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NBC cancels 'Southland' before its premiere

Southland NBC has canceled the well-regarded John Wells' cop drama "Southland."

No, the network hasn't started airing the show's second season yet. Why -- why do you ask?

Oh, that's right. Because axing a returning scripted drama right before its season debut is highly unusual.

It's sort of like shooting your racehorse in the starting gate.

The network has six produced episodes, which were originally scheduled to begin airing on Fridays starting Oct. 23. Instead NBC has shut down production on "Southland" and plans to keep "Dateline" in the slot.

Here's a Jay Leno-monologue-joke version of this story: "NBC's ratings aren't so hot. In fact -- and this is true -- this week the network canceled the show 'Southland' before it even came back on the air. Next thing you know they'll be canceling shows before writers can even think of them."

OK, so late-night jokes are tougher to write than they look.

And one could retort that having "Leno" at 10 pm is canceling shows before writers can think of them.

"I'm disappointed that NBC no longer has the time periods available tosupport the kind of critically-acclaimed series that was for so manyyears, a hallmark of their success," Wells told THR. "We remain extremely proud of 'Southland' and are actively looking for another home for the series."

You understand why NBC did this, though. "Southland" has a promising debut on Thursdays late last season and former co-chair Ben Silverman quickly renewed the show -- even as its ratings were sharply dropping. The current networks brass remembers how the numbers trended and understands there's little chance of "Southland" performing a miracle comeback on Friday nights.

So better to snuff the long-odds horse before the race rather than let the crowd watch a wounded mare limp around the track, right?

And yet, the move does remind us of Leno at 10 pm. -- that whole sense that NBC has high risk aversion when it comes to airing new dramas. Better dead than red (in the face). 

According to the network, "Southland" was "too dark and gritty" for broadcast, as if viewers are too fragile to handle an adult show. As for Wells' line about how NBC doesn't have time periods available, the way "Mercy" and "Trauma" are performing, NBC will likely have had better time-slot options for "Southland" than Friday nights soon enough.

Bottom line: If NBC had faith in "Southland," the network could tell a grown-up cop story at 9 p.m. this season.

NBC executives have seen these new "Southland" episodes, we haven't. Given the show's ratings last season, their decision was probably the correct one and the network likely expedited the inevitable.

It's just doesn't seem very sporting.

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