A day after MTV‘s surprising cancellation of freshman comedy I Just Want My Pants Back, the series’ driving force, executive producer/director Doug Liman says the news still hasn’t sunk in because no one at the show saw it coming. “They were so bullish on the show. MTV’s (head of programming) David Janollari told me that for an executive, this kind of shows come only a few times in a career. This was a month ago.”
Liman said that his team was already working on Season 2 when the cancellation news came. “When the head of the network tells tells you how passionate he is and that he is bringing back the show, and when the studio tells you how profitable the show is, you start to work on next season.”
“I’m no stranger to disappointment,” he added, pointing out how the Sundance film festival passed on his cult 1996 movie Swingers. He also noted that he’s worked on shows that didn’t work and has accepted their demise. But Pants was different. “It’s really upsetting, not only because of how hard we worked but because of the way the series was received — it was one of MTV’s best reviewed shows ever. It also had solid ratings given its 11 PM slot. When a show works like this you don’t cancel it, it makes no sense.”
Liman said the producers were not given any explanation for the cancellation. “I can’t see any,” he said. Asked about the show’s racy content that was targeted by the Parents TV Council early on, Liman said the show is an “honest, comedic portrayal of the lives of young people living on Brooklyn. There are advertisers who ought to be scared of it, that’s why it’s the network’s job to stand behind their shows, especially when it’s a network that says that their brand is about youth culture.” He noted that Pants has a “sexually empowered, funny woman” at the center that is “a great role model for young people.” Cancelling a show like that while keeping other MTV series featuring “women I don’t want as role models for my daughter,” he said, “would be very hypocritical.”
I Just Want My Pants Back, from Liman and Dave Bartis’ Hypnotic and Universal Cable Prods., is based on the book by David Rosen. Described as a youthful romantic dramedy set in New York City, Pants, which was adapted for TV by Rosen, centers on 22-year-old Jason Strider (Peter Vack) and his friends who grapple with dating, romance and becoming adults. Rosen was more measured in his reaction to the cancellation. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “Creatively we all had a great experience and we deserved to keep going. But we got to make the show the way we wanted, and MTV was very supportive.”
Pants has been a passion project for Liman who worked on it for years. It was originally developed for NBC and then was briefly set up at IFC before MTV jumped in and ordered a pilot. In addition to directing the pilot, something Liman rarely does, he also directed another episode, something he’d never done before. “I genuinely love this show and have a huge passion for it,” he said.
UCP is currently in discussions with other networks about possibly picking up the show. The silver lining in having done Pants for MTV is that there is already a mechanism in place to produce it very efficiently, which could be attractive to other buyers. “Not only did we kill ourselves doing the show, but doing a high-quality show on an MTV budget. Learning how to do it on a tight budget gives us a lot of options where to take the show to.”
Liman feels the cancellation of Pants will hurt MTV’s efforts to attract other high-level creative auspices. “When a show is working and selling and gets great reviews and you bail on it, that does not send a very good message to the creative community.” But he is not giving up, channeling his passion for the show into finding it a new home. “I’m not done fighting,” he said. “The show is really good, I really loved those characters. There are so many stories left to tell.”