Scott D. Pierce: A fan campaign didn’t save ‘Magnum P.I.’ A business deal did.

As the detective show moves from CBS to NBC, our critic ponders the worst cancellation ever.

(Photo courtesy Karen Neal/CBS) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum in “Magnum P.I.” The series was canceled this season by CBS, but is being picked up by NBC.

NBC has saved “Magnum P.I” from cancellation, and the show’s fans are patting themselves on the back for their efforts to revive the series after CBS canceled it.

I’m happy for “Magnum” fans. I really am. But the truth is that their campaign didn’t have anything to do with saving the show. The cancellation was a business decision. The pickup was a business decision.

When CBS axed “Magnum” in May, it was a bit of a surprise. The series averaged 7.3 million viewers and a 0.7 rating in the 18-49 demo in its fourth season — not great, but not terrible, although down from the previous season.

The numbers that really mattered had dollar signs in front of them. “Magnum” is produced by Universal Television, and CBS would not agree to pay as much for the show as Universal wanted. And CBS didn’t have any incentive to pick it up because it doesn’t own the show, so it wasn’t going to make any money off “Magnum” when it is sold in repeats.

NBC and Universal are — surprise! — both part of NBCUniversal. So, basically, the company sold “Magnum, P.I.” to itself. Because it does stand to benefit from selling the episodes after they air on the NBC broadcast network.

By the way, NBC ordered two more seasons, but each will be only 10 episodes. Seasons 1, 2 and 4 were each 20 episodes; the pandemic-shortened season 3 was 16 episodes.

And I’m not telling you that “Magnum P.I.” viewers had nothing to do with the show being snatched from the jaws of death. But their contribution was watching the show, not emailing or going on social media trying to save it.

(AP Photo | Paramount) "Star Trek" cast members DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, William Shatner, George Takei and James Doohan, from left.

Conscious uncanceling

Quite a few series have been saved from cancellation over the years — either moving to new outlets or staying put — and some of them have been successful, in one way or the other.

That list includes “My Three Sons,” “Star Trek,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Family Guy,” “Lucifer,” “Arrested Development,” “The Expanse,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Mindy Project,” “Last Man Standing,” “Nashville,” “Cougar Town,” “Futurama,” “Scrubs” and “Stargate SG-1.” Just to name a few.

There are exceptions, but a canceled show generally doesn’t turn into a big hit when it’s saved. Often, it’s the opposite. There was a huge amount of noise and a well-orchestrated campaign that convinced CBS to change its mind after it canceled “Jericho” in 2008, and the network brought the series back for a seven-episode second season.

But despite all the publicity, “Jericho” tanked in the ratings. The most-watched season 2 episode was seen by fewer viewers than the least-watched season 1 episode.

And it served as early proof that, in the age of social media, a loud campaign to save a show doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

(Bill Inoshita |CBS) "JAG" stars Catherine Bell and David James Elliott guest star in an episode of "NCIS: Los Angeles."

Worst cancellation ever?

Way back in 1996, NBC, riding high atop the ratings, canceled “JAG” after a single season. It didn’t even air the last of 22 episodes it produced.

CBS, mired in third place, saved “JAG” from cancellation. The ratings rose, peaking at No. 15 in season 7, and CBS aired nine seasons and 205 episodes, for a total of 227.

But that’s not the end of the story. In 2003, CBS launched a spinoff from “JAG” — a little show you might have heard of titled “NCIS.” It’s still airing on CBS today, 19 seasons and 435 episodes (and counting) later. It’a been in the top five of the ratings for the past 14 seasons, hitting No. 1 in 2012-13

And “NCIS” spawned three spinoffs of its own: “NCIS: Los Angeles” (2008-present), 13 seasons, 382 episodes (and counting); “NCIS: New Orleans” (2014-2021), seven seasons; 155 episodes; and “NCIS: Hawaii” (2021-present), one season, 22 episodes (and counting).

That’s 1,199 episodes of “JAG,” its spinoff and its spinoff’s spinoffs, which have made CBS billions of dollars because NBC canceled “JAG” 26 years ago.

(Sonja Flemming/CBS) Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle and William Petersen as Gil Grissom in "CSI: Vegas."

Worst programming decision ever?

ABC didn’t cancel “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” because it never aired the show. But after Disney-owned Touchstone Studios developed it with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Disney-owned ABC refused to air it. And both NBC and Fox also passed.

But CBS was interested. Execs at Disney/Touchstone pulled out of the series, thinking that would kill the project, but CBS Studios stepped in as the production partner.

“CSI” debuted in 2000 and was No. 10 in the ratings that season. It was No. 2 the following season and No. 1 the season after that, and remained in the top four or five the next six seasons. It ran 15 seasons and 335 episodes, with a two-hour finale that aired in 2015.

It also spawned multiple spinoffs: “CSI: Miami” (2002-2012), 10 seasons, 232 episodes; “CSI: New York” (2004-2013) nine seasons, 197 episodes; “CSI: Cyber” (2015-2016), two seasons, 31 episodes; and “CSI: Vegas” (2021-present), one season, 10 episodes (and counting).

That’s 807 hours of “CSI” and its spinoffs, which have made CBS billions of dollars because ABC programmers and studio execs didn’t realize what they had 22 years ago.

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