Why NBC should be arrested for cancelling Southland

NBC has done it again… cancelled a critically-acclaimed drama with a good fan following. The network announced the other day that Southland, which had just five weeks ago been given a second season run, would be cancelled before premiering this season.

The reason: the John Wells (“ER”) produced show has a “dark tone” that wasn’t suitable for the 9’o’clock time slot. What does NBC have on in the 10pm slot? Oh right, 5 nights on the Jay Leno Show, which happens to be bleeding viewers left and right these days, as Jay Leno struggles to get into a groove with his new digs.

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The cancellation of Southland brings back all the bad feelings towards NBC that I had when they cancelled The Black Donnelly’s, another critically-acclaimed drama that was beginning to establish a solid fan base, but never got the chance. Starring Olivia Wilde (“House“), the show about an Irish crime family brought a fresh perspective to primetime crime dramas and was the subject of constant discussion and fan promotion on the Internet.

But all of that wasn’t good enough and NBC cancelled the show over the objections of fans and critics alike.

And let’s not forget the Patricia Arquette drama, Medium, which NBC showed to good ratings for years, but then abruptly cancelled. Only to see CBS purchase to solidify its Friday night schedule between Ghost Whisperer and Numbers.

And now it has happened again, although the situation with Southland, a fresh-faced and gritty cop drama staring Benjamin McKenzie, is further complicated by the face that NBC’s reason for cancelling it is NBC’s fault to begin with… that it’s “dark tone” should be shown later on in the night at 10pm. Of course, that’s exactly where NBC stuck the Jay Leno Show EVERY night of the week, preventing them from showing ANY shows with a “dark tone,” viewers would be led to believe.

Except that when you look at other shows on NBC that one might consider to have a dark tone, like Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit or even the original Law & Order, which NBC scheduled at 9pm and 8pm respectively this season. Are those shows less dark than Southland? They certainly are capable of carrying the same amount of gun use and violence, if losing a bit of their grityness over the years, and NBC hasn’t used the 10pm time slot excuse to pull or otherwise shift the timeslots of those shows, have they?

Upon further review, the cancellation of Southland really comes down to a money play by NBC, steadily running as the fourth-place network these days. Stone Philips’ Dateline is currently in the 9pm slot that was supposed to become home to Southland and has been carrying ratings similar to those of the cop drama’s performance last season.

So why has NBC chosen not to follow their plan if it would get them similarly good ratings with a critically-acclaimed cop drama with a proven ratings past? Well, Southland is produced by Warner Brothers Studios, which would require NBC to pay some hefty licensing fees as part of airing the show.

Basically NBC decided that they’d rather pay less for similiar ratings, damn what the fans of the show think and damn what the critics say.

Not only should NBC be arrested for such a selfish decision, but they deserve the reduced ratings they will get because of it. The much-younger skewing demographics for Southland will not be tuning in for Dateline and will look for another show to follow, preferably on a network not known for cancelling popular shows on their updraft.

At 9pm on Friday night, that might very ironically turn out to be CBS’ Medium. Or maybe ABC’s Ugly Betty. Or the additional viewers may flock to FOX’s Dollhouse, giving the struggling drama the jolt in viewership it might need to be renewed.

Maybe NBC is happy with it’s dueling hospital dramas the network desperately clung too in the absense of John Wells’ ER going off the air. Mercy and Trauma both seem promising scripted vehicles, if not both carrying the same excitement factor. But two hospital dramas on the same network isn’t likely to work for very long. I wonder if NBC realizes that.

Either way, NBC continues in it’s tradition of making stupid decisions that all but guarantee it staying in fourth place. And even Jay Leno can’t help them with that.

RELATED: Southland’s Michael Cudlitz Will Never Work for NBC Again (NY Mag)

ALSO: Solving NBC’s 10PM Problem: Talib Morgan thinks NBC’s best bet is to really mix up their scheduling, with a 12-minute drama.

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