"Common Law" may have received the death sentence from ABC, but producers and supporters of the Latino-themed comedy say the series did not receive a fair trial and are hoping for a last-minute reprieve.
The low-rated series, which stars comic Greg Giraldo as a Latino, Harvard-educated attorney at a Manhattan law firm, will be pulled from the prime-time schedule after its fourth airing this week, along with two other struggling ABC shows, "Coach" and "Second Noah."
The network has not decided whether "Common Law" will return. Latino leaders argue that the show deserves a better time slot than on Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. and that its significance as the only network comedy with a Latino lead should earn it a second chance.
They also contend that the comedy should have been better promoted within Latino communities.
"This is very bad news," said writer-producer Jeff Valdez, who recently produced a Latino comedy festival for the Showtime cable network. "The networks really need to nurture this Latino market and have more shows where Latinos are not plot devices but just people."
Commented Lisa Navarette, media advocacy director for the National Council of La Raza, a national Latino civil rights organization: "The show was not given a good chance, and I'm not sure what kind of priority ABC gave it. They did not give it one of their prime time slots."
But, Navarette said, "we have to be fair to ABC, too. We're still waiting for our 'Cosby Show,' a high-quality program that can break through. I don't think 'Common Law' was that show. I hope this show is not used as an example that will keep the television industry from taking chances on Latino projects."
The comedy won few critical raves but was still praised in some circles for its portrayal of Giraldo as an educated, witty and professional minority operating in the white corporate world. Four of the six regular cast members were Latino.
ABC's decision last spring to put "Common Law" on the air was regarded as a promising step by Latino activists who had criticized the network in recent years, saying it had failed to provide opportunities for Latinos in front of and behind the camera.
ABC has not officially canceled the series, but its prospects appear slim after attracting only 9% of TV viewers last Saturday. It will not air during the November sweeps, and the network has not decided when or where to air the completed five episodes. An additional four episodes of the initial order for 13 remain to be filmed, but the producers said they do not want to move forward without some encouragement from ABC that those shows would air.
Gary Levine, president of Witt-Thomas Productions, which produced "Common Law" with Warner Bros. Television, said Thursday: "Obviously, the whole Saturday lineup was not working. The question now is whether ABC has a plan for the show. The only reason we would want to continue filming those other shows is if there is such a plan."
Levine, who is also an executive producer of the comedy, said: "We like this show a lot and would love it to have a chance during midweek. We think it's a strong ensemble and is well-written. It offers something new."
ABC executives would not comment officially but indicated that the network remains high on Giraldo, saying they are committed to developing another show for him.
Several of the show's supporters said that the failure of "Common Law" would not have an adverse effect on the development of other Latino-themed series. They said networks and advertisers were eager to tap into the Latino market.
"I really think the networks will keep trying to get that Latino hit," said Rick Najera, who is developing a Latino-themed show for UPN called "An American Family."