the production team before it finally debuted in 2005. By its final episode three years later, it had garnered an impressive amount of viewers for a Nickelodeon broadcast and children’s TV series, averaging about 5.6 million viewers.
The TV series easily became one of the most-watched and beloved cartoons of its time, earning multiple nominations and wins for its direction, writing, and animation, and impacting an entire generation that would later tune into watching its companion series, Legend of Korra.
The audience’s anticipation was evident when the first few episodes pulled in better ratings than HBO’s high-production, big budget TV series Game of Thrones, with a whopping 4.5 million views. It even brought in better ratings in its young adult demographic than other TV shows aimed for that specific audience, including FOX’s Glee - which averaged in about half of what Legend of Korra did that same year.
This, however, does not explain its third season receiving its worst ratings since its inception, or its subsequent final episodes being pulled off the air and premiered on Nickelodeon’s website. Well, that can be chalked up to a simple series of unfortunate events.
First, the second season simply wasn’t as good as the first. This is partially due to the fact that Legend of Korra wasn’t supposed to be a long-running series; it was planned to be one 13 episode mini-series. In other words, it quickly became victim to too many seasons, and the creators were stuck grasping at straws for character development in characters that were already developed to their full potential.
This combined with Nickelodeon’s marketing campaign—or lack thereof—spelled disaster by the time of its final season. To put this in perspective: before the third season’s premiere date was even announced, four mid-season episodes were leaked by the network’s Mexican branch. A fan trailer was posted online, one of which many thought was the official trailer for the new season, only adding fuel to the fire. In a panic, the official premiere date and trailer were announced, only for fans to find out the season would begin airing in one week. This left only one week for marketing.
Lastly, Legend of Korra wasn’t—and still isn’t—“Nick”-material. Combined with its sociopolitical themes, as well as its appeal to an older demographic and larger online presence, it wasn’t entirely made for a marketable cable audience. Co-creator Brian Konietzko stated this upon the series’ pull off the cable network mid-season: “... things have changed just for us since we did in Avatar in 2005-2008 and then when we came back in 2012. And when Book 1 of Korra came out it did pretty good on TV but its online presence was just insane. Not only the chatter from all the fans but the actual numbers in terms of digital downloads and streaming, it's just been huge. And as the show's gone along, by Book 2, the numbers in the digital streaming greatly outweighed the channel.” He continued, “It's no secret that Avatar, especially Korra, is not typical Nickelodeon fare. And so they've had kind of a hard time fitting it into their programming.”
Korra herself isn’t the typical protagonist for a children’s cartoon, either. At the start of the series in Book 1, she is seventeen years old, and she’s still only eighteen at the start of Book 2. In the latest season, she’s a whopping twenty-one years old. This is an obvious reflection of the maturing audience that continued to watch Legend of Korra after watching Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Asami, however, enjoys makeup and doing her hair. She enjoys drag-racing, and eventually takes up her father’s company, Future Industries. Her femininity doesn’t make her weak—if anything, she is a capable leader in her own right, just like Korra. In other words, Korra and Asami aren’t placed into select boxes of what they are and what they should be because of their status as young women—they are simply themselves.
The most important point, however, isn’t just Korra’s presence as a female action hero - it’s her presence as a woman of color. Women of color alone make up some of the smallest representation on television, let alone protagonists for a children’s cartoon. Korra’s darker complexion alone isn’t what makes her special—it’s the presence devoid of any stigmas or stereotypes typically assumed in women of color. Unfortunately, almost none of us are immune to the lack of proper representation present all over media, TV included: the funny best friend, the “gold digger,” “brash women,” or really, just endless dumbed-down caricatures of a people used to satisfy white people’s assertion of power.
It almost goes without mentioning the potential positive impact that Korra, represented as a character of value rather than a caricature can have on younger children as she grows and faces challenges.
All factors involved make Legend of Korra an important piece of television despite the obstacles it has faced along the way. While the writing can be a mess and the characters lack the proper development at times, it’s clear that the pros outweigh the cons. Korra’s last running season is, well, its last--and in the end, it’s worth sticking around a little while longer just to reap the final benefits.
(Image source: Nickelodeon)
Paige Cober is a Writing, Literature and Publishing major who grew up just outside of New York City, between a prison, train station and a cemetery. Now going to school in Boston, she enjoys iced coffee, sleeping and copious amounts of TV.