If you follow the show biz industry news, you'll no doubt have heard about a truly bizarre decision that came down from NBC over the weekend in which they cancelled their cop drama Southland just before their second season was due to air, after renewing it only a few weeks before.
The move has a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering if NBC has gone....well.......bugfuck nuts. The official reason that the network has given is that the show is too "dark and gritty" for NBC, and therefore, they aren't going to air it. This despite the fact that the series garnered significant critical acclaim upon its release. The show debuted strongly last mid-season, as it was touted as the replacement for ER, even though the two shows could not have been more different. The ratings did take a downturn during its run, but NBC announced in May that they would be renewing the series for second season.
Then, the trouble started. First, NBC pushed the second season debut from September 25th to Oct. 23rd, claiming it was done to avoid having the series compete with other season premieres. This also meant the show was moved from Thursday at 10pm to Friday at 9pm. Not the world's greatest time slot, historically. Then, on October 7th came the news that they were cancelling the show altogether and not going to air the six episodes that they've already shot.
Now, I watched the first season, and it was good. It had some problems, for sure. The main problem was a cast and a focus that was way too large to really hold our attention. Some aspects, such as Ben McKenzie's rookie paired up with Michael Cudlitz's closeted tough veteran, and Regina King's brilliant portrayal of a totally believable homicide cop, shone bright. Other aspects fell quite flat, like Tom Everett Scott's barely present portrayal of a cop looking to branch out as a writer. The result was a show that meandered too much. Still, the good stuff, including the dark and gritty tone, really felt exciting and different and exceptional. It certainly deserved a little longer to find its feet, and based on the fact that I've heard the second season focuses far more on McKenzie and King's story lines, it seems the producers knew this too.
Some people want to blame Jay Leno. I can't wholly disagree. You see, when Leno got his deal for a five night a week spot at 10 pm, it meant that the 10 pm slot was no longer available for any scripted dramas, and it also meant that the later slot that allowed riskier more adult fare to be shown, was now gone. I hate Leno's style of comedy as much as the next guy, and the decision to put him on five nights a week was beyond idiotic, really. It pretty much signalled that the network was completely abandoning filling that slot with anything of any real innovation.
However, if the network had any real faith in Southland, it would still be on. Based on the numbers that some of its 9pm shows (like Heroes, Mercy, Trauma) are pulling down, it's not like they couldn't soon find a place for it. Simply put, NBC doesn't have the balls or the patience to air a show or nurture it for any length of time. And as a result, it is now a fourth place network. Even Fox is beating it. Pretty soon, don't be surprised if you see the CW kicking its ass.
Think on this; you know what shows NBC has produced that ran at 10 pm? Here's a list: ER, Law & Order, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Hunter, Quincy, M.E., Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order SVU. People will argue that times change, but some of those shows were hits in their 10pm slots, like six months ago!
Southland star Michael Cudlitz was so angry that, when interviewed, he unleashed a can of whup-ass on NBC that hilariously ensures he'll never work for them again:
We were two weeks away from airing and (the cancellation news) has created more press for the show than NBC has put into it on its own. They ran the first (Southland) ad — a 30-second spot — last Friday, and that’s the only one that they ran. That’s not a relaunch. When you have a network that nobody’s watching, it doesn’t benefit you to only advertise on your network....We were given the same statement that everyone got. (NBC) said they watched the first (four) episodes and determined that they were too dark. I don’t even know where to go with that. They were the scripts that (NBC) approved for a show that they picked up — a show they themselves advertised as an authentic, raw and gritty look at the Los Angeles Police Department. So I don’t know what they thought they were getting…
Basically this was a sleazy move, completely screwing over the show's producers, cast and crew who thought their hard work was at least going to be seen. And as TNT is now expressing interest in taking over the series, it's also another indicator that network television is in really danger of complete irrelevancy through its over-reliance in reality shows, cutting corners and a complete lack of faith in the shows they make.