'Southland' Returns on TNT, But Whither NBC at 10 p.m.? Wells & Cudlitz Speak
Tonight's cuppa: decaf Irish breakfast tea
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 10 p.m. ET, the ensemble police drama "Southland" returns to the air on TNT, after being unexpectedly canceled by NBC.
The show performed reasonably well in the Thursday, 10 p.m. ET/PT slot when it aired on NBC in the spring of 2009, well enough to earn a renewal. But with six episodes in the can, NBC pulled the plug on "Southland" two weeks before its scheduled premiere last fall.
TNT begins its run with the seven episodes that aired already on NBC before moving on to the as-yet-unseen second-season episodes in March.
Star Michael Cudlitz, who plays LAPD Patrol Officer John Cooper (in partnership with rookie Ben Sherman, played by Benjamin McKenzie), has tirelessly championed the show on Twitter, as @cudlitz. A recent message, or "tweet," sent to his followers late Monday night, proclaims, "Let's kick some a-- tomorrow night. Southland style !!!!"
"We're coming back, yeah!" he says.
Asked if he's a bit cranky at NBC, Cudlitz says, "You know what, not really. I was mad the way they did what they did, not that they did it. Now we've moved on, so it really doesn't matter.
"TNT really wants this to work, and if it does work, we'll definitely go into production."
Says executive producer John Wells, "We're hoping the audience we had will follow us, and maybe we'll see a few more people as well."
As Cudlitz indicated, if those few more show up and bring a few more of their friends, that could mean TNT would commit to producing new episodes. Financially, it's within their reach. "Southland" shot on handheld digital cameras, mostly on location, often with natural light, so its costs were somewhat lower than a standard network drama.
"It's not less expensive than what TNT would pay for other programming," says Wells, "but it allows us to put a broadcast-network-quality program on cable."
Of course, "Southland" did briefly have the marquee Thursday NBC slot which had for many seasons been home to Wells' medical drama "ER." This past fall, NBC pulled all its 10 p.m. scripted and reality programming to instead air "The Jay Leno Show" five days a week.
As announced this past Sunday at the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour , currently being held in Pasadena, Calif., NBC has decided to end the Leno experiment -- at the request, one might even say, demand, of their affiliates, which felt that the show was not a good lead-in for their local news and was causing them to lose audience and ad revenue.
As of this writing, NBC's latenight situation has yet to be fully hammered out, but NBC entertainment chief Jeff Gaspin said that at least two scripted shows would, in the short term, go back into the 10 p.m. ET/PT slot at some point in the midseason (but definitely not until after the Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 12).
While all this comes too late for "Southland," Wells hopes this is a sign of good things to come. Speaking on the Friday before the Leno announcement (but after rumors had been flying that Leno's show was coming to an end), Wells admits he doesn't have a show in his back pocket to pitch to NBC for the hour, but, he says, "I'm just delighted that they're going to start programming it again.
"I have had a lot of success and enjoyed working with NBC over the years, so it would be great if they wanted to do some of the kinds of shows that I like to do again."
Wells harbors hope for the future of broadcast television as a platform for quality shows.
"I came up in broadcast television," he says, "and I've had a lot of success there and enjoy it. I really hope that these kinds of shows still have a real home on broadcast television and not only on cable, both basic and pay cable.
"I hope people will be committed to making a certain kind of high-end show, made for adult audiences, and that there's still a place for that on network television."
At the moment, Wells is very happy with TNT, and in the best of all possible outcomes, new "Southland" episodes could conceivably appear not very far down the road, perhaps even later this year.
"We had more scripts prepared when we heard from NBC that they wanted to stop," says Wells. "We could be back up and ready to shoot in a couple of months at this point.
"But that's really their decision about what they would like to see and when they need it."