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‘Ironside’ And The Cutthroat Nature Of The Television Beast

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by Sergio
February 19, 2014 7:54 PM
22 Comments
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Ironside

As Erik Luers’ article about Arsenio Hall's late night show states (HERE), television is one mean mother. It’s a nasty, cutthroat business which takes no prisoners. When you’re on top, everybody loves you. But if you’re a loser no one wants to know you or claim that they've even heard of you.

So the story goes like this. I happened to have an e-mail exchange today with a very long time friend of mine. Someone involved in television production whom I’ve known for at least 30 years, who not only is very much involved in the business and has lots of connections in the TV industry, but has, as well, the most extraordinary knowledge of television history since the very beginning.

So somehow we got into a discussion about the recent failed NBC reboot of Ironside starring Blair Underwood, which was cancelled by the network after only three weeks.

Of course, the show was a bad idea from the beginning and it pulled in some pretty dismal ratings. But my friend had a different take on it. He told me that not only was the show doomed to fail, but that it was designed to fail as well.

Now you'd ask, why would a network spend millions of dollars to produce and promote a series when they never had any intention it ever succeeding? 

He said that NBC had sunk “a lot of promotional money into Ironside and considering that they seem to be fulfilling some contractual responsibility to find ways to rejuvenate brand Universal shows from the last 60 years, not knowing whether they will succeed or not.”

They tried reboots of Knight Rider, The Bionic Woman, and there was even a black Kojak series with Ving Rhames. They all failed. In fact the only TV remake that has succeeded for more than one season was Battlestar Galactica on the SyFy Channel, which is owned by NBC/Universal.

He said he figured out the real plan NBC had for Ironside when he saw that Dick Wolf’s NBC show Chicago PD would be doing a crossover with his Law & Order SVU series.

In other words, a two-part special that would begin on one show and carry over to the other show for the second half. Now considering that Ironside was set in N.Y. and it was a Universal show, why didn’t they do a crossover with it and SVU which is also set in N.Y.? “Being that this 2013 version of the show took place in New York, I was surprised that nothing was put in place for that show and SVU to crossover to give Ironside a lift.  Ironside was never meant to succeed.”

What my friend speculates was that NBC considered Ironside as nothing more than a place holder for the Chicago PD show produced by Wolf, who over the last more than 20 years has become NBC’s most powerful series producer. And in fact there are rumblings that a third NBC series, set in Chicago to be produced by Wolf along with Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, is in the works.  “And with P.D. given a greenlight from jump, Ironside's job was to keep the time slot warm until P.D. debuted”. 

Now whether Underwood and the producers of Ironside knew this all along or were kept in the dark is up for debate. And maybe Underwood was owed something by somebody, which is why they went ahead with the show. But it was doomed from the get-go.

So where does this leave Underwood?

“This was his third show for NBC and Universal.  Remember almost ten years ago, he did a short lived show called LAX about life at the airport.  Then came The Event, same studio and network.  And now Ironside.  They keep trying to put him in shows and they fail… you can't build a show around the guy because he can't carry it.  He does better in an ensemble series and the last successful one he did was L.A. Law.”

So what’s his next move? My friend says he should try to focus on working with black producers like Tyler Perry again, but therein lies a catch:

“…better yet (he should) hook up with Shonda Rhimes but from what I hear, Underwood would rather work with white producers or in an environment of multicultural productions because he doesn't want to get type cast.”

And he last added that:

“I guarantee, if Rhimes talked him into joining the hottest show on the air Scandal, it would reactivate his career….(the) show has rabid fans among black women and it seems Rhimes has a knack for saving black men's careers, if not for a short period.  Just ask Taye Diggs.”

And so it goes.

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22 Comments

  • Akimbo | February 21, 2014 12:08 AMReply

    Err, what? Does your friend not realize that both Chicago P.D. and SVU are Dick Wolf shows? He wants to keep making money, so he crossed his fledgling series over with his bonafide hit. That's smart business and has absolutely nothing to do with Blair Underwood.

    Also, even if NBC was simply fulfilling some obligation by ordering this pilot, they didn't have to pick it up if they didn't believe in it. Launching a new show is too painful and expensive for a network to intentionally set one up to fail from its inception.

