The Southland PR machine is working overtime again as Variety wonders if the show will “come back to haunt NBC” when new episodes air on TNT beginning tomorrow, March 2. I’m wondering if instead TNT will be the one that gets spooked.

For those not keeping track at home, Southland was canceled last fall by NBC just before it was to premiere on Fridays at 9pm, claiming it was “too dark” for the hour.

I judged that to be PR speak for “The show was  a ratings dog (finishing with just a 2.0 adults 18-49 rating) and a Ben Silverman (now ousted) project, so while it’s hilariously late in the process, we’re just doing now what we should have done last spring”.

The Southland PR machine cried “Blame Jay Leno!” and looked for another network for the show.

Produced by Warner Brothers, the show found a new home on TNT (also owned by Warner Brothers corporate parent Time Warner), where it has re-aired the episodes that appeared on NBC last season. Now on March 2, the new episodes, produced for NBC for this season but later acquired by TNT, will begin airing. TNT has made no commitment, as yet, to produce new episodes.

After the “re-premiere” episode in January, the primary Southland airings on TNT have averaged about 1.3 million viewers and a 0.4 adults 18-49 rating. Not good, but hey, they’re repeats.

To add a little internecine warfare angle, NBCU has both USA’s White Collar, and NBC’s Parenthood (which has the “golden hope for NBC’s spring” PR buzz about it) facing off with Southland Tuesday’s at 10pm.

In a great interview (on a variety of topics) with Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin, B&C’s Melissa Grego got this quote out of him:

How are you feeling about Southland as unaired originals begin this week?

This is one of the tougher projects we’ve ever done, because there’s really not an experience in a playbook. It was difficult to wrap our arms around it. It’s not an original that we’ve been seeding and launching, and it’s also not an acquired show like a Mentalist or Law & Order that has a track record. So, I’m cautiously optimistic, but with a big capital C in “cautious” because I just don’t know; I don’t have a feel for it. I hope it works.

Wow. If you’ve read as many PR massaged TV network exec sound bites as I have, that translates roughly into “Don’t blame me when this show tanks (the corporate overlords shoved it down our throats)”.

And it’s interesting that he would call Southland a show without a track record and compare it to The Mentalist. The Mentalist had a one season (and a month) track record when TNT announced the syndication deal. Southland had a 7 episode (1/3 of a year) track record before its TNT deal. Maybe what he really meant to say was that The Mentalist had a good track record.

My take

I doubt that its new episode ratings on TNT will make NBC regret canceling Southland. I doubt it will do better than White Collar, and while no one in their right mind could expect it to do better than Parenthood, I doubt it will even be in the ballpark. The real measure of “success” for the show will come if TNT orders new episodes. I hope they’re not easily scared.

What ratings does Southland need in new episodes to “haunt” NBC or spook TNT? How do you think it will do?

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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