Saturday, October 19, 2013

The axe falls too quickly for some new shows. Will network executives never learn?

Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it.---George Santayana

Yeah, I know, I used that line to lead a piece over in Saturday Morning Archives the other day, but ever since Tim McCarver first used the line during a Mets broadcast in the 80's, it's become a favorite of mine. Can't be helped, but it seems NBC & Universal didn't get the message. Again.

News has come over the wires that they're pulling the plug on their urban remake of Ironside after just three weeks, and will fill the space with Chicago PD, a new entry from----who else?---Dick Wolf, who had the 10 pm (ET) space for years, first with Law & Order, then last year with Chicago Fire, from whence we get this new show.

When I reviewed Ironside last month, I said I didn't have a problem with an African-American, Blair Underwood (ex-LA Law) filling the wheelchair made famous by Raymond Burr, but instead warned that NBC & Universal were playing with fire. Universal had gotten burned a few years back by casting Ving Rhames ("Mission: Impossible", "Striptease") in a urban remake of Kojak, and that lasted only one season. Being that it was on USA Network, it went the full season, something Ironside won't get, unfortunately. I liked Underwood, who reinvented Robert Ironside as a tortured, but proactive sleuth who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Of course, Kelsey Grammer's daughter, Spencer, was easy on the eyes, too, which helped. The last two episodes are available On Demand, so I'll catch up.

Ironside isn't the only one getting the quick hook from panicky NBC suits. Welcome To The Family, a first year sitcom, also got canned, making room for Community to return. Apparently, NBC offended fans of the latter series by putting it on the bench to start the season. Those same viewers wanted no part of Welcome, forcing the network's hand.

The same can be said over at CBS, which apparently will ice We Are Men, a new sitcom that brought Tony Shalhoub (ex-Monk, Wings) back to his sitcom roots. It also marks another failure for Jerry O'Connell (ex-Sliders, Crossing Jordan), whose last CBS entry, a remake of The Defenders, at least got through the first half before getting the hook. ABC needed only 2 weeks to decide that Lucky 7, which was at the back end of their all-freshman Tuesday lineup, wasn't worth keeping around.

Why is this? With more original series airing on cable, viewers have many more choices and are voting with their remotes, for one thing, and since each of the broadcast networks is tethered to a larger concern (i.e. NBC to Universal, ABC to Disney, etc.), there is less margin for error. Fox is staggering their debuts, largely due to their sports commitments, but they're not immune to making snap cancellation decisions. It was reported that a cartoon ticketed for their Saturday late night lineup, Murder Police, won't make it to air for some reason. That's being shopped, and either Fox saves face and farms the series out to FXX (formerly Fox Soccer) or FX (which already has an animated series, Archer), or passes it off to Cartoon Network, which has bought cable rights to Fox's Sunday toons, except for The Simpsons. Murder Police would fit perfectly on CN's [adult swim] lineup.

The problem I have is that the network suits are just too panicky, with itchy trigger fingers and not giving the new shows a chance to establish themselves. Ironside was a risk, in more ways than one, not just because of the casting, but the fact that Universal, as we previously discussed, has had a terrible track record with reviving old franchises in recent years (i.e. Kojak, Knight Rider). Unfortunately, that track record worked against them yet again. Not only that, but they didn't learn another lesson, one gleaned from ABC's misbegotten idea of relocating Charlie's Angels from LA to Miami a couple of years ago. When something works, you stick with it, and if it isn't broken, you don't fix it. Unfortunately, NBC & Universal are just slow to realize these points. Their loss.

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