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'Southland' producer and cast are enthusiastic about series' rescue by TNT

But they still harbor a little bitterness toward NBC, as the gritty police drama returns from hiatus.

March 09, 2010|By Greg Braxton
  • Ben McKenzie stars in the gritty drama "Southland," which was dropped by NBC and picked up by TNT.
Ben McKenzie stars in the gritty drama "Southland," which was… (Trae Patton / TNT )

"Southland," the latest addition to TNT's prime-time lineup, has action, twists, heartbreak and a key rescue operation. Viewers might also notice there's been a lot of excitement on-screen as well.

After a rocky first season on NBC, "Southland," which chronicles the chaotic professional and personal lives of Los Angeles Police Department officers and detectives, has returned to Tuesday nights on its new cable TV home.

Marked by coarse language and a documentary-style approach, "Southland" gained unwelcome notice late last year as a high-profile casualty of NBC's failed experiment to program its 10 p.m. slot, once a showcase for big-tent dramas, with "The Jay Leno Show."

The series' producers and stars were stunned when it was dumped. That anger turned to celebration when TNT negotiated a deal to pick up the series. Since January, the cable network has ramped up to re-launch by broadcasting previously-aired episodes, and by heavy promotion, including showing extended trailers in movie theaters.

Still, the police drama's escape from arrested development hasn't totally erased the bitter feelings left by the NBC ordeal. The Leno experiment infuriated many in the creative community who accused the network of abandoning scripted dramas.

John Wells, one of the executive producers of "Southland," is putting his focus on a fresh start after the upheaval.

"It was definitely painful, but I'm delighted the way it has all played out," Wells said in an interview. "TNT has done a terrific job of promoting the show, and it's great to have a second chance to be seen. Now we're hoping that people respond."

Michael Wright, TNT's head of programming, said "Southland" was a perfect fit for the network's slate of franchise dramas that include "The Closer" and "Hawthorne." The network also was eager to fill a vacancy that will soon be created by the departure of the Holly Hunter drama, "Saving Grace," which returns for its final season March 29.

"I had been a fan of the show when it was on NBC," Wright said. "The morning I heard it was canceled, I called John, told him I love the show, and if possible, if he would be interested in bringing the show to us."

Though pleased with the switch, some cast members have taken jabs at NBC. In a recent TV interview, Ben McKenzie took pleasure in the failed experiment: "I think that I'm glad it failed -- not personally against Jay, but just in general." Regina King called the cancellation "a little sad. NBC is an iconic network. My association with them is that they were risk takers. To see that change is sad to see."

Earlier this year, NBC executives explained to television journalists their decision to drop the show, despite its promise. NBC's prime-time entertainment president, Angela Bromstad, said that she "loved" the series, but pointed out that it "did fall off considerably in the ratings because of . . . its serialized nature."

"The truth of the matter is, I think it probably found a better home in cable," she added. Other executives suggested the series had gotten "too dark and gritty" for broadcast television.

Wells didn't take umbrage at the particular remarks, but added it's going to be a long while before the painful episode fully fades.

"I have sympathy for those executives who have to defend something that was not their decision." Wells said, but "the whole experience was not a good one, and I don't expect the bitter taste to go away any time soon."

Instead, Wells wants to devote his energies on securing a third season for "Southland," which has five more episodes left in its second season.

"We're having a wonderful experience at TNT," he said. "They like the show and love the cast. It's nice to be in a work environment where they love what you're doing."

greg.braxton@latimes.com

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