Anatomy of Killing a Show: "Heist"
At this point, I don't know that there are all that many people still wondering how NBC has managed to find itself well back in fourth place in the key adult 18-49 demographic, but an interesting study in network ineptitude might be seen in the near-instant cancellation of "Heist." How many ways did NBC blunder this show? Let's just say "oodles."
1)It was rushed to the air. NBC decided it wanted the pilot script in October, was still casting the show in November and in late December, the network decided it wanted the show on the air by the late spring or summer. Soon that timetable became mid-spring, post-Olympics. In a messageboard posting over at TVSquad, "Heist" co-creator Mark Cullen says that at the time of the cancellation, the show was just beginning to find its creative legs. Well, OF COURSE he'd say that. But he may be right. The "Heist" pilot, while frequently fun and diverting, was obviously half-baked, offering barely a hint of the machinations of the show's central robbery. The first hint at their big plan in the following episode was hugely disappointing. While a show like "24" can get away with flipping and flopping its plot three or four times in a season (or in an episode), a new show like "Heist" can't. If NBC had given the Cullen brothers a chance to actually develop the early scripts before going to series, perhaps they could have masterminded something special.
2)Almost an offshoot of the first one, but "Heist" is one of the best examples I could ever provide of how a single piece of botched casting can kill a show. Or at least cripple it. Dougray Scott, Steve Harris, and Seymour Cassel are strong actors. Marika Dominczyk is a stunning woman and a surprisingly acceptable actress. Billy Gardell and Reno Wilson were a good comic pairing. But every time Michele Hicks came on screen as the love-lorn klepto cop, it stopped the drama and clipped the comedy. Surely that's the kind of thing that should have been noticed in testing? If NBC had held onto the pilot and waited for a better or more appropriate actress to become available, the entire dynamic of the show would have changed.
3)Scheduling is everything. In sports, we talk about trades that help both teams, where everybody gets what they need and both sides come out ahead. This winter, NBC made a sweeping scheduling change that messed up its entire schedule in true NBC-style. When I first saw the pilot in January my instant reaction was, "Well, it's not a great show, but if you paired it with 'Las Vegas,' it might make for a really fun block." The next day, at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, NBC announced that "Las Vegas" was moving to Friday at 9, which should have opened things up perfectly. Instead, NBC moved "Law & Order" up to 9 on Wednesday, put "Heist" at 10 and gave the post-"Las Vegas" show to "Convinction." Putting aside the fact that no show featuring Eric Balfour is ever going to succeed, "Conviction" has a dark look and somber tone that actually clashes with "Las Vegas" in the same way that the tried-and-true procedural style of "Law & Order" was never going to mesh with "Heist." So "Conviction" has mostly tanked on Fridays (Bet NBC wishes it hadn't cancelled "Law & Order: Trial by Jury") and "Las Vegas" is struggling. "Heist" failed for two weeks, left "Law & Order" to get crushed by "Lost" and finally forced the network to reverse the two shows and finally just kill "Heist." It's a perfect example of a trade that hurt all of the teams involved.
4)The Olympics aren't a platform for anything. Just as "Hawaii" (Eric Balfour again!), "LAX" and "Joey" didn't benefit from relentless promotion during the 2004 Summer Olympics, "Heist" may have been hurt by repetitive teasers during the 2006 Winter Games.
I didn't love the pilot, but I don't know why "Heist" couldn't have worked. It had "Ocean's Eleven" style and attitude, a decent cast and a good creative team in the Cullens and producer/director Doug Liman. All it is now is another glorious example of the NBC Touch.
At least NBC seems unlikely to ever air "Thick & Thin."