October 2, 2013

PREMIERING TONIGHT: THE SKED Pilot Report – NBC’s “Ironside”


IRONSIDE:  Wednesday 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel

“There are rules, dammit, and they need to be followed!”  That actual line is spoken, with a completely straight face, about four minutes into the pilot for NBC’s reboot of IRONSIDE, and it may rightly make your heart sink.  We know we’re in 2013, because Blair Underwood isn’t Raymond Burr, and the phrase “son of a bitch” is heard during the hour, but for all the creakiness of the dramatic machinery here, we might as well be back in 1967, when the first Ironside wheeled its way onto network TV.

So yes, this Ironside (Underwood) is a maverick cop who follows his own damn rules, for approximately the nine zillionth time in the history of primetime television.  The one thing that sets him apart from all the others, as in 1967, is that a gunshot to his spinal cord has put him into a wheelchair, which the show is strenuously concerned with assuring us (a sex scene, some fierce exercise, striking a suspect) hasn’t slowed him down at all.  Ironside has a hand-picked team as bland and unmemorable as he is:  forensic accountant Teddy (Neal Bledsoe), street-smart Virgil (Pablo Schreiber, who deserves much, much better) and hot Holly (Spencer Grammer, from Greek).  He also comes equipped with the standard sputtering commanding officer (the “There are rules!” comment, naturally, is his), Captain Rollins (Kenneth Choi), whose job it is to reluctantly admit that dammit, Ironside was right.  There’s also Ironside’s alcoholic ex-partner Stanton (Brent Sexton, Rosie Larsen’s father from The Killing), who’s nursing a secret you can see coming as soon as you meet him.

Also obvious:  the identity of the pilot’s villain.  Michael Caleo’s script (he was a writer, although at a very junior level, on The Sopranos and Rescue Me) barely bothers to hide where the story is going, and since that one story is all the pilot has–a beautiful young investment banker has jumped or been pushed from a roof–all you can do is sit back and watch Ironside roll through his paces, as director Peter Horton’s jumpy handheld camera tries to inject some excitement into the general dreariness.  Underwood is fine and, if anything, the supporting actors have pedigrees far above this level of material, but it’s a firmly one-dimensional project for all concerned.

Because of Caleo’s showrunning inexperience, as a series Ironside will be run by Ken Sanzel, a veteran Executive Producer of Blue Bloods and Numb3rs, and indeed, Ironside would fit in very well on CBS’s Friday night line-up, where 80-85% of the typical Blue Bloods audience is over 50 years old.  Those are the viewers NBC seems to be courting on Wednesdays, scheduling Ironside back-to-back with Law & Order: SVU (that show is about 70% over 50).  If that’s the strategy, then good luck–but it takes some doing to create a new series that makes the 14-year old original CSI, its direct competition, look spry, and Ironside is that kind of old-fashioned.  The happiest network in the hour should be ABC, because with those two dinosaurs battling against each other, Nashville will practically seem like Nickelodeon fare.


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."