John Wells' Southland has been canceled. Not because of weak ratings. The second season hasn't even started yet.
It was reported that Wells' was told by NBC that the show was canceled because when compared with a news program like Dateline, the show cost too much. More importantly, NBC couldn't air it.
Last season NBC aired the show at 9 p.m. but given its "dark" subject matter -- the lives of uniformed LAPD officers patrolling the city's mean streets -- the show more properly belonged at 10 p.m., a time slot Wells' knew well from his stewardship of the award-winning ER.
Programming The Jay Leno Show in all the weekday 10:00 p.m. slots means that shows like Southland have no place to go.
It's not worth moaning and groaning about NBC's programming failures that led it to abdicate the 10 p.m. slot. Nor is it worth mentioning that many of NBC's past successes started in that hour.
We are in a new age when magazines, newspapers and prime time television are challenged by a transformed media environment. When Jeff Zucker gave Leno the nod, he did what he's supposed to do. He innovated.
The important point is that with declining revenue and unpopular shows, NBC responded to the challenge by thinking outside the box. In those terms, the demise of Southland is simply a consequence of that innovation.
Since he premiered, Jay Leno's ratings have slipped, but that doesn't yet mean NBC made a mistake. The financial advantage of programming a non-scripted show over one like Southland is apparent. In the long run, though, will a major network continue to survive if it fails to grab a meaningful segment of the viewing audience?
Does the Peacock still stand as proud if its numbers look more like the USA Network, it's corporate sibling? And will the financial health of NBC still look as great when they aren't clawing back all the syndication wealth that made ER so important to it's bottom line?
Jay Leno killed Southland but whether NBC is the better for that remains to be seen.