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TNT Cancels 'Men of a Certain Age' (UPDATE: 'Men' Producer Speaks)

July 15, 2011

by Maureen Ryan

Update: At the end of this post, there are comments about the cancellation from 'Men of a Certain Age' co-creator and executive producer Mike Royce.

In terrible yet not completely unexpected news, TNT has canceled 'Men of a Certain Age.'

In a statement, the network said: "TNT has been proud to be a part of 'Men of a Certain Age' for two seasons. While the show has featured great storytelling and impeccable performances, the audience simply hasn't built to the point where we can continue the series. This was an extremely difficult decision for us. We wish Ray Romano, Mike Royce and the terrific cast and crew of 'Men of a Certain Age' the very best and look forward to exploring new programming possibilities in the future."

Truth be told, this one really hurts. A lot.

As a critic, it literally makes me feel ill when shows like 'Terriers' and 'MOACA' get canceled ('Rubicon' is another recent short-lived show I could put on that list). To see nuanced, wonderfully performed, character-driven shows get kicked to the curb isn't just upsetting, it makes me wonder, "Is this what happens to the good stuff? Don't shows like this ever get to have healthy, or at least respectable, life spans?"

The existence of 'Friday Night Lights,' which got a Best Drama Emmy nomination Thursday and closes out a five-season run on NBC Friday, should, I suppose, give me hope, but it's especially painful when cable networks dump good shows. I almost expect shows like 'Lone Star' to die on the broadcast networks, but the cable networks are the ones that are supposed to be out there on the edge, finding compelling new stories and characters and nurturing the shows that are unique.

But maybe the story here is that TNT was never a good fit for 'MOACA.' It was something of an odd duck on the network, which has relied on crowd-pleasing procedural fare for the most part. As Myles McNutt perceptively wrote earlier in the week, when a wave of Save 'MOACA' pieces came out, TNT isn't necessarily in the business of producing quality entertainment, at least not the kind of top-notch dramas we see on AMC, HBO and FX.

"'Men of a Certain Age' may be a decidedly quality program, but it definitely doesn't seem like the kind of show that TNT wants to build their brand around in the future," McNutt said.

We know that's true now.

With 'The Closer' ending soon, TNT was at something of a crossroads. It could have chosen to nurture 'MOACA,' which would have never been the network's flagship, but it would have been a signal to the world that the network was seriously interested in pursuing a relationship with viewers of networks such as AMC, Showtime, Starz, FX and HBO.

And after completely bungling the second season of 'MOACA' by showing it in two different sections and barely promoting it, I think the network frankly owed the show another chance. I truly believe that the show's ratings problems were partially caused by TNT's confusing, unhelpful marketing of the show and its weird airing pattern.

But I wrote up all the reasons why I thought the show deserved a second season in this piece. All the reasoning of many critics who advocated for the show clearly fell on deaf ears. And at this stage, I'm honestly that much less interested in seeing what kinds of shows TNT comes up with next, because they'll never be as good as 'Men.'

Most of the cable networks I mentioned above are interested in creating characters that people can invest in. As it often reminds us, even USA is interested in that. But with TNT, the shows are clearly built around sturdy concepts, not interesting people. Once Joe, Owen, Terry and Brenda Leigh are all gone, it'll be clear that he characters come second (or third or fourth) on TNT.

So now that TNT has shown me that it's not interested in emotionally moving me in any major way with its fare, I'm not sure why I should help them get the word out about the next cop procedural they come up with. Not that they need critics' help, of course. I'm sure they'll continue to do just fine on their own.

I'm sorry, 'MOACA.' You deserved -- and deserve -- a better home.

UPDATE: I spoke with Mike Royce, the show's co-creator, a few hours after the cancellation. Here are some of his thoughts on shopping 'MOACA' to other networks and other matters. The interview has been edited a bit for length.

