The archeologists of Brilliant But Cancelled are back in action again, and that’s good news for anyone with an appetite for off-the-beaten-track programs that suffered premature deaths in their first incarnations.
Moreover, it’s great news for anyone with a stake in any of the four dozen-plus new series that will be unveiled this week during the broadcast network “upfront” presentations to advertisers, which begin Monday with NBC’s event at Radio City Music Hall. The odds are against any new television series taking root in primetime, but with the erstwhile Trio program showcase Brilliant But Cancelled returning to life next week as a broadband channel unto itself, there’s at least hope for creative we-were-ahead-of-our-time vindication down the road.
One of the poster children for that type of TV is “EZ Streets,” a gritty crime drama from future Oscar winner Paul Haggis that was part of the first CBS primetime schedule that Leslie Moonves unveiled 10 years ago this month.
Tonally, “EZ Streets” was a precursor to “The Sopranos” --so much so that it even had Joe Pantoliano as a creepy-vicious crime boss whom the undercover cop played by Ken Olin was trying to nail despite the maneuverings of Pantoliano’s shady lawyer, played by Debrah Farentino. Jason Gedrick also starred in the show as a wrongfully convicted goodfella type who was trying to go straight after getting out of prison but couldn’t resist the lure of working for Pantoliano.
TV pundits couldn’t summon enough superlatives to shower on “EZ Streets,” but the vast expanse of America couldn’t have cared less. Tony Soprano and his flawed-character mob would receive a far warmer welcome on HBO just three years later.
But all of the above, plus the fact that Haggis is hot off success of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” makes “EZ Streets” the picture-perfect program to highlight on http://www.BrilliantButCancelled.com, which goes live May 23, according to Kris Slava, vp digital content and acquisitions at Bravo. (The Bravo team now oversees the Triotv.com and BrilliantButCancelled.com broadband channels that are the legacy of the Trio cabler that was transformed by owner NBC Universal into the Sleuth channel in January.)
“A lot of the shows we gravitate to fall into three categories: shows that were ahead of their time, shows where you see future major creative talents working out ideas that become recurring themes in their careers, and shows that are just so fondly remembered (by TV enthusiasts) as having been killed too soon,” Slava says.
“EZ Streets” hits all of those buttons. So does “Delvecchio,” an early Steven Bochco effort from the 1976-77 season that starred a pre-“Taxi” Judd Hirsch and pre-“Hill Street Blues” Charles Haid as crusading big-city cops.
Based on highly unscientific surveys of Trio and Bravo staffers and their friends, the Brilliant But Cancelled team came up with a list of more than 100 shows and unaired pilots that were candidates for the BBC treatment. The hardest part has been tracking down the shows and then wrangling licensing deals, especially for the uncharted waters of broadband airings.
“Most studio executives are focused on doing $100 million output deals, and here we come wanting to license six episodes of a busted old show for a month on broadband,” Slava says. “It’s a whole new business paradigm. But we’ve been lucky to find, at almost every studio, one or two people who know where the gems are and who really care about this stuff.”