By this time, USA Network series White Collar would normally be deeply in preproduction, getting ready to start filming in March. But not this year. It’s already mid-February, and there is still no decision on the future of the buddy crime drama whose most recent fifth season ended two weeks ago. I hear there has been some communication between USA and White Collar producer Fox TV Studios but no meaningful dialogue so far. Given the way Season 5 ended — with a cliffhanger involving the abduction of Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) — it is safe to assume that there will be some sort of continuation, likely a conclusion for the series. The question is what that sixth and final installment will be. I hear the network has been mulling a short miniseries to wrap the story in the vein of Showtime’s The Big C, while the studio would prefer a traditional final season. While Collar‘s status as one of USA’s signature series would weigh in favor of the second option. All of USA’s other established series — Monk, Burn Notice (also produced by FtvS), Psych and In Plain Sight — have received a proper send-off with a final season (While USA prefers to announce the end of its series when their last seasons hit the air for tune-in reasons, all producers are told at the time of the final renewal so they can plan their shows’ end game). Moved to fall for the first time since its first season, White Collar got dinged up against in-season competition but rebounded in January when the conclusion of Season 5 averaged 2.8 million viewers in Live+Same Day, up 22% from fall, and 955,000 adults 18-49, up 32%.
Related: USA Makes ‘Psych’s End Official
With ratings still solid, the focus turns to the show’s economics and creative vitality. At this point in the run of a series, a network is responsible for the full production cost. With a well-known cast and extensive location shoots in New York, White Collar is an expensive show. What’s more, it is not owned by USA. USA parent NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment has made owning content a priority with the appointments of Jeff Wachtel and Dawn Olmstead to spearhead in-house production efforts. The network has a lot of projects in the pipeline with a slew of pilot orders, and has been going through a portfolio changeover, replacing its older shows with new ones. From a business perspective, continuing White Collar at the current price tag may not make a lot of sense for USA. But from a legacy standpoint, the show, which boasts one of the network’s most recognizable stars in Bomer and is one of few USA shows to receive critical praise, deserves a proper conclusion. I hear FtvS is willing to shoulder the cost of a final season and is open to a lower license fee, while USA brass are intent on bringing the show back in some form. The two should be able to find middle ground as they have a lot of business together, with FtvS emerging as one of USA’s top suppliers having produced Burn Notice, White Collar, Graceland, new comedy series Sirens as well as Complications, the pilot from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix.
Creatively, fans have been griping that it’s been getting harder and harder to justify keeping leads Neal (Bomer) and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) partnered together as their lives evolve, but the show is coming off a solid season creatively, and there is an idea for a satisfying final chapter. But making that a reality is becoming harder logistically as time goes by: Because of the delay in USA’s renewal decision, I hear White Collar lost its writing staff who have moved on to other projects. Additionally, the series no longer has access to New York-based crew members who have been booked for pilots, so production on another installment can start in April at the earliest when broadcast pilots wrap. The uncertainty has been frustrating for the cast who are under options until end of April but would like to know what the future holds sooner to make plans. Busy Bomer is juggling multiple commitments, while the up-in-the-air status prevents cast members from being available for pilot season.