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[UPDATED] Shortsighted or smart? TNT's 'Saving Grace' has plug pulled by producers

August 14, 2009 | 10:13 am

HOLLY TNT issued a press release today announcing its plans for a shortened nine-episode final season of  "Saving Grace," the cable network's at-times risque drama starring Oscar winner Holly Hunter.

Alas, these are not the "plans" TNT was hoping to announce. TNT did not cancel "Saving Grace." That was done by Fox Television Studios, a production unit at News Corp.

Although "Saving Grace" was a solid if not spectacular (i.e. TNT's "The Closer") performer, Fox Television Studios saw more risk than reward in going ahead with a full third season and a fourth season, which TNT wanted. The worry was that the show would not bring in enough money in reruns or in DVD sales to justify the production costs of the program.

Furthermore, the show, with its Southern feel and religious undertones, proved to be a hard sell overseas, which is where producers try to recoup a lot of their programming costs.

Still it is very unusual for the producers to pull the plug on a show, especially in this case since TNT's contract still had a few more seasons to run.

However, such a move might become more common in today's challenging marketplace. Perhaps other cable networks such as TNT, USA, FX, and AMC, who are becoming homes for these types of big-budget serial dramas should take notice on this one. 

The long-term value of these shows is not a slam dunk. Sure, HBO's "The Sopranos" can pull in big bucks from A&E in reruns, but that is still the exception, not the rule. That said, sources tell Company Town that Fox TV Studios did not even discuss the idea of TNT agreeing to pick up the reruns for "Saving Grace," something the network did with Warner Bros. on "The Closer."

It is hard to say if Fox Television Studios is being smart or shortsighted. But this issue is not going to go away and if studios want cable networks to keep buying smart dramas, both are going to have to find a way to make the numbers work or else viewers will walk. And then everyone loses.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Holly Hunter poses for a picture at the Turner Entertainment Network's Upfront event in New York. Credit: Seth Wenig/Associated Press