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June 09, 2008

'The Shield' gets an air date

The final season of FX's "The Shield" finally has a premiere date: Sept. 2.

"The Shield" usually airs in the spring, so fans are waiting a long time for the acclaimed drama's return.

Rating wise, taking longer-than-necessary scheduling breaks didn't work for fellow serialized show "The Sopranos." Or "Lost." Or "Jericho." Or "Heroes." In fact, it pretty much always results in an alarming viewership drop, and it's a wonder networks nowadays allow a hit show to ever go off the air at all.

FX certainly knows this. The 13-episode seventh season of "The Shield" was shot before the strike, but showrunner Shawn Ryan's editing/polishing/post/etc was detoured. Still, the network could have (perhaps should have) launched the show in March against weakened broadcast network competitors.

FX's reasons for the hold up:

Once the strike concluded and the window opened, marketing efforts would've needed to be rushed, making some of the usual ads buys impossible. FX had already moved up “Dirt” (now canceled) and “The Riches” (no decision yet) into the spring, so the schedule was cluttered. Plus, FX wants to drive “The Shield” viewers to its upcoming new series “Sons of Anarchy,” a show that won’t be ready until the fall.

As for the summer, “The Shield” has never aired in summer, audience levels are low, and FX proved with “Nip/Tuck” it's one of the few cable networks that can withstand fall broadcast competition.

One aspect that's sure to be different than “The Sopranos," however, is the series’ conclusion.

An impressive aspect of  "The Shield" is that heavy critic praise and FX's relative creative freedom have not caused Ryan's storytelling to run off the rails. "The Shield" doesn't seem to have a sense of its own reputation; its writing has remained grounded and disciplined rather than reflect a showrunner's ambition. From "Seinfeld" to "The Sopranos," writers of acclaimed programs have a tough time resisting the urge to elevate their series finales to museum pieces, abstract art for critics to debate throughout the ages. If anybody can pragmatically put their show's story ahead of his own desire to create an enigmatic legacy, it's Ryan.

“From what I’ve been told from those who have seen the finale,” an FX spokesperson said, “the fans will be surprised and satisfied.”


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