The news about “Southland’s” cancellation got me thinking about another critically well-liked cop show on NBC that got tweaked into an early grave: “Boomtown.”
The fact that NBC gave the boot to “Southland” before it even started its second season was a surprise, but even if the show had premiered as scheduled, I get the sense that its leash would have been awfully short.
There was a fairly steady flow of news about the show over the summer, starting with NBC Entertainment president Angela Bromstad saying that the show “tried to do too much” in its initial run and became too serialized as a result. She also noted that the show’s storytelling would be pared back to focus more on Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz and Regina King’s characters. News of recasting and a four-week delay for the premiere date followed soon after.
All those things, in retrospect, were signs that NBC was trying to make “Southland” something it hadn’t been in its brief first season, and maybe that, having given up on dramas at 10 o’clock, was trying in vain to make it a better fit earlier in the night.
The casting and storytelling changes are what brought “Boomtown” back into my mind. Like “Southland,” it was a cop show with a fairly large ensemble that used some unconventional storytelling techniques — usually exploring a single case from multiple points of view. Both shows drew only moderate ratings (9.1 million for “Boomtown’s” first season, 8.5 million for “Southland”). Like “Southland,” “Boomtown” was flawed, but when it was on it could be great.
And, also like “Southland,” “Boomtown” underwent a pretty major change between its first and second seasons and died an ignominious death. NBC scrapped the multiple-POV storytelling and did some recasting between seasons, moved the show from Sunday to Friday nights and then yanked it after just two weeks on the air. Six episodes of season two were filmed; the remaining four were burned off the week after Christmas.
The news now is that TNT, a corporate sibling of “Southland” producer Warner Bros. TV, may pick up the show and air at least the six episodes that were made before NBC swung the ax.
Cable channels tend to give showrunners — in this case, creator Ann Biderman and exec producer John Wells — more of a free rein in shaping the direction of their shows, so the hope with a possible move to TNT is that they would get to make “Southland” the way they intended to make it. But that would only happen after those six NBC-tweaked episodes air, and those episodes don’t sound like the show that fans watched last spring.
If TNT commits to making more episodes beyond the six already shot, I think “Southland” has a fighting chance to find its footing. If not, though, I’m wondering whether it would be worth it to tarnish the record of a flawed-but-promising show with six episodes that aren’t really what its creators intended.
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