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Why NBC's 'Outlaw' Was Doomed from The Start

by Allison Waldman, posted Oct 8th 2010 4:30PM
outlaw_jimmy_smits_nbcIf you've been watching NBC's new legal drama 'Outlaw,' you were probably ticked off to read yesterday that the network has halted production on the show. You should also probably enjoy tonight's episode since it may be one of the few that NBC will actually broadcast this fall.

It's always sad to see a quality television show bite the dust, but that likely wasn't the case here; there were questions from the start about 'Outlaw.' Why did NBC green light this series, and choose to debut it in the fall over other pilots like 'Harry's Law' with Kathy Bates, which had Emmy-winner David E. Kelley ('Boston Legal') behind it?

Even if you got past the fact that 'Outlaw' seemed like tough sell, NBC hasn't done very much to help the show. In fact, here's the evidence that 'Outlaw' was probably a doomed project from the start.

1. 'Outlaw' had an outlandish premise.

Would a Supreme Court justice really give up the top job in the land to go back to being a defense attorney? The idea, of course, was that he was an idealist who wanted to fight for the little guy. However, Supreme Court justice is the kind of job you don't give up. It's a lifetime position from which you cannot be fired. You're one of only nine justices in America. It's as high as you can go in the judicial system.

Therefore, to give up that kind of stature, not to mention the power to interpret the Constitution, was far-fetched to say the least. Judge Cyrus Garza had to power to do more good as part of the Supreme Court than he ever would running a law firm. The creators were asking the audience to swallow a lot, to take a giant leap of faith, just by asking us to accept that premise as reality. It was too outlandish.

outlaw_jimmy_smits_nbc2. Jimmy Smits needed some help.

Clearly, 'Outlaw' was going to be a star vehicle for Jimmy Smits, as Mo Ryan pointed out in her review. However, as much as Smits is a star, he's never carried a show on his own. On 'L.A. Law,' 'The West Wing' and 'NYPD Blue,' he thrived as part of an ensemble. Even his showy turn on 'Dexter,' which earned Smits an Emmy nomination, had him supporting Michael C. Hall's Dexter Morgan character.

But 'Outlaw' was dependent on Jimmy Smits carrying the hour. Smits isn't Superman and he needed help to bring off the premise. He never really got that help. The cast was competent, if not compelling, and the plots weren't great, certainly nothing as idiosyncratic as the kind of stories Kelley told on 'Boston Legal.' It also didn't help the show when the writers threw in a conspiracy theory subplot.

3. NBC put it on Friday night.

If NBC really wanted to give 'Outlaw' a boost, why did it slot it on Friday nights? Friday is a notoriously slow night for TV viewing. And It wasn't just that it was on Friday night. 'Outlaw' had to go up against Tom Selleck's 'Blue Bloods' on CBS. That's asking audiences to choose between two veteran TV stars. If NBC had placed 'Outlaw' on Monday at 10PM instead, then it may have had an edge over shows like 'Hawaii Five-0' and 'Castle,' which feature younger -- and less familiar -- leading men.

NBC could have even tried 'Outlaw' on Thursday at 10PM instead of 'The Apprentice.' That was Jimmy's old slot when he was on 'L.A. Law.' It might have shown viewers that NBC considered 'Outlaw' a prestige project, because for nearly two decades, that time slot was an NBC success story.

4. There's was the Conan O'Brien connection.

After the hubbub with Conan O'Brien last winter/spring, which embarrassed NBC as much or more than any move Jeff Zucker ever made, it was strange that the network would green light a show from Conan's production company. Nevertheless, Conaco Productions' 'Outlaw' made it onto the NBC fall schedule.

Is it possible that NBC said yes to 'Outlaw' just for the perverse pleasure of canceling the show as soon as possible? That sounds crazy, but Hollywood has been known to do some weird things. Some theorists are implying this is NBC's revenge on Conan, that NBC planned to get back at Conan for giving them grief ever since the end of Conan's 'Tonight Show' by giving 'Outlaw' short shrift.

Have you watched 'Outlaw?' Do you think it deserves a chance or was it doomed to fail?

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Areslv Lv

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December 22 2011 at 12:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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December 20 2011 at 8:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ICe

that was a great show and I hope another network pick it up and air it again from where NBC left off

February 23 2011 at 11:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cathy

I loved the show. No wonder I can't find it on TV. I loved the whole idea of a a supreme court judge doing the right thing..and Jimmy is so darn sexy. UGH

October 29 2010 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
erika

Why couldn't the network just change the night or time it was on... or another network pick up the show?

October 24 2010 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
erika

yes I think it deserved a chance... the could have just moved it to another night, or another channel could have picked it up.

October 24 2010 at 12:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Davido

The author of the piece is correct: The notion that a U.S. Supreme Court judge would eschew that honor to become a defense attorney defies credulity. If "Outlaw" wanted to cure injusticies for mankind as NBC would like us to believe, them, in reality, a Supreme Court judge would do it from the bench where he could swing some genuine power. The whole "Outlaw" premise is absurd!

October 12 2010 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kathyk0105

I love Outlaw and Jimmy Smitz!!!!! Eventhough US Supreme Court Justices have a lifetime post, remember people, this is just a tv show for entertainment purposes. Jimmy can carry a television show. Maybe the time slot is not the best, however, as one one poster wrote, thank goodness for DVR!!!! Give the conspiracy stories a rest linking the show to Conan O'Brien. It depends on how many people are watching. I'll continue to watch until it's off the air.

October 12 2010 at 2:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stelios

Jimmy Schmidt, is a yesterday's actor. He tried a couple of starring roles recently and he bombed. I wobder why the powers to be in Hollywood kee waisting money on this actor.

October 11 2010 at 11:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve Hartman

Move it up an hour and do battle with CSI New York. I love LT. Dan; but the New York accents get old really fast and after this many years I'm ready for a change. And as much as I like Jimmy Smitts, he ain't no Tom Selleck. You shouldn't expect him to be. I think if you give him a time-slot break he'll work for you.

October 11 2010 at 11:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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