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‘Ironside’ And The Cutthroat Nature Of The Television Beast

Shadow and Act By Sergio | Shadow and Act February 19, 2014 at 7:54PM

So what was the real story behind the show's failure? Was it bad ratings or was it set up to fail?

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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