The clock that's been ticking since November on The Chase, NBC's highly promoted Jerry Bruckheimer crime drama, has finally struck midnight. NBC has pulled the low-rated show from its Wednesday timeslot in favor of an extra hour of contest show Minute To Win It. There are several unaired episodes in the can, but don't expect to see them except possibly as a summer burn-off.
NBC, struggling through yet another disastrous fall season in which two of its new showcase dramas have already been canceled and a third is staggering around like an AMC zombie, has shuffled its schedule for midseason -- and renewed 30 Rock, the most raucously beloved and least watched sitcom in the history of television, for another full season.
30 Rock and the dreadful sitcom Outsourced, in one of those arcane time-slot switches that programmers love and viewers ignore, will now air in the 10 p.m. hour on Thursdays. (You can practically hear the derisive shouts from the scheduling offices at the other networks: "Ohmygod, those idiots are trying to program comedy at 10 p.m.?" Followed by the plaintive questions: "Hey, do we have any comedies we could try at 10 p.m.?") Meanwhile, the comatose cop drama Chase is moving to Wednesday at 9 p.m. and the clone Law & Order: Los Angeles to Tuesday at 10 p.m.
The network has also announced debut dates for its two midseason replacements, legal drama Harry's Law and superhero adventure The Cape.The cape kicks off on Jan. 9, a Sunday, before moving to Mondays; Harry's Law, which starts Jan. 17, will also air on Mondays. That leads us to the one NBC programming change that's like to make a great ratings difference: The two new Monday shows will displace conspiracy-thriller The Event, which goes onto hiatus until March. For a fast-paced and highly serialized show like The Event, that's probably a death sentence.
NBC has already killed off two of its most-promoted shows of the fall season: Outlaw and Undercovers. Now a third one is close to going on life support. Chase, with Kelli Giddish as a hard-bitten U.S. marshal, dropped below five million viewers Monday night. An audience of just 4.5 million tuned in.
The show's advocates within NBC will doubtless be noting that the whole night tanked for NBC thanks to a decision to air an interview with George W. Bush instead of spy action-comedy Chuck at 8 p.m.. Bush's audience of seven million was higher than Chuck's average, but more lower in the 18-to-49 demo. The older viewers tuned out after Bush finished talking, but the younger ones didn't return. Result: NBC's conspiracy Thriller dropped 15 percent of its audience, Chase 8 percent.
So, blame Bush for one more thing. Nonetheless, another week or two like this one, and those federal marshals on chase will join the ranks of the unemployed.
Mixing some bed-clothing metaphors, it's curtains for NBC's spy show Undercovers. The network has canceled the J.J. Abrams adventure-comedy, though it will air six more episodes that have already been shot. The show about a charismatic and attractive husband-and-wife spy team -- which featured two black leads, which even now is a rarity in broadcast TV -- started slowly in the ratings and has been tailing off for several weeks now.
Any fleeting thought I had that School Pride might be less phony than the average TV reality show vanished literally seconds into the first episode, when one of the hosts, Jacob Soboroff, was identified as a ``political journalist.'' Which, in reality-speak, means he reports on film festivals for the AMC movie channel. Hey, did I mention that I'm an astronaut, a former American League homerun champion and the guy Al Gore stole the Internet from? In reality-speak, anyway.
From there, School Pride tries to sell more whoppers than Burger King. This school-makeover show has all the phony trappings of reality TV: ``Secret'' meetings at which none of the furtive participants seems to notice an NBC camera crew lurking around the room. Squeal-on-cue shots of happy recipients of swag shrieking and dancing around like voracious badgers were trapped in their pants. Hosts breaking down in self-congratulatory tears as they recount their superhuman efforts on behalf of the unwashed masses. Watching it was so tedious that I seriouly wondered why I gave up inventing penicillin and winning NASCAR races to become a TV critic. Read my full revew in Thursday's Miami Herald.
NBC has suspended production of Outlaw, the Jimmy Smits legal drama. Officially that's not a cancellation -- NBC will air the five remaining episodes that have already been shot, in hopes of a ratings miracle -- but the 4.7 million viewers who watch the last one are not going to keep it afloat. NBC executives are consoling themselves with the fact that Outlaw is still in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize for successfully bring two adamantly hostile groups -- TV critics and TV viewers -- into peaceful accord on at least subject: that Outlaw reeks.
ABC's twentysomething mockumentary My Generation is the second casualty of the fall season. The show debuted to a small audience, then lost more than 30 percent of it for the second episode. I thought My Generation might bring in a young audience that isn't ordinarily that interested in TV. But pulling 3.9 million viewers, especially for a show with a large, expensive cast, isn't going to cut it on a broadcast network.
Think of Law & Order: Los Angeles as the final frantic thrashing and splashing of a drowning man. NBC's trademark cops-and-courts franchise is going under, and there's no life preserver in sight.
The network coldly canceled the original Law & Order last spring just as it was on the verge of becoming the longest-running scripted show in television history. One of its spinoffs, L&O: Criminal Intent, has long been banished to the wilderness of cable. And the last three offspring -- L&O: Trial By Jury, the reality show L&O: Crime & Punishment, and Conviction, which used the franchise's characters if not its title -- were all stillborn, none making it through a full nine-month season. A new British cousin, L&O: UK, isn't even an original show, just a collection of old scripts that have been Anglicized.
So Law & Order: Los Angeles, or LOLA, as it's known around NBC, is probably producer Dick Wolf's last shot at reviving his wheezing franchise. Read my full review in Wednesday's Miami Herald.
Fox's poor Lone Star continued its death spiral Monday night. Only 3.8 million viewers tuned in, down from the already horrendous 4.1 million of the show's first week. Worse yet, Lone Star couldn't keep the few people who tuned it: The audience dropped by half from the first half hour to the second. Sad to say, but this show is about to meet Jim Bowie and Davey Crockett in Texas heaven.
UPDATE: It's official: Lone Star is the first cancellation of the fall season. By the way, the final Nielsen numbers were even worse than the rough estimates -- just 3.2 million people watched the second episode.