Hart comedy off sked, midseason berth a possibility

ABC’s last-minute change of heart regarding thesp Kevin Hart’s laffer “The Big House” has left the cast of the would-be series in a state of shock.

Over the weekend, Alphabet execs told the show’s producers at 20th Century Fox TV-based Imagine Television — including Brian Grazer and David Nevins — that the skein had been ordered as a series for the fall.

Net put the cast on planes, flew them to New York and put them up at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park Hotel. Cast members, some of whom have never been on a TV series, called friends and relatives; one even bought a videocamera to record all the hoopla surrounding the big event.

Late Monday afternoon, however, ABC called Imagine and 20th back and told them the Stephen Engel-penned show was off the schedule. A midseason berth remained a possibility, but wasn’t guaranteed.

According to industry insiders, Nevins then had the unenviable task of gathering the cast together and breaking the news that “The Big House” didn’t have an order after all.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” said an agent who reps a supporting player in the Hart starrer. Indeed, while it’s not unheard of for a show headed for fall to get yanked at the last second, it’s usually given an official order for midseason as a consolation.

ABC Entertainment Television chairman Lloyd Braun said the net simply decided its fall sked worked better with another laffer, the 20th/BGTV half-hour from scribe Tom Hertz.

“Sometimes we end up juggling the scheduling at the 11th hour, and that was the case this season,” Braun said. “We absolutely love Kevin Hart and Stephen Engel, and we’re high on the show, despite the fact that it’s not on the fall schedule.”

Still, industry insiders were scratching their heads over why ABC brought the cast in if it wasn’t certain the show would at least merit a midseason slot.

“Sometimes logistics run ahead of ourselves. That was the case here,” Braun said. “We got ahead of ourselves.”

It’s also possible ABC doesn’t want to announce one midseason pickup before it has decided all of its midseason projects.

As is often the case whenever ABC makes a last-minute decision — such as last winter’s surprise move of “The Practice” to Mondays — many observers outside the web believe Disney toppers Michael Eisner or Bob Iger may have made the call to push “Big House” off the sked.

“That is flat out not true,” Braun said. “I take full responsibility for the decision.”

Braun’s positive comments about the show indicate “Big House” stands a solid chance of eventually making it on the air, though some fence-mending might have to be done. What all parties involved seem to want is a quick resolution to the matter.

Hart, for his part, has several feature roles in the works, include “Scary Movie 3″ and MGM’s “Soul Plane.” Engel might want to hop on another project if there is to be no “Big House.”

“We’re all disappointed with how it was handled, but now all we want is for the show to be picked up,” said one person involved in the project.

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