Todd Helps Those Who Help Themselves

I’m going to preface this musing by admitting I’ve known and respected the author and architect of PROGRAMMING INSIDER Marc Berman since we shared a classroom in a Hebrew school in Queens far too many years ago for either one of us to be comfortable copping publicly to a specific number.  He has actually been an inspiration and a significant influence into why and how I offer my thoughts and insights these days, and I dare say he’s far more prolific and has a much broader pulpit–deservedly–from which to offer his.

So when he shines a light on something going on in television, it’s definitely worth your while to give it to your attention.  And earlier this week, using his role as a FORBES magazine contributor, he turned said light on the plight of CBS’ SO HELP ME, TODD, which is one of three CBS procedural dramas that was not renewed as the network finalizes its 2024-25 season plans.

As he succinctly detailed in his reporting of CBS’ decision:

As the home of 14 of the 20 most-watched series in primetime (according to Nielsen Media Research), CBS has the luxury to renew – or cancel – shows that another broadcast network would probably continue. That said, the Eye network has opted against ordering new seasons of two mid-level scripted series: So Help Me Todd and CSI: Vegas, which are both from CBS Studios.

Debuting on September 29, 2022, So Help Me Todd stars Marcia Gay Harden as a defense attorney, while Skylar Astin plays her son and a skilled private investigator who gets hired by her firm. The cast also includes Madeline Wise, Tristen J. Winger, Inga Schlingmann, and Rosa Arredondo. The now series finale, which has a reported clifffhanger ending, will air on May 16. A total of 27 episodes of So Help Me Todd were produced.

He then followed it up with a somewhat more parochially-toned report on how some of its fans are coping with this news:

(I)f fans have their say this time (which, in this era of social media, gives everyone a voice), the legal dramedy So Help Me Todd, starring the Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden and Skylar Astin, could be the next canceled TV series to return. 

After CBS opted against a third season, a petition on the change.org website, titled “Save So Help Me Todd on CBS,” requests that CBS “reconsider canceling So Help Me Todd. “The show is so entertaining and it is family oriented . It can be enjoyed by all ages,” the petition says. Fans of So Help Me Todd, meanwhile, are using social media to lobby for a reprieve.

And as Berman is so uniquely qualified to do, he provides a history lesson of precedents, and even a couple of current data points, to help those passionistas with their cause:

Star Trek, Cagney & Lacey, Roswell, Family Guy, Futurama, Firefly, Jericho, Designing Women, Friday Night Lights and Quantum Leap. If you are wondering what these 1o primetime TV series have in common, think of the fans. All of the series were prematurely canceled, and each found a new lease on life (in an era where there was no social media) thanks to passionate viewers.  

Unlike most axed series, viewers were caught off guard by the unexpected sophomore cancellation of So Help Me Todd. By the numbers (according to Nielsen), So Help Me Todd is averaging a respectable 6.2 million total viewers per week, which is consistent with its first season.

But as someone who has been part of several such “Save Our Shows” campaigns in more recent years, including one I have been quietly working on now, I must offer the caution that, more than ever, the timing of this particular Hail Mary is downright lousy.

For one, the majority of the shows that Berman listed were leaders in a broader nationwide “Save Our Shows” poll conducted by USA TODAY as decision time for the fall broadcast network lineups was being reached.  I was part of campaigns engineered by Sony TV in the last decade to use those results, as well as other relevant data points, to intensely lobby and fine-tune deals to reverse the initial decisions.  In the case of one show, TIMELESS, we actually reversed outright cancellation not once but twice, garnering a second season renewal after a well-rated but qualified (it didn’t hold as much of the relatively massive lead-in from THE VOICE in its first cycle, and suffered from a lousy spring Sunday night slot head-to-head with AMERICAN IDOL in the second cycle) debut.  And after a cliffhanger akin to what TODD is apparently offered earned the show a second consecutive top billing in the USA TODAY poll, NBC did indeed order a two-hour holiday finale that provided true closure to the series. 

But as an independent studio, Sony was and is one of only a handful of significant suppliers truly motivated to pull out the stops.  And as a business partner willing to share financial risk, they present a lifeline for those looking to cook their books by lowering the overall investment on the part of a network or streamer.   TODD is produced by CBS Studios, which means that no efficiencies beyond left pocket/right pocket maneuvers is being offered.  Nor is there incentive for them to pursue deals with competitors, an appetite further diminished by the numerous restructurings that have co-mingled studio and network responsibilities more than ever before.