    Although I don't find Blair particularly captivating outside of his looks, I don't think the show's failure falls on his shoulders. The concept was weak and nobody cared.

  • Alias | February 20, 2014 4:18 PMReply

    I wouldn't put all of the success/failure on Blair's shoulders, as he's a good, solid actor who is very likeable -- both on and off the screen (I've met him twice in social settings and he's very kind and gracious) -- and watchable.

    The real problem is NBC. The network simply hasn't produced ANY hits in recent years. The dramas they're currently airing are just so-so and they are in real trouble when it comes to their comedy output. ... As another poster suggested he might consider trying to hitch his wagon to Shondra Rhimes, as much of what she touches, these days, seems to turn to gold.

  • Alias | February 20, 2014 4:12 PMReply

    Hmmmm. This is a very interesting piece. I appreciate the insight from Sergio's insider friend.

    For the record, Blair has worked with Tyler Perry (and TD Jakes), so he's not dodging working with black filmmakers (and small part in "I Will Follow" for Ava DuVernay).

    I do agree, however, that Blair is NOT strong leading man material. He is much better in ensemble pieces. ...And he has a development deal with NBC, which is why he's been in all of these different projects in recent years. ...But he would be wise to leave that network, which is sinking faster than the Titanic. ...But I imagine it is very difficult, for any actor -- well-established or not, of any race -- to get a network development deal in today's risk-averse climate.

  • DS9Sisko | February 20, 2014 12:57 PMReply

    "What my friend speculates ...."

    This piece is ALL speculation. This is what happened: "Ironside" was a bad show. Period. Not enough people watched it. Period. It was cancelled for that reason. Period.

    This is entire piece is some bull***t.

  • Donella | February 20, 2014 11:14 AMReply

    Blair's good, as always.

    I see him going the Isaiah Thomas route with righteous independents, or an even more interesting suggestions, Scandal.

    He would be great on Scandal. Or House of Lies. Or any of the political/corporate thrillers popular on television.

  • Troy | February 21, 2014 10:08 PM

    Mark... lay off that Tyler Perry is the funniest comment I have ever read on this site. Tyler Peery=Narcotic

  • sergio | February 20, 2014 11:32 AM

    O.k. so she meant Washington. Hey it's mistake. Just like I always say or write Octavia Butler when I mean Spencer

  • Mark W | February 20, 2014 11:27 AM

    Isaiah thomas, the basketball player? Donella i think you need to lay off that tyler perry.

  • Accidental Visitor | February 20, 2014 7:58 AMReply

    The cancellation/failure of Ironside has nothing to do with Underwood being unable to carry a show. It has everything to do with the show being awful. Hell, as soon as I heard of the premise, that NBC would be remaking a show about a detective in a wheel-chair and that Underwood would be playing the lead, even I could tell such a show was toast. First of all why waste Underwood's appeal by putting him in a wheelchair? Second why remake a show at all? The fact that it was a remake of an original American broadcast meant that it was a series lacking in ideas from inception.

    Then the show had a sneak preview of its premier ep a week or two before it aired on NBC. I saw the preview on XFinity. It was god awful. Dull, unoriginal, pedestrian and cliche. It was a mere crime-of-the-week type of police show and didn't seem to have the long story arcs that most shows need these days, even on network TV. After seeing it I knew it DESERVED to be cancelled. Immediately. Denzel Washington could have starred in it and it still would have been just as much a turd.

    My only question for Underwood was why he took that role in the first place? Was he simply trying to finish out his contract/obligations with NBC?

    As for the insider'stheory about Underwood needing to do ensembles, well, what the hell did he/she think "The Event" was? That was an ensemble show, Underwood's President was one of many characters it focused on. "The Event" tried to be NBC's answer to "Lost" but just like with "Revolution" it got off to a bang and fizzeled out pretty quickly. And even LAX wasn't on Underwood's shoulders alone. Heather Locklear, a TV darling at the time, was the co-lead. LAX may have been the best of the shows Underwood starred in for NBC over this decade but that ain't saying much. LAX simply wasn't all that good and the fault was in the writing, not the performances.

    This shouldn't come as a surprise. One needs good concepts, good scripts gto make a show worthwhile. If Underwood had even gotten something like the overlooked "House of Lies" he would thrive in the role. Instead he keeps getting saddled with bad TV shows. Is that because he makes bad decisions or simply gets bad/limited options< I can't say. But I don't think his performances have ever been the root of the problem.

