'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' looks to silver linings, second chances on NBC
In a fitting setup even he couldn’t have written, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-creator Dan Goor was in the bathroom when he got the call that Fox had canceled the comedy after five seasons.
There had been rumblings about the fate of the show, but as Goor will tell you, there’s always talk like that these days unless a show is a mega hit. But this time, Goor’s agent was cautioning that cancellation was a real probability: “It was the first time anyone had seriously ever used that word.”
So when the call came in on Thursday, May 10 — a day and date Goor won’t soon forget — any usual phone protocols were out the window: “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to take this call. I’m not going to give them the courtesy of not being in the bathroom,” Goor says wryly with a bit of hindsight.
The oddball workplace comedy about a ragtag group of NYPD officers became another TV casualty unable to fend off growing trends in TV’s modern era. It never pulled in stellar enough ratings — its fifth season averaged around 2.7 million viewers with delayed viewing over a week factored in — and Fox didn’t have an ownership stake in the show at a time when TV networks push to own as much of their content as possible. (The comedy is owned and produced by Universal Television, the studio arm of NBC.)
That was the story for 31 hours.
Voices were heard
But by late Friday night, through a combination of network musical chairs and a Twitter uproar fueled by stunned fans — including the powerhouse likes of Guillermo del Toro, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Hamill — “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” became the latest example of how a cancellation verdict in today’s TV isn’t always the death knell it used to be.
When it returns for its sixth season Thursday, it will start its second life on a new network — one that originally passed on the comedy during its inception in 2012: NBC.
It’s just after 11 a.m. on a day in early November and production is under way at the show’s precinct set at the CBS Studio Center lot in Studio City. One would be forgiven for thinking those fraught days in May were a weird fever dream.
The show’s ensemble cast members — Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller — are back at it, gathered in the precinct’s briefing room as their characters learn about a new he said/she said case in what will be the show’s #MeToo episode. Beatriz, making her TV directorial debut, shuffles in and out of the scene as her character, Det. Rosa Diaz, while also reviewing footage. At the same time, Samberg is coming up with ad-libs for the final beats of the scene — suffice to say, when you have the group talking about a broken male sex organ, things get colorful and absurd.
Crime with a twist
Created by “Parks and Recreation” vets Mike Schur and Goor, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was developed as an antidote of sorts to the high-stakes cop dramas that are fixtures of prime-time. It centers on Samberg’s Det. Jake Peralta, a goof who is also really good at his job, but audiences have also connected with his co-workers, in all their nutty and eccentric glory.
It made its debut on Fox to decent ratings in fall 2013. In a show of confidence, the series nabbed the plum post-Super Bowl slot in its freshman outing — that season also yielded two Golden Globe awards (TV series, comedy or musical and actor in a comedy for Samberg). But it never drew a broad audience and scheduling moves didn’t help. With Fox trimming its programming lineup this season, particularly among live-action comedies, to make room for its NFL deal for “Thursday Night Football” — gobbling up more than 30 hours of network time — “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” got dumped.
But the thing about TV these days is there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
A show being canned by one network and rescued by another, while still rare, is not new. But the chances for a show beating death are more likely today with more outlets clamoring for content and the premium on loyal audiences — particularly for streaming services that aren’t as reliant on ratings and traditional TV advertising.
For Goor, the most eye-opening aftershock of the whole ordeal was seeing fans galvanize. He always knew the show had fans — many of which watch episodes online — but, he says, when you’re on the air for a long time, you can lose sight of what exactly that means. The show’s cancellation elicited a strong reaction online and within two hours of the news both “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Brooklyn 99” were trending on Twitter, with fans pushing for the show to be saved.
But there was another best-case scenario: a reprieve. There was a scramble by Universal Television to find “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” another home, with Netflix, Hulu (its streaming home) and TBS (the basic cable home to the show’s reruns) in the mix as suitors. In the end, keeping the show all in the family and moving it to NBC was the more profitable move for the network and studio’s parent company, Comcast.
And it brings another Schur comedy into NBC’s fold, joining “The Good Place” and the upcoming “Abby’s.” It’s also a homecoming for Samberg, who was a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” for six seasons.
“It feels like this is a very familial piece for us,” says Tracey Pakosta, who co-heads the network’s scripted programming and helped develop the comedy. “Now that we have it, we’re so excited it’s here. It almost feels like it’s always been part of the network.”
Former NBC entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, who left his perch at the network last fall, said at the time of the show’s save: “Ever since we sold this show to Fox I’ve regretted letting it get away, and it’s high time it came back to its rightful home.”
Yvonne Villarreal is a writer for the Los Angeles Times.