Tomorrow’s episode of DETROIT 1-8-7 is its best… by a mile. Most likely too late

Plus The Lessons Learned….

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Detroit 1-8-7 has had a rather unique path thus far. It was sold as a different take on the cop show – A documentary crew would be shadowing the Detroit PD as the city attempts to get back on it feet. I thought the initial pilot was really compelling. In addition to a fine cast led by Michael Imperioli, James McDaniel, Aisha Hinds, the doc format really made this cop show different, I thought. Somewhere between the show getting picked up to series and the production of episode 2, it was decided to scrap the doc format – the one thing that set the show apart. I was dismayed, as were many critics. One of the arguments made in favor of this decision from the creative team was that there was an actual law passed in Detroit that camera crews could no longer follow cops and this show was attempting to be realistic. Sorry, didn’t buy that. Michael Chiklis can’t fly in real life but I have no trouble suspending disbelief for the conceit of his show, plus most of us wouldn’t have even known about this law. My guess is that between Modern Family and the Fall Series (since cancelled), My Generation, ABC realized they had too many “doc” shows and the one they could sacrifice it from was “Detroit”. The show had a stellar cast and talented people behind the scenes, so I had an open mind. But when the first few episodes aired I was disappointed. It was too procedural  – and way too ordinary. Yes the cast was still great and the use of Detroit physically (and the status and problems of the city in storylines) was somewhat unique, but there were basically 2 cases of the week, with little character flourishes. ABC was touting this as the successor of NYPD BLUE and it wasn’t remotely living up to that, in my opinion.

Over the course of the first 10 episodes there were some episodes that were better than others and some character backstories were beginning to emerge, albeit not nearly enough for my tastes, but there were some buds. The last ep of the Fall was a very moving one with great guest casting from Della Reese, Giancarlo Esposito, and Albert Hall to name a few. This episode also shed some light on Detroit history and was a great episode on race relations in the city.

Ratings were never great throughout the Fall. DWTS was an incompatible lead in, but it barely held an acceptable amount of it. Airing after the more compatible (though ratings challenged itself) No Ordinary Family the numbers got worse. Last week it sank to a low 1.2 a number that made me think ABC will pull this show before February Sweeps. More worrisome, I thought, was this was episode 11 (I don’t know if it was the 11th produced) and it was so procedural and light on character and frankly not compelling enough.

ABC put tomorrow night’s episode on their media site and I watched it yesterday. I felt like I was watching a different show. There was only one case of the week and this one had personal ties to the department (and audience). One of the suspects in the case was someone we met early on in the series and even then you could tell they were setting this guy up to be a big recurring villain. In their one scene early this Fall, he and Michael Imperoli’s “Fitch” butted heads and in the process alluded to Fitch’s past in New York. Well a lot of that is revealed in tomorrow’s episode and in the process there is action, tons of suspense and overall it’s quite compelling, plus it ends rather surprising and you definitely want to tune in to the next ep, to see where it’s gonna go next. Finally, for a show that in last week’s episode gave you maybe 3 minutes of personal/character, it feels like it’s at least tripled in this episode. The show even began the episode focusing on the cops themselves, not the crime of the week. This is the first episode where I can really see NYPD BLUE’s DNA in it.

Here’s the problem: It’s most likely too late. Including tomorrow’s episode, there are 7 episodes left and it’s unlikely suddenly to skyrocket from a 1.2 to a 2.0 which would be the only number I can see ABC even contemplating renewing it at, and even that’s rather low. Plus The Good Wife returns tomorrow and FXs new promising drama Light’s Out premieres. In other words: If it got a 1.2 last week, with steeper completion this week, it’s not likely to grow substantially.

What are the lessons here:

1)I believe ABC should have stuck with their original concept, which made it unique and different. Most of the first 10 episodes were way too procedural and not special. ABC is not CBS, standard procedurals, with few character flourishes, do not work for them: The Forgotten, The Evidence, In Justice, this fall’s, The Whole Truth, just to name a few, all failed. ABCs biggest hits have come from being different – from Desperate Housewives and Lost to last year’s Modern Family –  in addition to being well executed all were doing something different from everything else on television. ABCs one success story that is in the “procedural” camp is Castle. But that show is more about the witty banter and sexual chemistry between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic and it’s a light, romantic show that fits squarely within ABC’s brand. The case of the week is almost secondary. That type of procedural, I believe, is the only one that will work for them. At their core, ABC is a character driven network. If they’re gonna do a cop show, which they should, it has to be different, unique and fit within their brand.

2) This lesson I believe is for every network. The business has changed. You cannot take 12 episodes to figure out your show. Every show usually needs a few eps to figure themselves out. But these days most viewers make their decisions on first impressions. If you’re lucky, you get a few episodes leeway. I am well aware there is lots of note giving, and second guessing between the studio and network and concessions need to be made. Making an hour of network TV drama is way tougher than it was 20 years ago – besides financially, there aren’t 3 networks anymore and there’s lots at stake. But if the goal is to make the best show possible, it’s usually best going with the creative vision you saw when you greenlit the original pilot and doing your best to execute that.

It appears that the failures of the Fall have not been lost on new ABC chief Paul Lee,  from his comments at Press Tour Today. He even told acclaimed Journalist, Josef Adalian, from Vulture “the importance of taking risks.” abc_modern_family_desperate_ho.htm I think that’s very encouraging to hear.

Though I’d be shocked if Detroit 187 is renewed at this point, they made a really compelling hour of TV for tomorrow night.

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One Response to Tomorrow’s episode of DETROIT 1-8-7 is its best… by a mile. Most likely too late

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