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ABC's 'Detroit 1-8-7' deserves better

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I've noticed a troubling trend when it comes to certain shows on ABC -- almost every year, they seem to marginalize, then cancel, the ones that I really like. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a personal attack; the programming executives there are undoubtedly far too busy with their day-to-day business to dedicate an iota of attention toward li'l ol' me.

Of course, if they are choosing to expend any of their creative energies dreaming up the next sure-to-be-doomed series concept that I -- and apparently I alone -- am wringing my hands over, I don't know if I ought to be flattered, angered and/or perhaps wondering if dismissing all my early childhood paranoia (specifically, a two-year old boy's sneaking suspicion that the people watched on TV were watching right back) hadn't been a grave error.

I dredge this up because my favorite freshman ABC series, the hourlong police drama "Detroit 1-8-7," is very unlikely to return for a second season. The series, airing Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. (but probably not for much longer), is -- or maybe now I should say was -- a welcome sight on my TV; a well-made, well-acted, mostly straight-forward network cop show. The hook was that it wasn't set in New York or Los Angeles, but in perhaps this most blue-collar of American metropolitan areas, one that has been through a near-nonstop gauntlet of social, economic and political firestorms.

Plus, the show was even filmed on location in and around Detroit (okay, except for the original version of the pilot, which was filmed in Atlanta -- yep, the one in Georgia, of all places) and used a number of local actors to fill guest roles.

Sure, it may not have dug as deeply as it could have in regards to the issues facing that city and its police force, but at least there was an effort to talk about how the people of Detroit view their city -- both historically and currently. But that's somewhat beside the point. A successful hourlong cop show on a major broadcast network needs to have a mass appeal, meaning there needs to be compelling (or at least competent) crimesolving by relatable (or at least remotely interesting) characters, first and foremost. "Detroit 1-8-7" has (had?) that.

Michael Imperioli has done some career-best work as the intensely private, but even-more-intensely driven, Detective Louis Fitch, while former "NYPD Blue" star James McDaniel has been flat-out great as Sergeant Jesse Longford, a 30-year veteran of the force closing in on a retirement that he doesn't seem eager to take.

But the ratings, especially after the first half of the season, have been less-than-scintillating. It's routinely in third place (meaning last) among its network competitors in its timeslot, particularly in the all-important 18-49 demographic. That's not promising in the slightest.

Worse than that, ABC has pretty much stopped promoting the show. During the first six or seven weeks, the network was giving it multiple plugs throughout the week, particularly during sports programming. When the ratings started to slide, so did the advertising. Now there are no ads for the show -- at least none that I can remember seeing -- which is too bad, because "Detroit 1-8-7" had started producing a number of outstanding episodes in a row that deserved a wider audience than they got. (Specifically, I single out an episode about a murdered squatter who was assassinated by a greedy land developer, as well as another that dealt with the discovery of a couple who had gone missing decades earlier during race riots. Both shows were poignant without being cloying and made strong social statements without preaching.)

So, faced with the evidence, I have to guess the show's pretty much toast. (There's been no official word from ABC either way.) The most recent episodes have felt compressed -- this is likely due to the fact that the network did not order a full 22-episode season, so the show's writers and producers have had to cram seven or eight hours worth of plotting and character development into half that time in order to provide something of a satisfying conclusion to the story arcs. This past Tuesday night's episode alone (which featured a major jolt at the end), in a perfect world, would have been played out over at least two hours -- but I must admit that I'm happy that I get to see any of it at all. If ABC's midseason bench had been deeper, I fear that "Detroit 1-8-7" would have disappeared from the line-up weeks ago.

As it stands now, the last two episodes will air on Tuesday, Mar. 15 and Sunday, Mar. 20, then it's probably done. And once again, I'll be disappointed and even a little saddened, wondering how ABC creates these shows that feel so tailored to my taste, only to take them away before I'm done enjoying them.

Hmm. Maybe if I said that I'm a huge fan of "The Bachelor," that twice-yearly ick-fest would finally cease.

Nah. They'd never buy it.

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I, too, enjoy/enjoyed Detroit 187.

-- Posted by doodle bug on Wed, Mar 9, 2011, at 12:16 PM

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Jeremy Blomstedt
The Entertainment Center