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Legal drama 'The Guardian' makes its case for renewal
LOS ANGELES -- When a series faces the threat of cancellation, producers do whatever they can to keep it alive: seek publicity, badger the network for more promotion, spy.
Sure, says Mark Johnson of "The Guardian," whose hope for another season depends in large part on whether CBS decides it's found a replacement that might draw higher ratings in the 2004-2005 season.
Johnson and fellow executive producer David Hollander, the series' creator, aren't remaining idle while the network ponders its options.
"We practically steal scripts out of Xerox machines," Johnson said, engaging in a bit of hyperbole. "I also canvas agents: 'What do you hear about this one? Have you talked to anybody who's seen that pilot?' ... It's not like I can do something subversive, but I can get an idea of what's out there."
Johnson and Hollander believe "The Guardian," in its third season, is working well and deserves a future. But it's a show "on the bubble," in industry lingo, braced for a possible, fearful pop.
The drama, starring Simon Baker as wayward lawyer Nick Fallin, airs its last two episodes of the season -- and maybe the series -- on Tuesday and May 4, at 8 p.m.
"I don't think they've decided if the show is gone," Hollander said of CBS. "I would like to know one way or the other."
First, he figures CBS has some amends to make. "The Guardian" was pulled in March to give "Century City" a six-week tryout. When it flopped within a month, "The Guardian" was thrust back on the air so quickly that TV listings couldn't be updated to alert its fans.
"You're on the bubble, but we'll pull you off the air. You're on the bubble, but we won't promote you," said Hollander, giving his take on network logic. "You're on the bubble and we'll put you on when we please -- and do great things for us."
His frustration, speaking the day after shooting wrapped, was understandable. Hollander has been hands-on for the vast majority of episodes, mixing writing, directing and producing tasks.
He would typically be saying goodbye to the cast and crew for their summer break while he started work on scripts for next year.
But it wasn't business as usual at the offices "The Guardian" calls home on the Sony studio lot. The staff was preparing for a funeral that may or may not happen, packing up as if the show had already died.
If it returns, so will they. But the outcome won't be known until next month, when CBS presents its new fall schedule to Madison Avenue in the annual "upfront" extravaganza.
In the meantime, CBS remains mum. That leaves Hollander and Johnson to do the talking, hoping to catch the attention of viewers and network executives.
What can they say or do at this late date? They have the ear of CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, they say, and are lobbying for more on-air promotions that could give "The Guardian" a ratings boost.
A solid if unspectacular performer during its run, "The Guardian" is averaging 10.5 million viewers this season, down 13 percent from last year.
More dangerously, it lags in the advertiser-favored 18-to-49 age group that CBS, after long disdaining such demographic parsing, embraced when it began to make inroads with younger viewers.
"The Guardian" attracts a little more than a fourth of the young adult crowd that watches CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." The second "CSI" spinoff, set in New York, may be hovering over "The Guardian's" time slot.
Being pushed aside by yet another procedural franchise show would be an especially bleak ending for "The Guardian." Dramas like "CSI" and NBC's "Law & Order" are the trend now, character-driven shows the exception.
"We're an out-and-out character show. It's not about finding out who did what to whom," said Johnson. "I hope there's room for us."
He speculates that, if renewed, "The Guardian" could draw in more viewers by becoming "a little less dark, a little less cold and -- Simon Baker will hate me for saying this -- but let's see him smile and laugh a couple more times."
He acknowledges it's difficult to make promises to change while campaigning on a show's track record.
Hollander won't even try.
"I couldn't promise anything I haven't already delivered. I've already given them 67 hours of television. They know what 'The Guardian' is. ... All I can really say is, 'Take me or leave me."'