After three cancelled broadcast series found new homes in the past two years – Scrubs moved from NBC to ABC, Medium from NBC to CBS and Southland from NBC to TNT – things looked hopeful that we may see multiple migrations this year with three major veteran series in play: NBC’s Law & Order and CBS’ Ghost Whisperer and The New Adventures of Old Christine. But it wasn’t to be. Law & Order won’t be going to TNT after the cable network officially passed on the series. Ghost Whisperer won’t be moving to ABC. And Old Christine’s chances at ABC are hanging by a thread.
Why did the transfer attempts largely failed this season? Scrubs, Medium and Southland had a lot going for them. Scrubs and Medium were fully owned by ABC and CBS, respectively, with syndication deals in place. And Southland was a very young series that wasn’t closely associated with NBC quite yet and that came with built-in critical acclaim and a stack of already produced but never aired episodes that TNT could negotiate for a reasonable price.
None of the candidates this year had any of those factors weighing in their favor. Ghost Whisperer came close, as it is 50%-owned by ABC (co-produced with CBS) and has been a solid ratings performer, regularly winning its Friday 8 PM time slot.
But Law & Order’s cancellation was the most surprising given the veteran drama’s shot at history with a record-breaking 21st season. NBC denied it and so did TNT. And because the cable network holds exclusivity rights to the series, it makes it extremely tough to take the show elsewhere for a 21st season. After NBC and TNT squabbled for months over off-network rights for Law & Order and blamed each other for being unwilling to step up, a sudden pickup agreement between TNT and producing studio UMS after the drama’s cancellation by NBC looked doubtful. (TNT’s deal was up after the current 20th season and, to make the show financially feasible for NBC, the network needed a new pact with TNT to offset the cost of producing original episodes.) Still, Law & Order creator Dick Wolf and UMS were willing to crunch the numbers and try to make a deal. But TNT shut down the possibility with a quick pass. At its upfront presentation, Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin sarcastically thanked NBC for giving the Turner cable networks Southland and Conan O’Brien. But in all seriousness, picking up 3 cancelled NBC shows in less than a year would’ve looked weird for leading cable networks touting their own original programming.
But there is still a glimmer of hope. All actors on cancelled series are onboard until end of June, giving producers a little more time. And if nothing happens now, there is always the future. Two broadcast series were recently resurrected on cable years after they were cancelled: Fox’s Futurama by Comedy Central and CW’s The Game by BET. Both were even able to get the original casts back.
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