"Due South" literally heads due south again, returning to the United States from its chilly northern origins. The quirky action-adventure show--shot in Toronto by Canadian-owned Alliance TV--returns to CBS at 8 tonight (courtesy of the cancellation of "Dweebs" and the hiatus of "The Bonnie Hunt Show").
But wait a minute--wasn't "Due South" canceled last spring? Yup.
With an upright Mountie (Paul Gross), a seasoned Chicago cop (David Marciano) and a deaf wolf as its central characters, "Due South" received both mediocre ratings and reviews last season and was given the boot by CBS programming chief Peter Tortorici.
Two developments led to its getting a rare second chance to find success.
The first was that Tortorici lost his job soon after the fall schedule was unveiled. He was replaced by Les Moonves, a "Due South" fan. "When I took over this job," he said, "it was a show that I personally felt had a great potential that hadn't been realized."
That in itself wouldn't have been enough to warrant trying to revive the dead. But unlike most shows that immediately halt production upon cancellation, "Due South" wasn't dead.
Because it was a Canadian production, the show was also airing on the Canadian network CTV, which wanted it back. The Alliance executives scrambled to replace the CBS portion of its financing with other revenue--mostly through foreign distribution rights--and kept it alive. The first of 13 episodes began shooting at the end of August.
So when CBS got off to a dismal start in September and Moonves began searching for replacement programs, "Due South" was there.
"We'd knocked on their door a couple of times to let them know we're around and still in production," said Michael Weisbarth, Alliance's executive vice president, who is based in Beverly Hills.
Alliance also credits a strong fan response for the show's reprise, explaining that it had received about 4,000 U.S. Internet e-mail messages and more than 10,000 mail-in letters from viewers. Moonves acknowledged the "tremendous fan response" and said, "We want to put out the message that we're listening to what they're saying."
"Due South" is only one element in CBS' Friday night overhaul. "Diagnosis Murder," the Dick Van Dyke mystery series, rejoins the lineup at 9 tonight and "Picket Fences" returns to the 10 p.m. slot it had occupied until this fall.
"With less than stellar results, we opted to go back to a more traditional CBS Friday night," Moonves said, meaning programs that aren't so heavily targeted at young adults.
By the time CBS decided to pick up "Due South," five new episodes were completed. The network will pay a reduced rate for those, then return to "the full, traditional licensing fee" for the remaining three that it's committed to, Weisbarth said.
But Moonves emphasized that the bargain CBS gets with the five produced episodes didn't play a part in the network's decision. "We're looking at quality programming," he said, "not to cut costs."
All of which makes "Due South's" cast and crew "feel great," said executive producer Kathy Slevin. "It's extremely rewarding. Nobody had any realistic notion we'd come back [to the U.S.]. I've never known a show of this size and expense to accomplish such a feat."
* "Due South" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on CBS (Channel 2).