With three episodes left to air and its future uncertain, the principals behind the ABC crime drama "Detroit 1-8-7" are fighting for a second season — even if that means trying to follow other network cast-offs to basic cable.
The made-in-Motown show returns from a break Tuesday night with the first of its initial season's final three episodes. The series, which stars Michael Imperioli of "Sopranos" fame and veteran actor James McDaniel, has been well received by critics and has done reasonably well with viewers, averaging 7.6 million viewers and placing second in its time spot behind CBS's "The Good Wife," but ahead of NBC's "Parenthood."
Even so, ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee told the Television Critics Association in January that "Detroit 1-8-7" was among a few shows for which ratings, not quality, was an issue.
While it's rare for cable networks to pick up shows canceled by networks, McDaniel and executive producer David Zabel said they'd be open to such a switch.
"I hope the network has the integrity and courage to stick by a show that they know is good," Zabel said. "If not, then I hope the studio is diligent and crafty enough to find a way to allow us to continue on elsewhere."
ABC spokeswoman Cathy Rehl said network executives were not available to comment for this story because they are busy dealing with pilot season. Zabel knows that studying the pilots is part of the process that will decide his show's fate, and he's been promised that the network isn't making a hasty decision on the ABC Studios-produced show.
"I think for a show like ours to succeed on a network like ABC — which is not the obvious place for a show like this — there needs to be greater awareness of the show among the audience that I think would really appreciate the show. And I don't think that's happened," Zabel said. He added he thinks "Detroit 1-8-7" has a bit of a cable feel and could do well on a cable network, citing network refugee "Southland," which is thriving on TNT after being cut by NBC.
McDaniel said he plans to be back regardless of the show's TV home and will "make whatever adjustments I have to make." Still, the actor who also starred for several seasons on ABC's "NYPD Blue," also credits the network where the show currently resides.
"ABC was, quite frankly, brave enough to put this show on the air," he said. "I can only imagine the line that they have to walk. I don't understand that part of the industry.
"If we get that phone call in May that we're coming back — I can't think of a happier phone call," he said. "I know a lot of people on our soundstage that feel the same, exact way."
Should renewal come, ABC has to deal with the concern that the "1-8-7" soundstage built in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park and other expenses associated with the show's production will lose state tax credits that are among the most generous in the country and have lured many film productions to Michigan. The new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has proposed scrapping or limiting those credits, arguing the state can't afford them.
Snyder's first budget proposal calls for eliminating the film tax incentive program and ordering a $25 million cap on credits starting later this year. Current commitments would be honored.
Michigan Film Office spokeswoman Michelle Begnoche says it appears that "Detroit 1-8-7" would be eligible for additional credits, but would have to file a separate application for a second season.
Zabel, who also was an executive producer and show runner on "ER," said Detroit has offered an authentic setting that can't be replicated, but he could see being forced to follow the example of his former show, where they filmed in California but shot exteriors several times a year in Chicago.
Even without the financial incentive, he said there's an artistic argument to shoot in the city that the show is about.
"We certainly would fight for it, creatively," Zabel said. "The show would lose so much of what it is if it were not shot in Detroit."
McDaniel, an early advocate for filming in Detroit, said he can't imagine the show being filmed elsewhere.
"This show not in Detroit? I don't know what that other show is," he said.
Still, that's a case they will have the luxury of making only if the show can survive.
McDaniel said "Detroit 1-8-7" deserves a second chance because each episode has revealed more about each character, and the show possesses "the best writing I've seen on national network television."
On the last day of shooting, McDaniel said he called his colleagues into the "squad room" to share his praise for them and the show, all unsure if it was the end of the season or series.
"I just (talked) to them about out how good we were this year — how this experiment actually worked," he said. "I wanted to remind them the fact that I was good and Michael was good and all this — it wasn't just us. It was a crew that gave us complete, loving license to be brave and to have fun without judgment, and all with a hell of a lot of hard work."
- ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee