In the strange new world of prime-time television, series and production companies continue to discover that there is such a thing as life after cancellation.
NBC has already ordered ABC's "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" for next season, and there are reports that other networks have expressed interest in NBC's "JAG" and Fox's "Partners," which hasn't even officially been passed on yet.
The most aggressive buyers of canceled programs, however, have been the fledgling UPN and WB networks. Even before NBC formally announced its schedule for next season on Monday, UPN and WB picked up two of its series that didn't make the cut: "In the House," a comedy starring Debbie Allen and LL Cool J, which will go to UPN, and "Brotherly Love," a family sitcom featuring the three Lawrence brothers--Joey, Matthew and Andrew. In announcing its fall schedule Tuesday, WB said that "Brotherly Love" will air Sundays at 7:30 p.m. (See story, F6).
The two studio-backed services have taken such steps before, with one-time ABC comedy "Sister, Sister" having become a cornerstone show for WB and UPN picking up "Minor Adjustments" from NBC.
Efforts to keep series alive are nothing new. In past years, suppliers sometimes took their shows directly to stations through syndication. Examples include "Baywatch," which aired on NBC before being revived and becoming a major international hit; and "Forever Knight," a CBS movie and late-night show that led to a syndicated series.
Establishment of UPN and WB (which both launched in January 1995) and the high stakes of network television have created ready buyers of such programs despite the poor network ratings that usually prompted their cancellation.
"It's a healthy game," said Paul Junger Witt, whose Witt-Thomas Productions is behind both "Brotherly Love" and "Minor Adjustments."
"What the [new networks] get are shows that have much more complete research. They know what audience they're going to reach with it, [and] if it fits the profile of who they want to reach, it makes a lot of sense."
WB programming chief Garth Ancier added that there's an obvious advantage to established properties even if they failed on another network--as long as they meet a network's goals and demographic profile.
"Clearly, [an acquired show] is better known than something we can create from scratch," he said. "In our case, you have to look at what your needs are."
The movement of shows has added to the already anxiety-inducing prime-time schedule-setting process because no network executives want to see a show they helped create and launch become ammunition for a competitor in stealing away audience share.
Warner Bros. Television President Tony Jonas noted that the networks have at times acted defensively, being "very reticent" to pass on a show that they fear will wind up on a rival network. Studios, by contrast, can use that leverage in their network dealings.
"A show that gives nothing to one network may give another exactly what it needs," he said.
Studios and producers have an incentive to keep alive shows in which they have faith because it takes roughly 100 episodes before a distributor can cash in on the sale of reruns to local stations.
Some industry observers even suggest that the diminished ratings a show like "Sister, Sister" delivers on the WB could actually represent an asset in syndication because the episodes will essentially be original programming to many viewers who missed their network runs.
While some producers want to keep shows going as a labor of love, Witt said that, for the studios, it's ultimately about hard financial decisions involving overhead and balancing deficits associated with production against a show's potential.
"It's a business," he said. "It's made sense on the two we've done it with. I can think of cases where it wouldn't make sense."
Warner Bros.' Jonas also contends that the practice, which has been relatively rare and cause for anxiety among programmers, will become accepted as status quo. "In the near future it's going to be something that's expected and normal and commonplace," he predicted.