And have you seen what USA TODAY looks like these days?  Its print edition rarely exceeds 30 pages, its news is often one or two days behind, and I defy you to find a convenience store or a hotel lobby where you can find it as easily as it was when the likes of FIREFLY and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, let alone TIMELESS, were fighting the good fight. Even its app is downright wonky.

Moreover, the upper crust at CBS is a tad distracted at the moment.  In the last couple of weeks, amidst the increasingly dramatic battle between Skydance and Apollo Global to determine the ownership fate of Paramount Global, several board members, including many with actual TV experience, have departed.  And just yesterday it was reported by DEADLINE’s Dade Hayes that even the ultimate boss is on, at best, shaky grounds:

Board members at Paramount Global are reportedly considering the removal of CEO Bob Bakish as discussions continue with Skydance Media about a complex, multi-step merger.

If exclusive talks with Skydance bear fruit, there likely would not be a role for Bakish in the combined company, with Skydance chief David Ellison slated to serve as the new entity’s CEO. Even alternatives to Skydance like Apollo Global Management’s bid, which could also involve Sony Pictures Entertainment, likely wouldn’t have room for Bakish. That has made his ongoing presence in the corner office an inherently awkward feature of the Paramount landscape, but the Wall Street Journal‘s report on his possible ouster put a finer point on all of it.

Berman offers up some logical paths for TODD to take, including one that CBS itself chose with SEAL TEAM, a similar numbers game victim a couple of years back, by moving original episodes to Paramount+.  As he correctly points out, for a platform like Paramount+, original episodes of So Help Me Todd could give CBS’ lackluster streaming partner a shot of much-needed adrenaline.  

But at a time when adding the expense and uncertainty of a show lacking the historical IP value or significant international sales of other options would further stress out the streaming team who are indeed on notice due to said lackluster performance, and lacking the kind of champion that a show like SEAL TEAM had in the form of Les Moonves, not even such Queens logic seems to cut through this kind of morass.

And it does seem like the showrunners have come to grips with their fate.  Hayes’ colleagues Denise Petski and the intrepid Nellie Andreeva forwarded these regards last week:

In a message Friday on Instagram, series creator creator Scott Prendergast gave a heartfelt thank you to CBS for what “has been the best professional experience of my life.”

“I took a story about me and my Mom and hundreds of people came together to build it into something else, something huge, something beautiful, something funny,” he wrote in part. “Thank you to everyone involved, and to all our viewers. One million thank yous will never be enough”.

Series co-star Inga Schlingmann reposted the image of Prendergast’s post on her IG story, adding a heart hands emoji.  Star Marcia Gay Harden thanked the series’ “fantastic crew” over a behind-the-scenes group photo on her IG stories. Fellow co-lead Skylar Astin picked up So Help Me Todd Season 2 makeup artist Jennifer Powell’s IG post in which she thanked the show’s cast, adding a heart-themed sticker. “It was such an honor to work with this hardworking and loving crew, our incredibly talented writers, visionary directors, dedicated background performers, and my wonderful co-stars,” cast member Tristen J. Winger wrote on his IG story.

I empathize greatly with those so attached, but as I have been told so often told elsewhere in life, at some point you have to give up the ghost.

May I offer to this fan base you consider lobbying for a show called WILD CARDS, which is still awaiting the determination of its fate from The CW.  You may recall when these musings recommenced we offered some compelling facts about its relative performance and efficiencies.  Its Canadian partners are ready to support a second season.  And its independent producers, who are not handicapped by the kind of tsurris that surrounds CBS decision-makers and priorities these days, are actively pursuing a US renewal or, if needed, a new home.  And I can assure you, its cost-efficiency is far better than any that SO HELP ME TODD could find a way to offer.

You probably haven’t seen it; indeed, it has roughly a seventh of the viewership that TODD has mustered, and is not yet available on a broadly distributed streaming platform.  But if you are a fan of TODD, you’re probably more likely to fall into that older, more traditional demo of cord-dependents, and you likely have on-demand options to sample WILD CARDS.  I would humbly add many of the qualities you seem to find desirable about TODD–its humor, its heart, its pacing, and its accessibility–apply to this show as well.

I’ll be more than happy to sign your petition, the appropriate caveats I’ve offered up notwithstanding.  At the risk of redundancy, I believe strongly in second chances.  In a more opportunistic climate, you seem to deserve it.  And who knows?  Once the dust does finally settle, assuming a CBS as we know it even exists, you might eventually be able to pull off the miracle you desire.  It’s happened before.

Right now, there’s a bit more urgency and a louder ticking clock attached to my sich.  So how’s about helping to start a campaign for another deserving show?

Remember, it’s not just Todd, or even G-d, who helps those who help themselves.

Until next time…

 

 

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