"We'll probably talk about that on Monday. It's not even a plan at this point. There's this Carmaggedon this weekend, so everyone's gone. But there will be a discussion about that. I don't even know what the possibilities of that are."

General thoughts on the cancellation, TNT and so forth:
"It's not surprising to me and at the same time, it's stunning. If you're looking at the numbers, you understand, and this is going to sound like b.s., but TNT was a great place to work. They let us do the show that we wanted to do when clearly it went against their mission statement on some levels.

"There's mainstream guys in the show [but] it's different from their other shows. But even though it's different, they took a huge chance on it and they gave it two seasons. The bottom line is that we would have gotten three episodes on a broadcast network.

"As it is, we have two seasons that [work as a whole]. Some shows get cut off and you think, 'Why would I even start watching that? It gets cut off in the middle.' I certainly wish we had continued, and yet the place where we went out is a good one. We created this body or work and I think you could still enjoy it if anyone wanted to check it out" in future.

On the show's scheduling issues:
"I don't want to blame TNT for scheduling snafus. Some of that is just hindsight. Our goal was always, 'Let's be proud of every episode' [so they did not make 16- or 18-episode seasons, which might have made the network's scheduling job easier]. We didn't want to have to say, 'Oh, don't watch that one.' I am honestly so proud of every one we made, and that's partly because they gave us all this writing time and there was time for Ray to wear all the hats he wears" as a star, writer and producer of the show. "I have nothing to complain about beyond wanting it to continue.

On whether more Emmy nominations might have helped:
"I think we would have had to strafe the landscape [with nominations]. One more nomination would not have made a difference. If we had had some wild abundance, it might have made a difference, but nobody thought that was going to happen. If you look at the business side of things, I don't know that that would have been enough to push it over."

On what the show was (a hybrid of comedy and drama in a low-key, character-driven story) and whether that sort of thing can survive in the cable arena going forward:
"We never said, 'We'll write a drama,' or 'We'll write a comedy,' we just set out to write this thing and it went a little bit more toward the drama side. 'Friday Night Lights,' we used that as touchstone -- we talked about how great that show is, how real it is, how it gets us every time. We wanted that kind of naturalism and a little bit of comedy too.

"So we didn't have categories in mind, we just wrote it. And originally we were at HBO and they don't care about categories. Then somebody else was interested [when HBO dropped out] and it was already written and it made it through the system. It gives me hope that you can do that [i.e. that things like 'MOACA' can make it through the system]. You don't have to just say, 'I'll make a single-camera comedy!' and do some formulaic thing."

I shared my theory about cable TV these days -- after the quick deaths of 'Rubicon,' 'Terriers' and 'MOACA' and looking at the kinds of pilots that cable networks are making, for a one-hour drama to succeed or even get to the pilot stage in the cable realm these days, it has to have a law, crime, procedural, supernatural or horror element:
"Maybe. I always go back to 'Once and Again,' it's one of my favorite shows ever. It was sometimes hard to watch, but that's the wrong way to say it. Sometimes you knew it would require your full attention. You knew at the end of the hour that you might have been put through a wringer. But sometimes you want to put something a little less intense on. I loved every minute of 'Once and Again' but at the same time, on television, if it's a character-driven thing without the procedural element, maybe it's best to be a comedy.

"That's why I love 'Parks and Recreation.' Obviously it has a completely different tone from 'MOACA,' but you still feel for those characters and you like them as people. [For one-hours built along similar lines] I think there is a higher degree of difficulty to get viewers.

"Every year, though, viewership goes down on every platform. Everything trends downward, very rarely do you get a spike upward. It's hard to tell what to keep, and 99 percent of everything fails or isn't as good [in the number department] as the last thing. Every show that gets canceled, two years later, it's like, 'Wish we had those numbers back!'

"So there's sort of a double-edged sword about content. It gives networks a little impetus to try new things here and there, but on the other hand, with the audiences going away" there's also a desire to repeat what has worked in the past.

Courtesy of AOLTV.com