Save the peanuts, ‘Jericho' is gone — and other network maneuvering

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

26 March 2008


This is a weird time in the TV world, which, I know, sounds fairly redundant.

Still. In a normal year, we’d be hitting the stretch when networks try out second-string series that no one expects will work. Plus, everyone would be speculating about the fate of mid-level shows.

Instead, in the crazed aftermath of the writers’ strike, the nets are about to bring their first-string shows back to TV - your “CSIs,” Grey’s Anatomys” and “The Offices” - while we speculate about the fate of mid-level shows that may not have aired for months.

And, frankly, that just makes the speculating better. It’s way more fun to predict the future when you have no facts to back you up. Just ask a political pundit.

Anyway, we’ve got a heap of speculating ahead, but first, a programming note.

In what sounds like a meeting with train-wreck potential, Conan O’Brien is scheduled to visit “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday night (at 11:35). Remember, O’Brien is supposed to take over the show in 2009 and Leno isn’t particularly thrilled about it.

Recently, Leno began chatting with other networks and studios about a new late-night show, and has even taken to joking about getting shoved out the door.

So, maybe these two mule deer of late night will lock antlers and go at it? Actually, not likely. Both are classy guys, and Leno is legendary for his loyalty. All bets are that they’ll play nice. Oh well.

OK, now for the speculating in what passes for this week’s edition of What’d They Do to My Show?

It starts with some hard facts. CBS has officially canceled “Jericho,” again and for good. Tuesday night was it. The 20 tons of peanuts that fans sent CBS last spring worked once, but 20 million tons won’t help now. It’s done and it’s not getting shopped to any cable networks or anything.

The seven resurrected episodes averaged about 6 million viewers, more than 2 million shy of what “Jericho” was getting last spring when it got canceled the first time. CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said in a news release last week that she has no regrets about bringing the show back from the dead once, but that was it.

“Without question, there are passionate viewers watching this program,” Tassler said. “We simply wish there were more.”

And for fans of other borderline shows looking for foodstuffs to mail to network offices, you’re better off just buying yourself a cookie, which at least will make you feel better for a moment.

If you were looking for “Canterbury’s Law” on Fox on Monday, it wasn’t there. The network moved the low-rated legal drama to Friday (at 9 p.m.), where it will shrivel away in obscurity. When a network moves a poorly performing show to the quiet neighborhood of Friday nights, there isn’t much chance it will live.

Except, we all hope, in the case of NBC’s terrific “Friday Night Lights.” NBC is looking around for ways to keep the show alive, and last week, executive producer Jason Katims was at the William S. Paley Television Festival in Hollywood and said there’s no deal yet but he’s “incredibly optimistic” about a third season.

NBC is looking at sharing the show with some other entity that also will get to air first-run episodes, and reports have circled through the industry that NBC and DirecTV are that close to signing the papers.

“Scrubs” is another former goner-of-a-show that may be looking at a new, longer life, and now we are deep into that factless speculation.

NBC made lots of noise that this would be “Scrubs’” last season, and hinted that the show would not even get back on the air post-strike. Meanwhile, the cast and crew went back to work to make a handful of new episodes that were thought to be headed for DVD.

But ABC has expressed interest in the show, off and on - partly because “Scrubs” is produced at ABC Studios - and in recent days, there has been more talk that ABC will pick up the show for another season. There’s even talk that star Zach Braff is ready to re-sign to do this extra year. On the other hand, you know what the price of talk is. (Hint: not high.)

And if you thought the “Scrubs” item was unfounded guessing, you’re going to love this. According to the Hollywood Reporter, ABC tried to sell both “Men in Trees” (a good show) and “October Road” (not so good) to Lifetime - even sent the execs some episodes - and Lifetime said no thanks.

That’s not a good sign for either series, though “October Road” has earned its bad ratings on its own. The charming “Men in Trees” has been abused by ABC, which has stopped and started and rescheduled it so many times, even its producers barely know when it’s on (at 10 p.m. Wednesdays). Unfortunately, that makes both shows a long shot for renewal.

//Mixed media