Cabler renews hyper-realist cop drama

A few weeks ago, “Southland” appeared to be bound for the brilliant-but-canceled list.

But word spread late last week that TNT and Warner Bros. TV were hunkered down on a renewal deal that was made official on Monday. The hyper-realist cop drama, shot almost entirely on location on the mean streets of L.A., will be back in January for a 10-episode third season.

Michael Wright, exec veep of programming for TNT, TBS and TCM, said the ratings performance for the John Wells Prods. drama was respectable enough to secure a renewal, but its high quality and distinctive storytelling style put “Southland” over the top from a TNT programming and strategy perspective.

“The ratings were not terrible, nor were they fantastic,” Wright told Daily Variety . “But this is an excellent TV show — expertly written, directed, produced and acted and it is a perfect fit with the TNT brand and the rest of our lineup.”

Wright noted that “Southland” ranks as the youngest-skewing of TNT’s original skeins with a median age of 47. In the cabler’s target demo of adults 25-54, the show easily outperformed the network’s primetime average (950,000 viewers vs. “Southland’s” 1.4 million) during its six-episode second season that wrapped April 6. Overall, “Southland” averaged 2.7 million viewers for its second-season segs.

Moreover, DVR viewing patterns indicate that the show has an extremely loyal following among viewers who watch on their own timetables.

The performance bar for “Southland” was high because it came to TNT on the heels of getting scrapped by NBC — just a few weeks before its second season was to bow last October (back when Jay Leno was occupying the Peacock’s 10 p.m. weekday real estate).

TNT swooped in and relaunched the show in January, starting with the first-season episodes that aired last spring on NBC followed by six fresh segs. The conventional wisdom was that “Southland” was a ratings disappointment for TNT. But that was news to Turner execs.

If you’re in the business of scripted television, you want a show like this,” Wright said.

The beat cops ensembler is told largely from the perspective of a rookie patrol cop, played by Ben McKenzie, as he learns the ropes from his street-wise partner played by Michael Cudlitz. But the storylines quickly broadened out to encompass a wealth of supporting characters, played by Regina King, Kevin Alejandro, Arija Bareikis, Shawn Hatosy, Michael McGrady and Tom Everett Scott.

Ann Biderman (“Public Enemies”) created “Southland” and exec produces with Wells and Christopher Chulack. Chulack established the show’s signature 360-degree shooting style, much of it done with hand-held cameras, and continues to helm most of the segs.

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