‘Southland’ plays the waiting game

“Southland” ended its second season Tuesday night and TNT is now officially on the clock.Southland

The network, which picked up the series from NBC after the Peacock pushed it aside, must make a decision whether to bring back the L.A. cop drama or say goodbye. A strong case can be made either way, but sometimes one should go beyond the numbers.

In its final episode, “Southland” drew just over 2 million, just slightly below the season average — and that number rises to nearly 2.5 million when live +7 is factored in. Certainly it’s nothing that screams renewal, but here’s my argument for a pick-up.

TNT does a nice job with its dramas, but, for me, there are no shows on their sked — minus the extremely well-executed “Men of a Certain Age,” which demands immediate viewing — that screams “watch me” when they show up on the DVR now playing list.

“Southland” and the aforementioned “Men” are the exception. NBC says they passed on it because it was too dark, and maybe they were right. But isn’t that what cable is for: To offer the alternatives to broadcast that dare move beyond the great unwashed swath of viewers, and where most everything gravitates toward the middle and easily digestible. (“Lost” is a major exception, but even a terrific drama such as “The Good Wife” doesn’t make a viewer scratch their head afterward.)

Look at cable’s best dramas: “Breaking Bad,” “Treme,” “Mad Men,” “Sons of Anarchy,” etc. Not exactly happy-go-lucky shows, but they grow our appetite for more, and, from a business standpoint, are brandmakers for their respective nets.

Certainly, TNT needs to make a solid business decision, but what does it want to stand for? Sure, they can be the net of “The Closer,” “Saving Grace” and “Hawthorne,” but “Men of a Certain Age” and “Southland” gives them a chance to make a statement that goes beyond the bottom line.

They knew what they were getting into when the picked up the show. It wasn’t like the series was going to add a boatload of new viewers when it moved over from NBC. Maybe they got a nice deal from sister studio Warner Bros., but when this decision was made to give “Southland” a renewed life, it seemed just as much about quality than money — and, clearly, that’s not always the case when it comes to program acquisitions.

It’s most likely not a hugely expensive show to produce. In only its second season, actors haven’t asked for raises and much of the filming is done on location with handheld cameras.

The actors are in a holding pattern and need an answer soon so they can move on to other projects if the series is canceled. And TNT needs to make a decision in the next few weeks, certainly before its May 19 upfront.

One cast member said they understand the reality of the business, but knows it would be a shame to walk away.

“I’m optimistic, but it’s up to TNT. They’ve been phenomenal but if it does go away, there’s no one to blame. TNT was a great champion for the show but I just want closure on it one way or the other.”

Clearly, other networks that have had high-quality but low-rated shows have shown the strength to keep those shows afloat. Granted, HBO has tons of money to spend and keep critics happy, but they knew they had something special with “The Wire” and went forward with five seasons. And blame NBC for a lot of decisions, but with the help of DirecTV, the execs in Burbank made sure “Friday Night Lights” burned bright for five season as well.

Hopefully, TNT will find room in its budget and on its schedule for another “Southland” go-around. It might not happen, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

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