As if the whining from TV creatives over The Jay Leno Show hadn’t been loud enough, they may be ready to take it up a notch over the cancellation of Southland.

From Variety:

Though decidedly unpopular with many in TV’s creative community, NBC’s bet on “Leno” could be easily chalked up as the best offense being a good defense: Leno posed a threat to NBC if he left for another network, while keeping him in a cost-efficient program freed funds for NBC to rebuild its scripted slate.

In contrast, the axing of cop drama “Southland” appears to be a more overt retreat. NBC pulled the plug on the John Wells Prods. drama amid circumstances that leave many observers scratching their heads.

While the timing was unexpected, it didn’t leave me scratching my head. It was a combination of something that should have been done last spring, plus the likely continuation of the dumping of Ben Silverman’s garbage. The show’s 18-49 demo rating sank to a 1.7 the second to last week, before the finale was up to a 2.0 rating, Edit: Those were in the overnight fast affiliate ratings, as TVBill notes in the comments the final ratings for those two episodes were a 1.6 and a 1.9.

For starters, “Southland” was the best-reviewed and highest-rated freshman series in 2008-09 on a network that has been starved for fresh hits.

I’m sure Variety and the rest of the entertainment media would like to think reviews matter to the future of a show. Dream on. And saying a show is the “highest-rated” freshman series” on NBC is the very faintest of praise indeed.

Further, instead of keeping other networks from using an NBC-developed asset, as was the case with Leno, the axing invites rivals to take the product and run, as CBS did earlier this year with “Medium.”

There’s a lot of chatter about this in the TV press. Where exactly are the other networks lining up to grab Southland? It’s a dog, they know it’s a dog, and they’re not going to touch it.

The cut also potentially angers Wells, a TV powerhouse whose “ER” was a linchpin of more successful times at the Peacock net, and feeds — if not confirms — the perception that NBC is one of the last places you’d want to take a drama of note.

Of course it angers Wells, but any cancellation is going to anger the shows producer. This is news? And I’m sure NBC still pays better for dramas than anywhere on ad supported cable, and anyone with a good drama idea would likely still take it to all 4 broadcast nets, exactly what does this change?

Perhaps what’s most shocking about “Southland” heading south is NBC’s apparent intention not to air any of the episodes it ordered just in May. The skein was in production on its sixth when NBC turned out the lights.

Is that really “shocking”? There may be many calculations involved. Perhaps if NBC thinks they can deal the rights, if they still have them, (long shot it may be), wouldn’t they likely get more if none of the shows had aired? If that doesn’t work they could still decide to air the episodes later. Perhaps putting 6 episodes into their schedule now just didn’t work.

The ratings of “Southland” did taper off during its initial springtime run, and had NBC decided not to renew the series then, justification would have been easy and relatively painless. Same thing if the show returned this fall to even softer numbers after multiple episodes had run.

Instead, NBC pulled the show 15 days before “Southland’s” season premiere in what appears at least in part to be a bid simply to save the licensing fee the Peacock would have had to pay Warner Bros.

Taper off indeed, to a 1.7 1.6 demo rating in the penultimate episode. And in the eighth paragraph Variety admits that, yes, canceling the show in the spring would have made sense!

And if the early cancellation does save NBC the licensing fees (I’m not sure Variety actually knows this, or is just guessing), the timing makes perfect sense!

Some observers have said NBC realized (perhaps better late than never) that “Southland” was too darkly themed to air at 9 p.m. But it’s not a very strong argument in an era when crime, violence and death regularly populate that timeslot.

As many have noted in our comments, that’s a patently nonsense public face saving reason from NBC. But is it a surprise that a face saving reason was generated? or that it was so easy to poke holes in?

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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