Tuned In: Many factors led to 'Guardian' demise
Saturday, May 22, 2004
In 2002, Mayor Tom Murphy presented the key to the city to Pittsburgh native David Hollander, executive producer and creator of "The Guardian." In background are Wendy Moniz and Simon Baker.
By Rob Owen
We ran an obituary for CBS's canceled series "The Guardian" on the front of Thursday's Post-Gazette, now it's time for the post-mortem (I'm feeling a little like Dr. Cyril Wecht today).
First to answer some repeated questions and address some reactions from viewers:
* No, a campaign to save "The Guardian" will not work. No, another network will not pick
up the show and produce new episodes. It's possible reruns could show up on a cable network or maybe the show will be released on DVD, but no such deals have been made.
* It's irrational to take out your frustration about the cancellation of "The Guardian" on its replacement, "Clubhouse," about a 16-year-old batboy for a professional baseball team. "Clubhouse" had nothing to do with the demise of "The Guardian" and sight unseen, it's too early to know whether it deserves the enmity some viewers have expressed.
* Blaming CBS alone, in this particular case, is too easy. Yes, the network canceled the show, but why? I know of quality series that have been canceled for many reasons other than the stated "ratings."
A CBS fantasy show a few years back died because the showrunner never managed to get scripts in on time and wouldn't listen to anything network executives had to say. An acclaimed ABC high school drama was killed in large part because the lead actress didn't want to continue with the show.
Let's look at some of the possible factors that led to the show's demise.
Nationally, "The Guardian" ranked a respectable No. 38 out of 217 prime-time broadcast network series for the 2003-04 season with a 7.1 rating (percentage of TV households) and an 11 share (percentage of sets in use), averaging 10.3 million viewers each week. Locally on KDKA, the show ranked No. 12 for the season with a 15.5 rating and 21 share.
Where the show fell down was in the national demographic ratings, where it lingered in fourth place in the time period among the 18 to 49 demographic. Why is that demo important? Because that's the age group advertisers have told CBS and all the networks they're most interested in reaching with their ads. CBS is just giving its No. 1 customer -- yes, it's advertisers, not viewers -- what they want.
Why were those ratings low? Let's face it, "The Guardian" was not a warm, fuzzy, easy-to-watch show. It challenged viewers and that sort of show is not easy to promote.
The best way to promote a series of this nature is through its star, but "Guardian" lead Simon Baker was not someone who liked to do publicity (co-stars Alan Rosenberg and Raphael Sbarge did). When CBS first put "The Guardian" on its schedule, it counted on Baker to break out as a star, but his reluctance to promote the show probably hurt it dearly (he rarely showed up as a talk show guest).
If you get to the third year and have a show that's marginal and a star who's not interested in part of the job -- and doing publicity is part of an actor's job -- it's hard for a network to muster enthusiasm.
The conspiracy theory
Some die-hard fans are convinced series creator David Hollander's decision to sign a new deal with Sony Pictures Television and not CBS Productions angered CBS CEO Leslie Moonves to the point that he took it out on "The Guardian" by canceling it. At one point, I also bought into that theory on some level.
There's no question Moonves is a shrewd businessman and he probably didn't like Hollander's decision, but was it the sole reason behind the cancellation decision? I doubt it; in Hollywood, a ratings-winning show trumps all.
Multiple factors contributed to a lack of enthusiasm for "The Guardian" within CBS. When a show loses network support, because of many factors that include ratings, cancellation becomes a much easier option.
The creative side
Mt. Lebanon native Hollander was obviously unhappy with CBS's decision Wednesday, but he also made efforts to praise CBS programming executives David Stapf and Glenn Geller.
"They were unbelievably supportive of this show, both of them are class acts," Hollander said. "I cannot believe how supportive they were of my writing and style of storytelling."
Had "The Guardian" been renewed, it would have become more procedural and less character-based, "which fans may have loved or hated," Hollander said. "I was kind of interested in doing a year of plot first and character second."
More stories would have been centered in the world of Legal Services of Pittsburgh, where Nick Fallin (Baker) took over as director and new characters would have been added. Hollander declined to say whether Nick and Lulu (Wendy Moniz), the mother of Nick's newborn daughter, would have ever become a stable couple.
Hollander said he never considered a cliffhanger for the season finale, a move some TV producers use even for an on-the-bubble show to try to entice the network to continue it (see: "The Agency," "Fastlane," "Now and Again" etc.).
"I felt like my audience is more important to me than the network. Why frustrate your audience when they've been so loyal?" Hollander said. "I don't think the network would have rewarded this show for [doing a cliffhanger]."
Hollander said he felt CBS was "killing us slowly with a butter knife" for a year with multiple pre-emptions ("Cupid," "Century City") and a lack of promotion. But he also acknowledged that he's not the kind of writer who will create TV's next "CSI" or "Law & Order."
"I've never looked at what I do as just entertainment, not that 'just entertainment' is a bad thing, I was just raised in such a way that wasting your time watching TV was illegal in my household growing up. It's hard to shake that feeling. When I sit down to write, I think, am I giving the audience something that may exhilarate them or frustrate them, but at least it's done those things as opposed to keeping them in their seats for an hour and then give them the simple answer that 'the butcher did it.' Unfortunately, the procedural and reality shows where the simple answer is at the end of the episode has become the core style of storytelling on the networks. Maybe that makes me less appealing [as a TV producer], we'll see."
Hollander also appreciated the feedback to the show he created, the kind of responsiveness that can come only from writing a weekly television series. But he said he might ultimately return to working in film.
"It might be a great time to get back to movies for me, where my life was before and probably rests later, but I will miss this amazing connection to an audience on a weekly basis, should I do that," Hollander said. "It's been a privilege to write for so many people and have them experience the show. They've been vocal and consistent and it's truly been an honor."
First published on May 22, 2004 at 12:00 am
TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.