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If NBC didn't like 'Southland' why didn't it just keep 'Medium'?

October 9, 2009 |  1:12 pm

So let's get this straight.

SOUTHLAND Last May, NBC renewed its freshman cop drama "Southland" for the fall season. The plan was to put it on at 9 p.m. Friday nights. Although "Southland" didn't draw huge numbers when it was on last spring, it had some critical buzz. The dark drama (I'm tired of the word "gritty") followed Los Angeles beat cops and was known for the way it bleeped out swear words to give the show an authentic feel. It sounds hokey but it actually sort of worked.

Anyway, at the same time the brain trust at NBC was deciding to keep "Southland" -- even though they knew it would move from a 10 p.m. time slot to the earlier 9 p.m. slot -- to make room for Jay Leno's prime-time invasion, it decided to cancel "Medium," a softer drama about a woman who solves crimes by talking to the dead. After NBC passed on "Medium," CBS pounced and grabbed it for its Friday night lineup.

This is why Thursday's decision to cancel "Southland" just weeks before its second season got started and substitute the news magazine "Dateline" is all the more confusing. NBC is spinning that the show was just too gritty hardscrabble for 9 p.m. (8 p.m. central and mountain) and indeed we reported over the summer that the network was concerned about the content in the earlier time slot.

MEDIUM But NBC knew last spring when it renewed "Southland" that it wasn't "Leave it to Beaver," so why did it bring it back in the first place? If it was worried about the content, why didn't it stick with "Medium" or try to develop another show? In fact, a lot of industry people were surprised when NBC opted to bring "Southland" back because it would have to go at 9 p.m.. If it was because of the network's respect for and relationship with the show's executive producer John Wells ("ER"), we're guessing canceling it two weeks before it was to premiere and after six episodes have been made stung a little worse than if it had pulled the plug last May.

NBC's move certainly caught Wells and Warner Bros., which makes the show, by surprise. They are now scrambling to try to find a new home for the show, most likely on cable. Even NBC affiliates were taken aback by the abrupt decision.

"That's a little premature," said Michael Fiorile, chief executive of Dispatch Broadcast Group and chairman of NBC's affiliate board, when told it had been canned. "Creatively, I thought it was pretty good show."

The numbers for "Southland" and "Medium" were almost identical. Last season, "Medium" averaged 8.5 million viewers and 2.9 rating in adults the 18 to 49 demographic while "Southland" drew 8.3 million viewers and a 2.7 in adults 18 to 49.

Both did better last year than anything NBC has going on this year, and "Medium" on CBS is getting more viewers than NBC is averaging in prime time. And now NBC has neither.

In terms of cost, NBC paid about $1.5 million in licensing fees for "Southland," and the price tag for "Medium" is in that ballpark, people familiar with the situation say.

Of course, by subbing in "Dateline," NBC will be saving a lot of money in the time period and that can't be taken lightly in trying to figure out what is motivating NBC here. They better save a lot, because so far this season the only business strategy that seems to be working there is the one in which they alienate the entire creative community.

-- Joe Flint

Related posts: 

NBC axes `Southland'

NBC and 'Southland' producers worried about the bleeping FCC

Photo (top): "Southland." Credit: Richard Foreman / NBC

Photo (bottom): "Medium." Credit: Danny Feld / NBC

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