"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" lives! NBC revives the beloved comedy after Fox cancellation

News broke late Friday that the beloved Andy Samberg comedy canceled by Fox will get a new life thanks to NBC

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published May 11, 2018 7:00PM (EDT)

Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg and Stephanie Beatriz in "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (FOX/John P. Fleenor)
Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg and Stephanie Beatriz in "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (FOX/John P. Fleenor)

UPDATED: Hours after this story was published, news broke that NBC had swooped in to save "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" from oblivion. A 13-episode sixth season will happen. Fans and critics rejoice! 

May means many things to us: the rapturous warmth of spring, a riot of flowers blooming under azure skies, the joy of renewal and the agony of cancellation. Those last two mostly refer to television viewers keeping an eye on the official release of fall programming schedules, happening next week in New York as part of the annual industry ritual known as the Upfronts.

Mainly the Upfronts are dog-and-pony shows for advertisers, giving them the opportunity to purchase airtime for television commercials well ahead of the fall schedule’s debut. Essentially it’s Madison Avenue’s version of high-stakes betting.

The only reason they matter to the average viewer is that they reveal to us which current series will return for another season and which are being tossed into the void. These days networks spare us the torturous wait and release their lists of survivors early.

And every year, without fail, some of this bad news leads to a loud bellowing and gnashing of teeth over the injustice of it all. Thursday, such an outcry rang out at the news that Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a series that serves as a potent antidepressant to many a TV critic, has been cancelled.

Maybe. Keep reading.

Fox also pulled the plug on “Last Man on Earth” and “The Mick,” also very funny shows. But the (possibly temporary?) demise of “Nine-Nine” is a real boot to the undercarriage, especially now. Few ensemble comedies are as quick and consistently entertaining as this show, whether on broadcast or cable.

Even fewer broadcast series in general, sitcom or drama, are as casually yet intentionally inclusive. Throughout the series episodes have dealt with sexism, interdepartmental politics, and bias based on race or sexual orientation, addressing these topics as part of the cases and the humor that goes along with working in the 99th Precinct of the New York Police Department.

Along the way “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has matured into something more than a workplace half-hour. These days, in a very real way, “Nine-Nine” is a show about a family.

Originally conceived by Dan Goor and Mike Schur as a vehicle for Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta, “Nine-Nine” soon exhibited its strength as a comedy that plays to every actor’s strength. Andre Braugher’s unflappable Captain Ray Holt, a man as serious about refinement and dignified behavior as he is about crime fighting, is a stupendous foil to Peralta.

But then, so are Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), office admin Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) and Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews).

Although team members spent time in jail, on the lam and in witness protection as part of various story arcs, they always focused on keeping everyone together.

And as the characters grew more distinctly weird and the writers harmonized their quirks with crisp, surefooted editing techniques, “Nine-Nine” evolved into one of the shiniest well-oiled pieces of comedic machinery on broadcast.

It feels too early to be penning an obituary for this show. At the same time, killing “Nine-Nine” kind of goes along with the tenor of the current era, where everything that’s kind and decent and lovable must burn, burn! Why shouldn’t that apply to a comedy about kind, decent, lovable cops? Why not, indeed.

Granted, the broadcast TV business doesn’t run on sweetness and charity; viewership is its petrol (another purpose the Upfronts serves is to remind us of this salient fact). And the easiest explanation as to why Fox is pulling the plug on this veteran player is that not enough of us were watching it live.

The current season is averaging just under 2 million viewers an episode, placing it in the same realm of popularity as “The Last Man on Earth,” “The Mick” and “New Girl,” whose series finale was announced last year. These days live and live-plus-three-day ratings averages aren’t the only determinants of whether a network keeps a series.

But — and here’s where those other important factors come into play — Universal Television owns “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” not Fox. This explains why “New Girl” kept being renewed long after its popularity faded — 20th Century Fox Television owns that series and can continue profiting from it long after it is out of production.

Fox’s ownership of “Last Man” and “The Mick” didn’t save those series, however, which hints at other possible reasons for this wholesale purging of the network’s sitcom line-up.

Remember that 20th Century Fox Television is now on the precipice of becoming something totally different following the Fox-Disney merger, and what it will look like as a broadcaster is anyone’s guess. One general certainty about the entertainment industry is that success leads others to give chase, and the greatest strides forward this season have been in the comedy area.

The most recent weekly ratings showed four comedies within the uppermost ranks of the Nielsen charts — more in the top 10, in fact, than scripted dramas. All of those are multi-camera comedies, including the revival of “Roseanne.”

Indeed, the shocking popularity of Roseanne Barr’s reboot reportedly led to an industry-wide evaluation of what’s been missing in the TV landscape. That’s what happens when more than 18 million viewers show up for the return of a long-dead comedy. Not even the reboot of “Will & Grace” attracted those numbers for its return, although the 10.2 million who tuned in certainly made NBC very happy (ratings for “Roseanne” have since floated down to a reasonable 10 million viewers, still healthier than “Will & Grace's” 5.5 million season-to-date average; both have been renewed).

The larger takeaway here is that “Roseanne” proves that it’s possible for comedies besides those juggernauts created by Chuck Lorre to attract sizable audiences. For many years, the common thinking was that networks needed to settle for smaller returns from their half-hours. This reasoning allowed low-rated comedies such as "30 Rock," "Parks and Recreation" and "The Office" to cheat death time and again and win armloads of Emmys and Golden Globes in the bargain. Supporting quality and originality was more important that chasing ratings, the logic went; besides, the subjective nature of comedy and the fracturing of the TV audience meant expecting lower levels of attention.

"Roseanne" definitively dissolves that theory. It is proof that the genre itself isn’t the problem — it’s what producers are doing with it, and who they’re targeting.

Looping back to the cancellation of “Nine-Nine” and Fox’s other half-hours, here's a little more salt in our wounds: Among the sitcoms joining Fox's 2018-2019 lineup is a revival of Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing.” When ABC cancelled Allen’s series in May 2017, conservatives raised their own ruckus over that injustice — understandable, given the fact that it ranked as ABC's second-most-watched comedy behind "Modern Family" at the time.

“Last Man Standing” never raked in “Roseanne”-level ratings, mind you. However, its final episode garnered around six million viewers — more than thrice the number of viewers for the most recent episode of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” And for whatever reason Fox could package it as its version of a working-class comedy, even though Allen’s character is a senior executive for an outdoor sporting goods chain.

Shall we return to notions of hope? Late on Thursday, only hours after the terrible “Nine-Nine” news was unleashed, came a Hollywood Reporter story that its producers had fielded calls from TBS, Hulu and Netflix, each expressing interest in continuing the show. Two million viewers may not be enough for broadcast TV, but for a streaming service or basic cable, it might work just fine.

Part of the reason these outlets were moved to pounce is because of the wailing — not just from critics but the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Hamill.

The world does not need another upset Jedi.

TBS, Hulu and Netflix have good reasons for courting “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” NBC Universal has a stake in Hulu, so giving it a home makes sense. It extended the life of “The Mindy Project,” after all.

TBS is building its original comedy content brand, not to mention that its top executive Kevin Reilly originally brought “Nine-Nine” to Fox when he was in charge of the network.

And Netflix, as you may be aware, seems to be airing half of the series on planet Earth right now. Reviving another award-winning Fox cast-off, “Arrested Development,” worked in its favor, as does “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a show NBC developed but ultimately passed on.

Cancellation could very well be a temporary phase, then. And given this angry season the world is spinning through, I’d rather hold on to the hope of rebirth.

Why “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was unique

Stephanie Beatriz of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine" on why the show’s writing is a standout

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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