Fans of FOX’s Back to You sitcom were shocked to learn that the Kelsey Grammer — Patricia Heaton series had been snuffed out after only one season. Most industry insiders had expected Back to You to return next fall. In fact, executive producer Steven Levitan said that FOX had assured him of a renewal on the same day that it was ultimately cancelled. So, what happened? Could the series still return for season two?
Though Back to You had a decent premiere (9.44 million viewers), subsequent episodes fell to a low of 6.4 million. On the two occasions that FOX gave the sitcom the coveted timeslot following American Idol, viewership shot up to 12.15 million. Unfortunately, that number seems less impressive when you consider that’s less than half of the Idol lead-in. What’s more, when Back to You was moved out of that timeslot, the numbers fell back to six or seven million viewers.
Levitan believes that the sitcom was just not a good fit with FOX. He told the Pittsbugh Post-Gazette, “We’ve been on the wrong network from the start. We got talked into it. That was our blunder… We were on a network that appealed to a different kind of people than we’re aiming for… FOX has a lot of people who tune in for American Idol and then they tune out.”
Interestingly enough, when the series was being developed, FOX, ABC, and CBS all wanted the sitcom. “FOX had the better deal and lots of big promises they didn’t keep,” Levitan notes. “And the one person who didn’t bid on it was Kevin Reilly at NBC, and then he [soonafter] came over to run FOX.”
Discussing the cancellation, FOX Entertainment chief Reilly said, “This was not an easy decision but with that kind of top-profile talent and… proximity to [American Idol] in the second half of the season, the expectations were higher.” He continued, “The show did not seem to be striking a chord, and in terms of creative direction… it was a pretty mixed bag.”
Levitan says, “We were surprised [by the cancellation], but not shocked? Nothing surprises me with [FOX] anymore.”
It’s been suggested that ‘Til Death was renewed instead of Back to You because the Grammer — Heaton sitcom was more expensive to produce. Levitan counters that he was never asked to look into ways to trim the show’s budget to make a second year possible. Grammer notes that the budget wouldn’t have been an issue if the network had wanted to renew the sitcom. “That’s rarely a stumbling block if they really want a show,” he said. “There are ways around that. They just really didn’t want it.”
There has been talk that the sitcom might move to another network, most likely CBS. A handful of episodes were sent to CBS Corp chief executive Leslie Moonves for viewing. Levitan concedes, “It’s always a long shot, but they [CBS] took JAG from NBC and that turned out to be a hit for them for years, so it’s not unprecedented. But it is a long shot.”
Grammer called Moonves personally and the exec said that the network was considering it. When he later called Nina Tassler, the CBS Entertainment president, Grammer says she dismissed the idea. The former Frasier star said, “I really believe in the show. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have tried to fight for it.”
Though the sitcom’s chances for survival seem quite grim, 20th Century Fox Television (who produces the series) is reportedly still trying to find a new home for it. Their deadline is June 11th, likely when show contracts expire. Fans of the series are still actively campaigning to save their show by sending money (in a symbolic gesture to help offset production costs) and water bottles (a reference to a particular episode). Presumably they’d also like to see FOX air the remaining four episodes as well.
Admittedly, the sitcom’s return is a long shot at best. In the event that Back to You stays cancelled, Grammer has been signed to join the Roman’s Empire pilot for ABC. Empire’s a single-camera comedy and Grammer will play the patriarch of a wealthy and eccentric family. There are also rumblings that co-star Heaton would like to do a daytime talk show. The actress had been interested in doing one when Everybody Loves Raymond ended but took herself out of the running when she signed on to do Back to You.