November 2, 2013

THE SKED: No Happy Ending For “The Client List”


Lifetime’s cancellation of THE CLIENT LIST after two seasons is unusual enough to be worthy of some note.

Here’s the thing:  Client List was still, despite some ratings dip in Season 2, a clear success for Lifetime, running at about 2M viewers and 0.7 in 18-49s.  Bidding it adieu was hardly an obvious move, especially now that the network has put Army Wives out to pasture, and while Devious Maids is a definite new hit, Witches of East End is a more moderate one, at or below Client List‘s level.

It seems fairly clear that the only reason Client List didn’t survive was because both Lifetime and the show’s studio Sony Television decided that life was too short to continue dealing with producer/star Jennifer Love Hewitt.  Now, in order to really get the enormity of that decision, you have to remember that coping with tempermental, demanding talent is what network and studio executives do for a living–it’s at least as critical a part of their required skill-set as developing good shows.  (Ask NBC what it’s like on the Dick Wolf train, or AMC about Matthew Weiner, or ABC and 20th about the cast of Modern Family and their sit-out last year )  Even 2 1/2 Men stayed on the air after the Charlie Sheen extravaganza and some recasting.

Recasting wasn’t really an option on Client List, though, which was built around Hewitt.  Nor was money the issue.  (And there was no strong producer with his or her own clout on the show like Chuck Lorre on Men.)  The problem was that Hewitt was reportedly mixing her private life with the series, insisting that the baby her character Riley was carrying be fathered by Kyle, Riley’s previously estranged husband–who just happened to be played by Brian Hallisay, in real life Hewitt’s partner and the father of her actual child.  This plot point brought the issue to a head, but viewers of Client List couldn’t help but notice how throughout Season 2, Kyle became an increasingly important and sympathetic presence on a show that had begun with his deserting Riley, the catalyst for her becoming a “masseuse” in the first place.  It’s one thing for a star to want his or her current love to get a part, another when that part starts taking over the show.

The lesson here for stars:  make sure you have as much leverage as you think you do, because even network and studio execs have their breaking point.  The interesting sequel to the story, of course, will be how long it takes for another network and studio to sign Jennifer Love Hewitt, an unquestionable TV star, to her next show.  Hey, is that NBC on the phone?



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."