You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

‘Ironside’ And The Cutthroat Nature Of The Television Beast

‘Ironside’ And The Cutthroat Nature Of The Television Beast

As Erik Luers’ article about Arsenio Hall’s late night show states (HERE),
television is one mean mother. It’s a nasty, cutthroat business which takes
no prisoners. When you’re on top, everybody loves you. But if you’re a loser no
one wants to know you or claim that they’ve even heard of you.

So the story goes like this. I happened to have an e-mail
exchange today with a very long time friend of mine. Someone involved in television production
whom I’ve known for at least 30 years, who not only is very much involved in the business
and has lots of connections in the TV industry, but has, as well, the most extraordinary knowledge of television history since the very beginning.

So somehow we got into a discussion about the recent failed
NBC reboot of Ironside starring Blair
which was cancelled by the network after only three weeks.

Of course, the show was a bad idea from the beginning and
it pulled in some pretty dismal ratings. But my friend had a different
take on it. He told me that not only was the show doomed to fail, but that it was
to fail as well.

Now you’d ask, why would a network spend millions of
dollars to produce and promote a series when they never had any intention it ever succeeding? 

He said that NBC had sunk “a lot of promotional money into Ironside
and considering that they seem to be fulfilling some contractual responsibility to
find ways to rejuvenate brand Universal shows from the last 60 years, not
knowing whether they will succeed or not.”

They tried reboots of Knight Rider, The Bionic Woman, and there was even a black Kojak series with Ving Rhames. They all failed.
In fact the only TV remake that has succeeded for more than one season was
Battlestar Galactica on the SyFy Channel, which is owned by NBC/Universal.

He said he figured out the real plan NBC had for
Ironside when he saw that Dick Wolf’s
NBC show Chicago PD would be
doing a crossover with his Law &
Order SVU

In other words, a two-part special that would begin on one
show and carry over to the other show for the second half. Now considering that
Ironside was set in N.Y. and it was a Universal show, why didn’t they do a crossover
with it and SVU which is also set in N.Y.? “Being that this 2013 version of
the show took place in New York, I was surprised that nothing was put in place
for that show and SVU to crossover to give Ironside a lift.  Ironside was never meant to succeed.”

What my friend speculates was that NBC considered
Ironside as nothing more than a place holder for the Chicago PD show produced by Wolf, who over the last more than 20 years has
become NBC’s most powerful series producer. And in fact there are rumblings
that a third NBC series, set in Chicago to be produced by Wolf along with Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, is in the works.  “And
with P.D. given a greenlight from jump, Ironside’s job was to keep the time
slot warm until P.D. debuted”.

Now whether Underwood and the producers of Ironside knew
this all along or were kept in the dark is up for debate. And maybe Underwood
was owed something by somebody, which is why they went ahead with the show. But
it was doomed from the get-go.

So where does this leave Underwood?

was his third show for NBC and Universal. 
Remember almost ten years ago, he did a short lived show called LAX
about life at the airport.  Then came The
Event, same studio and network.  And now
Ironside.  They keep trying to put him in
shows and they fail… you can’t build a show around the guy because he can’t
carry it.  He does better in an ensemble
series and the last successful one he did was L.A. Law.”

So what’s his next move? My friend says he should try to
focus on working with black producers like Tyler
again, but therein lies a catch:

yet (he should) hook up with Shonda Rhimes but from what I hear, Underwood
would rather work with white producers or in an environment of multicultural
productions because he doesn’t want to get type cast.”

And he last added that:

guarantee, if Rhimes talked him into joining the hottest show on the air
Scandal, it would reactivate his career….(the) show has rabid fans among black
women and it seems Rhimes has a knack for saving black men’s careers, if not for
a short period.  Just ask Taye Diggs.”

And so it goes.

This Article is related to: News



Err, what? Does your friend not realize that both Chicago P.D. and SVU are Dick Wolf shows? He wants to keep making money, so he crossed his fledgling series over with his bonafide hit. That's smart business and has absolutely nothing to do with Blair Underwood.

Also, even if NBC was simply fulfilling some obligation by ordering this pilot, they didn't have to pick it up if they didn't believe in it. Launching a new show is too painful and expensive for a network to intentionally set one up to fail from its inception.

Although I don't find Blair particularly captivating outside of his looks, I don't think the show's failure falls on his shoulders. The concept was weak and nobody cared.


I wouldn't put all of the success/failure on Blair's shoulders, as he's a good, solid actor who is very likeable — both on and off the screen (I've met him twice in social settings and he's very kind and gracious) — and watchable.

