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Being on the bubble is real TV suspense

May 10, 2009 | 12:00 pm
UnitMichael Stecher, who has worked in Hollywood for 18 years, sees himself as high royalty in an unenviable kingdom. The El Segundo father of two has been fired so many times that he refers to himself as "The King of Canceled TV Shows." Twice he received pink slips at lunch.

"People don't realize how fast it can change," said Stecher, who has been let go five times. Now he's a camera operator for CBS' military action drama "The Unit." "There is zero security in this gig."

Stecher is one of about 225 people directly employed by the program, which chronicles the exploits of an elite U.S. Army counter-terrorism force. Over the last four seasons, Stecher has seen the show's main characters thwart dirty- bomb attacks, recover Stinger missiles and halt assassinations. But what nobody knows is whether they will survive "the bubble," the tenuous region where television shows on the boundary of renewal and cancellation exist. Tonight's season finale could be the series' final episode.

If drama is life heightened, then Hollywood's bubble shows mirror much of America right now, where the specter of pay reductions, freezes and immediate unemployment is writ large. In the television industry, the phenomenon is an annual rite as network executives decide which series will be ditched to make room for new projects.

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(Photo courtesy CBS)