‘Southland’s’ Chris Chulack: Getting Cancelled by NBC Made Us Better

At TheWrap’s Emmy Screening Series presentation of his TNT cop drama, exec producer explained how how a gritty show found a second and more vital life after broadcast-network exile

Last Updated: June 2, 2011 @ 8:48 PM

Who says there are no second chances in show business?

The police drama "Southland," much like Conan O'Brien, fell victim to NBC''s not-so-great Jay Leno experiment in 2009.

The gritty series, which was intended as a 10 p.m. offering, was pushed into a 9 p.m. slot and eventually canceled. But the series has found new life on TNT — and according to executive producer Christopher Chulack (left, all photos by Jonathan Alcorn), the series is better off for it.

"[NBC] said it would work, and it didn't quite work, said Chulack, who was on hand at West Los Angeles' Landmark Theater Wednesday night for a screening of "Southland's" third-season finale. The event was part of TheWrap's Emmy Screening Series and also featured show stars Michael Cudlitz, Ben McKenzie, Regina King and Shawn Hatosy participating in a post-screening Q&A, moderated by TheWrap news editor Daniel Frankel

"We were producing a 10 o'clock adult show, and I think they thought they could put it in that slot and modulate it … it got very complicated," Chulack reflected. "Thank God that (executive VP, head of programming] Michael Wright at TNT picked up the show and took a chance and allowed us to make the show that we set out to do. And that's what you saw in year three. We actually made 10 episodes for a company that was actually producing the show and had faith in the people making the show … it was a very satisfying third year."

Added McKenzie (right), a former "The O.C." plays rookie cop Ben Sherman on the show: "(On network TV) you can't storyboard the entire season. We don't always know as actors exactly what's going to happen, but they're really good about giving us the general scope for the season, and that's pretty rare. That's not been my experience in the past. You're getting new pages every day, and you're realizing, 'Oh, I never knew that I was raped as  a child; that probably would have been good to know for the last four seasons … that was a particularly dark episode of 'The O.C.'"

Not that there haven't been concessions in the transition. In addition to losing certain cast members while in limbo — such as Kevin Alejandro, who went on to star on HBO's "True Blood" during "Southland"'s hiatus — there are budget restraints to contend with.

But Chulack — even while conceding that "we lost something" in the process — contends that there's even a bright spot in that.

"It was a challenge to produce the same show that you saw, but I think it kind of forced us to be a little more specific," Chulack said. "I think that we would have pushed that envelope and tried to get leaner and leaner anyway, so we were just pushed into it a little more quickly. There's probably a little more day exterior, so you don't have to light it, than there would normally be, but we try to be really smart about picking our spots."

Presumably, the wisdom of picking the right spot also applies to the show's current cable home.


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