Harold Perrineau is waiting for a simple yes or no.
He's waiting, just like his co-stars on ABC's quirky new cop drama "The Unusuals" (including Amber Tamblyn, Adam Goldberg and Terry Kinney) and the rest of the cast and crew.
"It's nail-biting time," says Perrineau. "I'm trying to be cool, but I'm knotted up."
Welcome to TV's waiting game, an annual event playing out at dozens of network TV series that are neither slam-dunk hits nor terminal flops but instead (in industry lingo) "on the bubble," their fate undetermined as each network formulates a fall prime-time schedule.
NBC will unveil its roster Monday. Will struggling series such as "Chuck," "Medium" or "My Name Is Earl" make the cut, competing for precious NBC real estate against other contenders such as the just-launched Amy Poehler comedy "Parks and Recreation" and gritty police drama "Southland," plus any of several pilots vying for a series pickup, not to mention Jay Leno's forthcoming weeknight hour (which will seize nearly one-quarter of the schedule)? Wait and see what NBC's scheduling calculus serves up!
At ABC, CBS, Fox and the CW, the waiting game will drag on a bit longer: Upfront week for those networks kicks off May 18.
ABC has already jumped the gun, inviting back a dozen series including "Brothers & Sisters," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Ugly Betty." But the future remains murky for other ABC shows, such as newcomers "Castle," "Cupid" and "The Unusuals" (10 p.m. EDT, Wednesday), where Perrineau plays an overcautious NYPD detective who refuses to doff his bulletproof vest, even at the station.
It's a fun role, says Perrineau, "and a perfect fit."
Phoning from the Los Angeles home he shares with his wife and their two daughters, Perrineau fondly recalls shooting the season's 10 episodes in New York.
Then, just about the time "The Unusuals" premiered, production wrapped: "We had a lot of 'so longs' and 'I hope I get to see you guys again in a few months.'"
While Perrineau waits to learn if he and his family will head back east for another season of "The Unusuals," Tom Hertz is in his own holding pattern.
As the creator-producer of the CBS sitcom "Rules of Engagement," Hertz is sharing pins and needles with other members of his show, including stars Patrick Warburton, Megyn Price and David Spade. The show is halfway through its 13-episode third season, currently airing at 9:30 p.m. EDT Mondays. Hertz says his anxiety spikes each morning as he sifts through ratings data — numbers that can seem fiendishly inconclusive.
He reels off a few conflicting ways a set of numbers can be crunched: "The (audience) was good, but THIS demo wasn't as good as last week, but women (viewers) were better."
"It's just another situation in life where you can't really see what's going on, and you can't control it. So you try not to go crazy. And not run out of wine."
Hertz (whose past credits include "The King of Queens," "Spin City" and "The Larry Sanders Show") has kept busy since "Rules" wrapped several months ago. He's working on a screenplay, hanging out with his 5-year-old twins, and jotting down ideas for a new season, often inspired by what goes on in his marriage of 20 years. He's also prowling Hollywood-insider Web sites that stir up his anxiety.
"I'm seeing what pilots are hot and who's been cast in them," Hertz says, "while I'm wondering if those shows might be good for the (time) slot I want.
"You just try to do the best show you can," he says, momentarily resorting to Zen-state. "Then once you send (each episode) over to CBS, it's out of your hands. But CBS has been great," he adds in a mock-fawning aside. "I LOVE you, CBS!"
CBS announces its fall lineup to advertisers on May 20. Hertz may not hear the verdict until only days before.
How does it happen? "A guy with a crewcut, dark glasses and an earpiece knocks on your door," Hertz helpfully explains. "No words are spoken, but he opens a silver metallic suitcase and gives you an envelope that says 'yes' or 'no' inside."
Which word will be in his envelope? "I'm somewhat optimistic," Hertz declares. "But I don't want to be too optimistic and jinx it."