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November 26, 2014

TV Moment of 2009: 'Southland' Canceled by NBC, Saved By TNT

by Jason Hughes, posted Dec 24th 2009 10:00AM
SouthlandIt's one thing to cancel a show that isn't performing as well as expectations. It's quite another to cancel a show that's well into production on their new season before that season even begins to air.

But that's exactly what NBC did in early October 2009 to drama series 'Southland.' The gritty cop show was looking to head into its sophomore season, riding higher critical acclaim than ratings.SouthlandIt's one thing to cancel a show that isn't performing as well as expectations. It's quite another to cancel a show that's well into production on their new season before that season even begins to air.

But that's exactly what NBC did in early October 2009 to drama series 'Southland.' The gritty cop show was looking to head into its sophomore season, riding higher critical acclaim than ratings.

Instead, six episodes into shooting, and anticipating their October 23 season premiere, the team behind 'Southland' got the call from NBC to shut down production. Ratings alone, though, couldn't have been the problem. For its first season of seven episodes, 'Southland' had taken 'ER''s former slot on Thursday nights at 10PM ET, where it saw its numbers drop from 10 million to between 5 and 6 million weekly.

But NBC shifted the show to the less competitive Friday night for its second season, where it would join the veteran 'Law & Order.' Both shows were new on the night, so there was no way to speculate what kind of ratings they could expect. In fact, 'Law & Order' posted better than expected numbers in its 20th season. In fact, it's ratings have been on the rise most of the season.

NBC cited concerns over the content of the episodes they'd seen for the sophomore season. They deemed the show too dark and gritty for broadcast television, and particularly the 9PM time slot. This explanation immediately got the attention of the media, who began to look directly at Jay Leno. NBC had made the bold move to put the ousted 'The Tonight Show' host on at 10 PM every night with 'They Jay Leno Show,' starting in the fall of 2009.

Benjamin McKenzie10PM had long been the home for more sophisticated dramas and"grittier" plots on broadcast television. When 'Southland' premiered, at 10PM on Thursdays, it came out of the gate with a story involving a dead child and a corpse partially eaten by dogs. Perhaps the problem wasn't the content that 'Southland' offered, but that NBC no longer had a slot available for it they could be comfortable with. Essentially, that could be interpreted to mean that NBC doesn't have the interest or the room on their schedule for edgy and mature fare.

Others interpreted it simply as a numbers game. By October, NBC had grown concerned about 'The Jay Leno Show.' Ratings were on a steep decline, and 'Southland' was stepping in to be the Friday night lead-in for their new nightly experiment. With 'Dateline NBC' airing in that slot already, it was perhaps easier to go with the ratings you know ('Dateline NBC') than the unknown ('Southland'). Plus, newsmagazines and talk shows are far cheaper to produce than a scripted drama; one of the factors that led to 'The Jay Leno Show' in the first place.

Fans of the show got the last laugh, as the series was quickly picked up by TNT. The cable network bought the rights to the seven episodes NBC aired last season, as well as the six that were produced but never aired for this season. Beginning Tuesday, January 12, 2010, TNT will begin airing all thirteen episodes, in order. The network is offering the pilot in a commercial-free presentation with six additional minutes of footage, and promises to restore language and content cut by NBC to keep the series more in line with creator John Wells' ('ER,' 'The West Wing') vision.

Michael CudlitzStarting March 2, they will begin airing the six episode "second" season that never was on NBC. While TNT has no guarantee that any additional episodes will be produced after these thirteen, they have left that door open, dependent on the ratings of these first thirteen. If Well does get to continue his story, the looser restrictions on content that cable offers should enable him to take 'Southland' into even darker and grittier places than NBC could even imagine.

Perhaps the most ironic thing of all is that 'Southland' on TNT will now be competing directly with 'The Jay Leno Show' at 10PM on NBC. It will be very interesting to see how their ratings compare after the premiere. As a basis of comparison, TNT's 'Men of a Certain Age' premiered to 5.4 million on December 7, 2009, which admittedly was one of the strongest cable launches of 2009. On that same night, 'The Jay Leno Show' scored 4.7 million viewers. Leno does perform better on Tuesdays due to a stronger lead-in with 'The Biggest Loser,' so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

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CENGL1050

I was wondering what happened to Southland ! I really enjoyed this hard hitting & gritty cop drama even more than the others like CSI, etc

May 17 2010 at 5:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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