TV: 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' gets its second chance

Yvonne Villareal
Los Angeles Times

In a fitting setup even he couldn’t have written, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-creator Dan Goor was in the bathroom when he got the call that Fox had canceled the comedy after five seasons.

There had been rumblings about the fate of the show, but as Goor will tell you, there’s always talk like that these days unless a show is a mega hit. But this time, Goor’s agent was cautioning that cancellation was a real probability: “It was the first time anyone had seriously ever used that word.”

So when the call came in on Thursday, May 10 — a day and date Goor won’t soon forget — any usual phone protocols were out the window: “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to take this call. I’m not going to give them the courtesy of not being in the bathroom,” Goor says wryly with a bit of hindsight.

The oddball workplace comedy about a ragtag group of NYPD officers became another TV casualty unable to fend off growing trends in TV’s modern era. It never pulled in stellar enough ratings — its fifth season averaged around 2.7 million viewers with delayed viewing over a week factored in — and Fox didn’t have an ownership stake in the show at a time when TV networks push to own as much of their content as possible. (The comedy is owned and produced by Universal Television, the studio arm of NBC.)

That was the story for 31 hours.

But by late Friday night, through a combination of network musical chairs and a Twitter uproar fueled by stunned fans — including the powerhouse likes of Guillermo del Toro, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Hamill — “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” became the latest example of how a cancellation verdict in today’s TV isn’t always the death knell it used to be.

When it returns for its sixth season on Thursday, it will start its second life on a new network — one that originally passed on the comedy during its inception in 2012: NBC.

It’s just after 11 a.m. on a day in early November and production is underway at the show’s precinct set at the CBS Studio Center lot in Studio City. One would be forgiven for thinking those fraught days in May were a weird fever dream.

The show’s ensemble cast members — Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Andre Braugher, Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller — are back at it, gathered in the precinct’s briefing room as their characters learn about a new he said/she said case in what will be the show’s #MeToo episode. Beatriz, making her TV directorial debut, shuffles in and out of the scene as her character, Det. Rosa Diaz, while also reviewing footage. At the same time, Samberg is coming up with ad-libs for the final beats of the scene — suffice to say, when you have the group talking about a broken male sex organ, things get colorful and absurd.

Real life or trippin’?

Off-camera, when the topic of the show’s summer fiasco is brought up, it’s clear that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s” boomerang from death is still a bundle of confusion, sadness and ultimate joy.

For Samberg, who is also an executive producer on the show, it resulted in some pretty funny text chains: “I have two texts in a row from people a few hours apart where they go, ‘Dude, I’m so sorry,’ to, ‘Never mind, congratulations.’”

Goor realizes there will be a lot of attention on how the show performs when it makes its NBC debut. But, he says, all he has control over is to keep making the show that fans rallied hard to save.

“I don’t wanna let people down,” he says. “What NBC has said, and what our philosophy has been, is just to keep doing what we’re doing, to make more of the same show. At the point at which we were picked up by NBC, we’d made 112 episodes. So we know how to make those shows and that’s what we’re continuing to do … we still have budgets and production realities, so it’s not like we could suddenly start shooting an episode in Australia … although, if Australia wants us to come there and pays for it, we’d love to.”

So yes, a #MeToo episode in keeping with the show’s practice of occasionally taking on topical issues with its brand of comedy is on the docket. Goor says the writers are also considering a refugee or undocumented episode.

But that’s not to say the show isn’t evolving. Chelsea Peretti, who plays caustic administrative assistant Gina Linetti, will not appear as a series regular in the new season. And the show will play outside the bounds of its traditional format, with an episode set entirely in a crime scene. And of course, the show also has the marriage between Amy and Jake to consider after last season’s wedding finale.

“We’re not really forcing anything with them,” Goor says. “They have the kinds of hiccups and conversations that newlyweds have. There’s not necessarily a special arc for them.”

Crime with a twist

Created by “Parks and Recreation” vets Mike Schur and Goor, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was developed as an antidote of sorts to the high-stakes cop dramas that are fixtures of prime-time. It centers on Samberg’s Det. Jake Peralta, a goof who is also really good at his job, but audiences have also connected with his co-workers, in all their nutty and eccentric glory.

A show being canned by one network and rescued by another, while still rare, is not new. But the chances for a show beating death are more likely today with more outlets clamoring for content and the premium on loyal audiences — particularly for streaming services that aren’t as reliant on ratings and traditional TV advertising. (“Lucifer,” another Fox casualty from last season with a devoted fan base, is headed to Netflix this year.)

For Goor, the most eye-opening aftershock of the whole ordeal was seeing fans galvanize. He always knew the show had fans — many of which watch episodes online — but, he says, when you’re on the air for a long time, you can lose sight of what exactly that means. The show’s cancellation elicited a strong reaction online and within two hours of the news “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Brooklyn 99” were trending on Twitter, with fans pushing for the show to be saved.

“There wasn’t an occasion for people to rally,” Goor says. “But with this occasion — getting canceled — so many people came forward, in America and all around the world, and it was really like the most heartwarming and wonderful part of the whole thing. My wife was like, ‘Best-case scenario, they don’t pick up the show, you get to see your family again, and you get to know people liked it.”

But there was another best-case scenario: a reprieve.