The first scene of CBS’ dazzlingly written, dismally rated EZ Streets premiere included a shot of cops opening an oil drum and finding it filled with blood and a corpse. Last week, EZ became part of a bloodbath itself, when CBS pulled the show from its schedule along with two other low-rated Wednesday series, Steven Bochco’s controversial new vice-squad comedy, Public Morals, and the revamped Nancy Travis sitcom Almost Perfect, which had just entered its second season after a wobbly first.
To be sure, these abrupt exits are, to some extent, TV business as usual — especially during the all-important November sweeps period, when networks strive for the highest ratings possible to attract the greatest amount of advertising dollars. The jettisoning of the imperfect Perfect makes sense; the producers had foolishly dumped one of the two original costars, Kevin Kilner, and he was the most likable character on the show.
Dumping Morals is an understandable call. This naughty-cops show was a grimly vulgar mess that was about as funny as the idea of Michael Jackson as a father. Bochco oversees brilliant dramas, but his comedy efforts, like the cartoon Capitol Critters and the so-called dramedy Hooperman, have been sorry series; there was no reason to think Morals would have taken a leap in quality anytime soon.
Perfect and Morals are officially ”on hiatus,” which is networkese for ”canceled unless Elvis comes back and specifically requests their return.” EZ Streets, however, is a different story. CBS swears it will ”relaunch” this series, maybe early next year. Since you probably missed it, it bears saying that EZ Streets is about a despairing undercover cop (thirtysomething’s Ken Olin) pitted against a freaky thug played with wired-up energy by Joe Pantoliano. On Oct. 27, EZ’s two-hour pilot got creamed in the ratings by the Sunday premiere of The X-Files. In its first and only Wednesday 10 p.m. appearance, it placed last in its time slot.
EZ’s creator, writer-producer Paul Haggis — already burned once by CBS, when the network canceled his critically beloved, poorly rated Due South last season — says with a resigned chuckle that he’s ”a little depressed” about EZ’s situation. ”[CBS Entertainment president] Les Moonves said he loved the show but thought that if we stayed on during sweeps we’d be killed, because we just hadn’t been launched properly. And I had to agree with him. No one saw the show. No one saw the pilot — no, 10 million people did, but suddenly that’s no one, as far as television standards. So he felt that with all the guns coming against us in sweeps, we didn’t have a prayer.”
EZ did, however, have a dossier of mostly rave reviews; a network source says CBS staffers were ”stealing scripts from my office just to read for pleasure, like little novels.” CBS, in the midst of rebuilding its position and image, could use not just higher ratings but also some of the prestige that a risky show like EZ had already brought the network. Canny yet pretentious, funny yet dark, EZ Streets is the sort of show that could prove its worth only over time — it could become either a deep, rich drama or a silly, cheesy one. Asked if he thinks EZ might have been too complicated for a mass audience, Haggis is refreshingly realistic: ”That absolutely could be the case.”
But given its place on CBS’ schedule, time was not on EZ’s side. Up against NBC’s Law and Order and ABC’s PrimeTime Live, it seemed fated to lose. EZ was gearing up to film its 10th episode when Haggis received the bad news from Moonves. ”We’ve shot eight episodes, plus the pilot. We had three more that were ordered [by CBS]. The question is, Will we keep shooting?” It’s a more dramatic cliff-hanger than any scenario EZ Streets managed to come up with in its brief time on the air. So far.