The latest missive in the Masked Mailbox unintentionally opens up an old wound. JS writes:
“Hey, love your column. You mentioned the show ‘Back to You.’ My friend and I loved that show!! I remember one episode where Kelsey Grammer’s character had to keep replacing a pet goldfish because he kept accidentally killing it. That was one of the funniest episodes of a comedy I’ve ever seen. But I digress. I seem to remember after the show got canceled, the showrunners kind of expressed regret that they had taken it to FOX. I wonder if you could comment on that whole situation. Thanks.”
Sure thing. I first met Steve Levitan, who was the creator of “Back to You,” when I was at NBC. In my tales of Must-See TV, I relate how I met Steve when he developed “Just Shoot Me,” and my name was used extensively in an episode called “My Dinner with Woody.” We developed a mutual respect, I think, and by the time I segued from the Peacock to FOX, Steve had a production deal with the studio.
I arrived in time for “Greg the Bunny,” which was followed by “Oliver Beene,” “Stacked” (with Pam Anderson, a well-attended pilot taping) and then “Back to You.” Neither “Greg,” “Oliver Beene” nor “Stacked” had much success on FOX, and when we read the “Back to You” script, I think there was a healthy skepticism that this comedy did not necessarily fit with the FOX sensibility … not that the FOX sensibility produced a lot of high-rated comedies.
For whatever reason, some of the most powerful people in the organization wanted this comedy on the network, and it premiered in the fall of 2007 paired with “Til Death.” We figured/hoped that veterans like Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and Brad Garrett might bring an older audience who rarely come to FOX for their entertainment.
The 2007-08 season quickly deteriorated because of a prolonged writers strike. “Back to You” opened to mediocre ratings, and after a few episodes, it vanished along with our other scripted fare.
The strike ended in mid-February. I was driving back to the office from some meeting when Steve called me asking if I would consider not bringing “BTY” back until the 2008-09 season so the writers could fine-tune it. Given the time it would take to get the show on its feet again, “Back to You” would not get back on the air until sometime in late March, when ratings start getting depressed. I actually agreed with Steve.
Shortly after that call, we met to discuss that game plan for the return of all our series. I brought up Steve’s request with the president of FOX Entertainment, who was not a fan of the show, and was shot down. I called Steve and told him the news. He was quite upset and told me he would tell the studio that he would never do another comedy for FOX again.
Well, “Back to You” was canceled, but we did renew “Til Death” (it’s good to be friends with the president of entertainment).
In May 2009, I got my hands of the ABC pilots for the 2009-10 season, one of which came from our studio with Steve Levitan as executive producer. I have a witness (the Masked Wife) to what followed. After I watched it I went completely ballistic. It was the best comedy pilot I had seen since “The Cosby Show.” Everything about it, from concept to casting to execution, was perfection. AND IT COULD HAVE BEEN OURS had we allowed Steve the time to “fix” “Back to You.”
“Modern Family” is still running on ABC and continues to be one of the highest-rated shows on television. But hey, we got four seasons of “Til Death,” so there’s that.
Questions? Send ’em to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @maskedscheduler.