Good news: "Onion News Network" and "Southland" will return

For cable viewers, two pieces of good news arrived today: "Onion News Network" and "Southland" have both been renewed.

These shows have nothing in common except that they are different from most and are well-made. Details include:

-- "Onion News Network" currently has reruns at 10 p.m. Fridays on IFC (Independent Film Channel); for that matter, it has lots of reruns ... this Friday (March 25), they go from 7:30-10:30 p.m. This is a pseudo-newscast, with the terse wit of the Onion pseudo-newspaper. Now it's been renewed for 16 episodes. It returns in October -- the same time that IFC has the six-episode second season of another excellent show, David Cross' "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret."

-- "Southland" is a cop show done with a quiet sense of character. TNT has renewed it for 10 episodes -- which is a lot when you consider that the show has totaled only 23 episodes in three seasons.

When I interviewed the "Southland" stars, prior to the season finale, they were moderately optimistic they'd be back. Here's the story, in the version I sent to papers at the time:


In the stop-and-go life of “Southland,”
there's a thin line between a season-finale and a death sentence.

This cop show has needed three seasons
to reach 23 episodes – a one-year load for most series. And as that
23rd one airs Tuesday -- (that was a few weeks ago) -- no one is positive there will be
any more.

“I think the show is getting picked
up,” said Michael Cutlitz, one of the show's two main stars. “I
think it's a matter of how many (episodes).”

What if he's wrong and Tuesday's
episode is the last? “I would just say we (made the) series that we
set out to produce,” he said. “And TNT has given us the
opportunity to do that, unflinchingly.”

That's clear in Tuesday's episode,
which works both ways. It would make a decent series finale, wrapping
up key plot lines; or it could propel “Southland” to survival …

NBC aired seven episodes in the spring
of 2009, giving them the old “ER” slot. It then put the show on
its fall schedule, but gave it a tough slot (8 p.m. Fridays), because
Jay Leno had all the 10 p.m. ones. And then it changed its mind,
airing none of the six new episodes it had paid for.

That's when TNT stepped in. It showed
those six episodes last spring, then had 10 more this year.

It did it with a lower budget that may
actually make this a better show. Instead of doing a scene over and
over, “Southland” has several cameras – often hand-held ones –
working simultaneously.

“We don't run down the street 12
times …. Usually, we run down it once or twice,” said Ben
McKenzie, who stars with Cudlitz.

In his old days as the “O.C.” star,
fight scenes were carefully planned. “Every fight I've ever been in
in my own personal life is not choreographed,” McKenzie said.

So for the the big fight in the season-finale, he
and the guest villain – an actor and stunt man who also happens to
be a mixed-martial-arts fighter (“in real life, he would kick my
butt”) – simply improvised. “It's messy,” McKenzie said. “And
that's the way a lot of fights are – messy.”

The result seems both raw and
realistic. So do the show's character issues.

McKenzie plays Ben Sherman, just
starting out as a street cop; Tuesday's episode follows his last day
as a rookie. Cudlitz plays John Cooper, his no-nonsense training

“You have two guys who couldn't be
more different on the face of it, but are actually more similar than
either of them realize,” McKenzie said.

Both are idealists, but Cooper hides
that under a pragmatic surface: Afraid of getting desk duty, he
refuses to report his bad back; instead, he has a mountain of pain
pills, only some of them prescribed.

He's a decent guy, if misguided. Now
he's heading toward a turning point as something – maybe the
season, maybe the series – ends.