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TNT picks up ‘Southland’

Cabler makes it official with NBC castoff

TNT has finalized the worst-kept secret in television, picking up a run of the discarded NBC cop drama “Southland.”

“Southland” will air Tuesdays at 10 starting Jan. 12. That means the show — originally developed as a 10 p.m. drama — will return to its intended time period.

It also means “Southland” will face off with the franchise that displaced it, NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show.”

“To bluntly put it, we’re a better place for it, because we’ve got a 10 o’clock hour to program it,” said Turner programming topper Michael Wright.

TNT is positioning the pickup as a further expansion of its original programming strategy vs. the broadcast webs. Wright said he felt “Southland,” which comes from John Wells Prods. and Warner Bros. TV, fits squarely in the channel’s drama-centric brand.

“This show is an extraordinarily well-made version of what we were doing already,” he said.

The cabler will kick off its run of “Southland” with the seven segs that ran last season on the Peacock. That will be followed by the six produced this season for NBC, making for a grand total of 13. Whether Turner picks up a new batch of episodes will depend on the show’s performance.

“Obviously, we’re picking the show up in the hopes that it works wondrously,” he said. “We believe in it and hope it finds an audience.”

Should TNT decide to put “Southland” back into production, insiders confirmed that the cabler would pay Warner Bros. $1.4 million- $1.5 million an episode — a slight tick below the $1.6 million a seg that NBC paid.

Wright said he won’t drag his feet in determining the fate of the show.

“After the first few weeks, we’ll know” whether TNT is picking up new episodes, he said. “We won’t belabor it… We enjoy a good relationship with talent. The last thing we want to do is abuse that.”

Turner won’t make many changes to the existing episodes — but Wright confirmed that TNT will indeed likely allow some expletives to remain unbleeped. Such a move would confirm conventional wisdom that “Southland’s” edgy nature was a better fit, anyway, for cable — where content standards aren’t as rigid.

“We can do more than you might otherwise see on a broadcast network,” Wright said. “But that has not been fully fleshed out yet.”

Despite stellar reviews for “Southland” after the series premiered last season on NBC in the 10 p.m. Thursday slot following “ER,” the Peacock — in a cost-effective decision — decided a few weeks ago that it was wiser to continue with “Dateline” in the 9 p.m. Fridays slot.

“Dateline” is much cheaper to produce than “Southland” and a better return on investment for the Peacock. Insiders also believe NBC ultimately decided that “Southland” was too dark for the 9 p.m. slot.

Show was originally set to return to NBC on Oct. 23. With the Peacock run canceled, NBC and Warner Bros. TV came to an agreement that allowed the studio to take the show to TNT.

“A lot of people went the extra mile to make this work,” Wright said. “I hope this is out of respect for the show. Good TV shows don’t happen as often as we all wish they did.”

“Southland” stars Ben McKenzie as a rookie cop assigned to a vet on the force (Michael Cudlitz). Show also stars Regina King, Tom Everett Scott, Michael McGrady, Kevin Alejandro, Shawn Hatosy and Arija Bareikis.

Ann Biderman created “Southland” and exec produces with Wells and Chris Chulack.

It’s not uncommon for cable nets to give new life to canceled series, either by picking up previously aired and/or shelved episodes of a yanked show or by putting said show back into production. And then there’s DirecTV’s 101 channel, which has made it a strategy to pick up prematurely canceled series, giving it an opportunity to run segs that never ran.

Turner has also kicked the tires on other broadcast series in the past. In 2007, TNT made a play for firstrun episodes of “Law and Order,” but that show ultimately remained on NBC.

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