No one orders a headstone. No one wears a black veil. And there is no bad buffet at Aunt Selma’s house after the burial. But to those in TV, the cancellation of a show is about as close to the death of a loved one as you can get.
So far this season, 6 out of 28 new shows have already gone to meet their maker, and several more (Relativity, Dark Skies) have one foot in the grave. The network bean counters don’t shed many tears: The webs shell out an average of $450,000 per half hour to air a program, and low ratings can cost a bundle in lost ad revenue over just a few weeks. But for the more than 100 cast and crew members it takes to put together a show, the shutdown of a series kicks off a gut-wrenching period of mourning, self- examination, and lunches awash in margaritas. In fact, producers, writers, and actors go through all five stages of grief described by Swiss-American physician Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her influential 1969 book On Death and Dying. Herewith, a look:
Step 1: DENIAL Even if their show gets beaten by a Ross Perot infomercial and their agents won’t return calls, it’s hard for actors and writers to accept that the ax has actually fallen. Inevitably, there’s a flurry of optimistic post-cancellation rumors that another network will pick up the show. After all, why wouldn’t they? Your show is good, darn it! ”You’ve put so much work into it, you no longer see the flaws,” says Bob Brush, a former producer of the short-lived Slap Maxwell Story who now heads CBS’ successful new drama Early Edition. ”It looks great to you even if you have scripts that stink and stars who can’t do it.”
That sort of denial sinks many a Hollywoodite into financial trouble; actors are notorious for ignoring the here-today, gone-next-week nature of TV. ”There’s a tendency to sign on to a Scott Bakula show and think you’ve got five years of employment,” says Kerry Lenhart, an executive producer of Bakula’s now defunct Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Adds Jon Cryer, whose Partners was canceled after a tepidly rated run on Fox last season: ”They get the pilot, and they buy the house, and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, slow down!”’ According to one insider, several actors on Fox’s Lush Life bought big-ticket Range Rovers, only to see the sitcom canceled after three airings. ”There are probably more foreclosed cars in this town than any place in the country,” says Dr. Stuart Fischoff, a psychologist who counsels many in the TV industry.
Step 2: ANGER They may have fatter bank accounts than the average Detroit autoworker, but downsized actors and writers still feel just as powerless against the Man. And that means plenty of bile. Consider Lush Life costar Karyn Parsons, who spent an afternoon in New York being lauded by strangers on the street only to return to her hotel room and be greeted with eight ”We’ve been canceled” phone messages. The show, along with its lead-in, Party Girl, was the first to be taken off this season, axed by new Fox president Peter Roth as soon as he started his stint. Parsons felt Roth never gave the shows a chance. (Fox has no comment.) ”You feel a little tricked,” she says. ”You feel bamboozled, and that sucks.”