Viewers may have forgotten, but CBS uncanceled its 2011-2012 police drama “Unforgettable” about seven weeks after it originally canceled the show in May 2012. That was more than a year ago, and “Unforgettable” is only getting back on the CBS prime-time schedule Sunday at 8 p.m.
Though summer is sometimes a burn-off season, in this case a summer relaunch for the Poppy Montgomery-starrer was always the plan.
Broadcast networks have been ramping up their original summer programming in recent years, moving beyond burn-offs and reality shows. ABC and NBC largely opted for less-expensive acquisitions of foreign series (“Rookie Blue” for ABC, “Crossing Lines” and “Camp” for NBC), but CBS decided to go with its own made-in-America shows. Already, CBS’s “Under the Dome” has been a solid performer. Now the network hopes to successfully relaunch “Unforgettable.”
Montgomery, previously a star of the 2002-2009 drama “Without a Trace,” returned to CBS in “Unforgettable” in fall 2011 playing Carrie Wells, a former police detective with a rare condition that makes her memory flawless. In the show’s first season, she returned to police work, joining her ex-boyfriend, Al Burns (Dylan Walsh), on the police squad in New York’s Queens Borough. Her effort to solve the long-ago murder of her sister always lurked in the background.
A few concessions
Series creators Ed Redlich and John Bellucci said the reprieve did not come with budget concessions attached.
“We said to (production company) Sony, we wanted to make the same show, we didn’t want to be making a low-rent version of the show,” Redlich said. “CBS was very clear they wanted the same show, and in a way they wanted a bigger show.”
“It’s more action-oriented,” Bellucci added, “and more Manhattan-based. They specifically asked for it back as a summer show and we wanted something that feels exciting that summer viewers would want to see.”
In Sunday night’s “Unforgettable” season premiere, which producers referred to as a second pilot, Carrie and Al move to a new workplace in Manhattan. They’re recruited to join a fictional NYPD major-crimes squad with broad jurisdiction over a multitude of criminal cases.
Their new high-tech office is in a skyscraper and the pair report to a new boss, Eliot Delson (Dallas Roberts, “The Good Wife,” ‘‘The Walking Dead”). There are two other new characters, former FBI agent Cherie Rollins-Murray (Tawny Cypress) and detective Jay Lee (James Hiroyuki Liao). These additions to the cast were accompanied by some deletions from the Queens squad, with actors Kevin Rankin, Michael Gaston and Daya Vaidya departing “Unforgettable.”
Even before the season-two makeover, producers made adjustments through the first season, most notably by adding actress Jane Curtin (“3rd Rock from the Sun”) as medical examiner Joanne Webster. The goal was to add a character with a lighter touch who could have camaraderie with Carrie and share some wisdom.
“We wanted to open the show up a little,” Redlich said, “and back off being so tightly wound.”
Curtin continues with the show in season two. As a condition of moving to their new jobs in Manhattan, Carrie and Al insist on bringing Joanne with them.
“Joanne got thrown out of Manhattan and has a personal history with the new boss, so he’s not excited to have her back,” Redlich said. “They don’t care for each other that much. There are some funny scenes between them.”
The show’s Achilles’ heel in its first season was a dearth of younger viewers. Bellucci said he’s optimistic that efforts to increase the action and high-tech quotient and create a summer-feel series may help draw younger viewers to a show with a lead “character with incredible gifts that she’s almost a bit of a superhero with what she can do.”
The show’s serial storylines will be put mostly on the backburner in favor of stand-alone episodes. Any hints of romance between Carrie and Al will simmer rather than coming to a full boil.
“By creating this new boss character — we didn’t have a boss in the first season — it lets us unite the two of them in opposition to the new boss,” Redlich said. “And it takes Al out of the position of having to be her boss so much.”
As for Carrie’s search for her sister’s killer, that will also remain mostly on the sidelines.
“It is part of the show, but in a lesser way,” Redlich said. “We come back to it in a very nice way in (the premiere) as Carrie debates whether to move to Manhattan and what that means for her quest to find her sister’s killer.”
Season two of “Unforgettable” will have 13 episodes, with eight airing this summer. After that, producers don’t know when the remaining five episodes will air. And they don’t know what sort of benchmark for success CBS will employ for a returning series in summer.
“We wonder a lot about that and they have never actually talked about it at all,” Redlich said. “They just did incredibly well with ‘Under the Dome’ and we hope a little of that good mojo wears off on us.”