  • sergio | February 20, 2014 8:32 AM

    "As for the insider'stheory about Underwood needing to do ensembles, well, what the hell did he/she think "The Event" was?"

    By the way for the record my friend (who's a "he") actually did call The Event an ensemble show in his e-mail, but he said a lot but for matters of length I edited that line out along with others things he said

  • Shanae | February 20, 2014 7:46 AMReply

    "So what’s his next move? My friend says he should try to focus on working with black producers like Tyler Perry again, but therein lies a catch:

    “…better yet (he should) hook up with Shonda Rhimes but from what I hear, Underwood would rather work with white producers or in an environment of multicultural productions because he doesn't want to get type cast.”"

    Is it me, or is Blair Underwood already type cast? Blair Underwood should take what he can get. He's boring on screen. He hasn't done anything remotely interesting in years and that includes his work with Tyler Perry. His last worry should be that he will be type cast, if he's involving himself in these projects that are bound to fail.

  • Dave's Deluxe | February 19, 2014 11:48 PMReply

    This kind of thing happens quite a bit, in movies too. Push an underdeveloped product to air that minimally honors a contractual obligation; if it works, great; if it doesn't, no hard feelings and we all move on. It's part of the business at this point, and as long as folks get paid, it's not going to change. And quite honestly, I don't think anyone behind the camera seems to mind.

    If Blair wants to get back on top, he should play the lead in a gritty indie.

    Well, back to my 40 oz! These Fed-Ex packages aren't going to deliver themselves!

  • CC | February 20, 2014 3:15 AM

    Hmmmm.... Fed-Ex? Move to cognac, those hops have you in a dizzy. Look around, you're in the wrong building Mr. Postal Worker. *wink*

  • Monique a Williams | February 19, 2014 8:51 PMReply

    Really interesting.

    It's no secret I'm not a fan of Blair Underwood, but he doesn't deserve this. Everything your friend said about him as a lead vs ensemble actor is on point. And he should NOT go the Tyler Perry route.

    Makes me wonder of Meagan Good is a seat warmer as well. Like, "nobody can't say we're not giving the Negroes a chance." Satisfy their quotas in every way...

  • BILL (one mo gain) | February 20, 2014 11:06 AM

    CARL: thanks for holding yourself back from "keeping it real" and keeping it clean this time, homie! Just like a human being!

    Also, you're dumb.

    MONIQUE: YEAH. RIGHT. The last time somebody mentioned "independent film", you thought it meant your dad was going to stop paying for your movie tickets.

    Man, I could play the dozens all day, son! I'll check back later for yallz witty retort. Or not.

  • Monique a Williams | February 20, 2014 7:39 AM

    Bill, your guess is as wrong as your attempt to be clever.

  • Carl | February 20, 2014 1:54 AM

    BILL

    I'm sorry to insult your hand job profession for Blair Underwood. It has clearly made you upset just like Monique's opinions. We will learn to survive.

  • Bill (again) | February 19, 2014 11:18 PM

    Hey Carl,

    You really want to cross to that side of the street? Try this on for size:

    When you're done (BLEEP)ing my (BLEEP), wipe it off with your (BLEEP) and then (BLEEP) it up your (BLEEP)ing (BLEEP), you untalented (BLEEP)less (BLEEEEEEEEEEP).

    *ahem*

    My work is done here.

  • Carl | February 19, 2014 10:14 PM

    Hey BILL,

    Are you Underwood's agent or are you just his personal hand job man when he travels. Phluck off. No one is required to like his ass.

  • Bill | February 19, 2014 9:41 PM

    "It's no secret I'm not a fan of Blair Underwood"

    Ms. Williams, from your previous posts, my guess is the ONLY thing you're a fan of is Big White Hollywood Spoon-Fed Commercial Black Foolishness.

  • Meme | February 19, 2014 8:16 PMReply

    Great article. However, did you dictate this to Siri? It really needs a bit more editing.

  • Bill Comptons Most Wanted | February 20, 2014 1:35 AM

    Hi Meme...

    If you understood the article in full then it needed no editing or corrections. You just would've liked to have seen them. But it didn't need sh!t!!!

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