The real problem is NBC. The network simply hasn't produced ANY hits in recent years. The dramas they're currently airing are just so-so and they are in real trouble when it comes to their comedy output. … As another poster suggested he might consider trying to hitch his wagon to Shondra Rhimes, as much of what she touches, these days, seems to turn to gold.


Hmmmm. This is a very interesting piece. I appreciate the insight from Sergio's insider friend.

For the record, Blair has worked with Tyler Perry (and TD Jakes), so he's not dodging working with black filmmakers (and small part in "I Will Follow" for Ava DuVernay).

I do agree, however, that Blair is NOT strong leading man material. He is much better in ensemble pieces. …And he has a development deal with NBC, which is why he's been in all of these different projects in recent years. …But he would be wise to leave that network, which is sinking faster than the Titanic. …But I imagine it is very difficult, for any actor — well-established or not, of any race — to get a network development deal in today's risk-averse climate.


"What my friend speculates …."

This piece is ALL speculation. This is what happened: "Ironside" was a bad show. Period. Not enough people watched it. Period. It was cancelled for that reason. Period.

This is entire piece is some bull***t.


Blair's good, as always.

I see him going the Isaiah Thomas route with righteous independents, or an even more interesting suggestions, Scandal.

He would be great on Scandal. Or House of Lies. Or any of the political/corporate thrillers popular on television.

Accidental Visitor

The cancellation/failure of Ironside has nothing to do with Underwood being unable to carry a show. It has everything to do with the show being awful. Hell, as soon as I heard of the premise, that NBC would be remaking a show about a detective in a wheel-chair and that Underwood would be playing the lead, even I could tell such a show was toast. First of all why waste Underwood's appeal by putting him in a wheelchair? Second why remake a show at all? The fact that it was a remake of an original American broadcast meant that it was a series lacking in ideas from inception.

Then the show had a sneak preview of its premier ep a week or two before it aired on NBC. I saw the preview on XFinity. It was god awful. Dull, unoriginal, pedestrian and cliche. It was a mere crime-of-the-week type of police show and didn't seem to have the long story arcs that most shows need these days, even on network TV. After seeing it I knew it DESERVED to be cancelled. Immediately. Denzel Washington could have starred in it and it still would have been just as much a turd.

My only question for Underwood was why he took that role in the first place? Was he simply trying to finish out his contract/obligations with NBC?

As for the insider'stheory about Underwood needing to do ensembles, well, what the hell did he/she think "The Event" was? That was an ensemble show, Underwood's President was one of many characters it focused on. "The Event" tried to be NBC's answer to "Lost" but just like with "Revolution" it got off to a bang and fizzeled out pretty quickly. And even LAX wasn't on Underwood's shoulders alone. Heather Locklear, a TV darling at the time, was the co-lead. LAX may have been the best of the shows Underwood starred in for NBC over this decade but that ain't saying much. LAX simply wasn't all that good and the fault was in the writing, not the performances.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. One needs good concepts, good scripts gto make a show worthwhile. If Underwood had even gotten something like the overlooked "House of Lies" he would thrive in the role. Instead he keeps getting saddled with bad TV shows. Is that because he makes bad decisions or simply gets bad/limited options< I can't say. But I don't think his performances have ever been the root of the problem.


"So what’s his next move? My friend says he should try to focus on working with black producers like Tyler Perry again, but therein lies a catch:

“…better yet (he should) hook up with Shonda Rhimes but from what I hear, Underwood would rather work with white producers or in an environment of multicultural productions because he doesn't want to get type cast.”"

Is it me, or is Blair Underwood already type cast? Blair Underwood should take what he can get. He's boring on screen. He hasn't done anything remotely interesting in years and that includes his work with Tyler Perry. His last worry should be that he will be type cast, if he's involving himself in these projects that are bound to fail.

Dave's Deluxe

This kind of thing happens quite a bit, in movies too. Push an underdeveloped product to air that minimally honors a contractual obligation; if it works, great; if it doesn't, no hard feelings and we all move on. It's part of the business at this point, and as long as folks get paid, it's not going to change. And quite honestly, I don't think anyone behind the camera seems to mind.

If Blair wants to get back on top, he should play the lead in a gritty indie.

Well, back to my 40 oz! These Fed-Ex packages aren't going to deliver themselves!

Monique a Williams

Really interesting.

It's no secret I'm not a fan of Blair Underwood, but he doesn't deserve this. Everything your friend said about him as a lead vs ensemble actor is on point. And he should NOT go the Tyler Perry route.

Makes me wonder of Meagan Good is a seat warmer as well. Like, "nobody can't say we're not giving the Negroes a chance." Satisfy their quotas in every way…


Great article. However, did you dictate this to Siri? It really needs a bit more editing.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *