''Head Cases'' gets the ax -- The Fox legal drama is the new TV season's first casualty
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Head Cases

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Fox’s new legal drama Head Cases had just wrapped a 13-hour day of shooting Sept. 21 when creator Bill Chais delivered a grim verdict to the cast and crew: Fox was canceling the show after only two airings, making it the first casualty of the 2005 — 06 TV season before that season was even a week old. Although it had already spent roughly $10 million to produce the show, Fox dropped the gavel swiftly when the odd-couple drama starring Chris O’Donnell and Adam Goldberg as kooky attorneys fell an astonishing 50 percent after its Sept. 14 debut. It averaged a meager 3.1 million viewers, good for 104th place out of 115 series.

Even so, ”we felt blindsided,” says Chais, a former attorney who got his start in TV by writing for CBS’ Family Law. Cases was the first drama he created. ”I thought the old axiom was six [episodes] and out if the show’s a failure. Now it’s two and out.”

Two episodes was plenty, TV execs say, for a drama whose fate was virtually decided before it even debuted. With more than 30 new series premiering this month, competition for viewers is more intense than ever and networks are forced to choose among their young — devoting their limited marketing budgets to a select number of shows while letting other programs fend for themselves. UPN reportedly spent $12-15 million to launch Everybody Hates Chris, which notched a stunning victory over NBC’s Joey Sept. 22, while the Peacock’s My Name Is Earl won its first outing Sept. 20 in part due to an $8 million-plus Mazda car giveaway. Fox, meanwhile, all but ignored Cases, shining the klieg lights on new dramas like Prison Break and Bones and ratings-starved critics’ darling Arrested Development. Couple that sibling rivalry with intense competition on Wednesdays from recent Emmy winner Lost — which received ABC’s heaviest promotion along with Desperate Housewives, Invasion, and Commander in Chief (”Half the people in America believe Geena Davis was named president,” quips media buyer Bill Carroll) — and Cases never really got its day in court.

”The way ABC put all of its chips on Lost and Desperate Housewives last year has changed the way all the networks have approached the new season,” says one Big Four exec. ”Every network has created its own priorities.” Adds Carroll: ”Networks place their bets and there are consequences. You can only get out so many messages, and everything else will be lost in the shouting. Is it fair and logical? No. Is it pragmatic and necessary? Probably.”

The case against Cases started to build last May, when Fox announced a new strategy to launch more of its shows before baseball playoffs disrupt its schedule in October. (The theory was that its freshman class would gain more traction with an earlier start.) Not only would Cases have to fight for attention during the fall launch period but it would air opposite five other dramas at 9 p.m. Wednesdays (Fox declined to comment). Chais tried to keep a stiff upper lip. ”At the time, it was kind of a vote of confidence,” says Chais. ”Someone had to fight Mike Tyson at his prime, someone has to go up against Lost.”

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