Lynette Rice
October 16, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The cast of Southland was busy shooting the sixth episode of its second season last week when NBC released the mother of all APBs: The network was pulling the plug. The cop drama from überproducer John Wells (ER) was supposed to air Fridays at 9 p.m. beginning Oct. 23, but NBC Universal TV chairman Jeff Gaspin tells EW that Dateline was already performing well there, and ”I didn’t want to put [Southland] on with a potential that I was going to have to take it off again.” Really? A scheduling shake-up would seem to be the least of his problems. For the 10-to-11 p.m. hour — now monopolized by The Jay Leno Show — ratings are down a staggering 38 percent from last year. And the third-place network’s new series (Mercy, Trauma, and Community) have yet to crack the top 40 in total viewers. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a backup — like, say, the critically acclaimed Southland — as a midseason replacement? (Last year it averaged 7.6 million viewers, a small but devoted fan base.) ”NBC doesn’t have anything on now that’s doing well,” says Michael Cudlitz, who plays officer John Cooper. ”And our show is good.” Gaspin, meanwhile, isn’t worried about ratings. ”It’s just too early to make judgments.”

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