In a taped bit from "Something So Right" that may or may not ever make it on the air, Carly (Mel Harris) awakes suddenly and relates a startling dream to her husband, Jack (Jere Burns). It seemed that the family was being "pecked to death" by a peacock, so she heeded a voice that said, "Go toward the yellow."It was a not-so-subtle shot at NBC, which canceled "Something," allowing ABC to pick up the show. (It returns on its new network Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on Ch. 4.) But the process by which NBC dropped the show didn't play out quite like being attacked by a vicious bird.
"It was a quicker death than being pecked to death," said executive producer Judd Pillot.
"We were alive and healthy one day and dead as a doornail the next," said his partner, John Peaslee.
Network television is a strange business. But the odyssey of "Something So Right" is a stranger story than most. And part of that comes from the fact that, according to the producers, NBC didn't quite know what to make of the show last season.
Last season, it was NBC's only comedy that included children as regular members of the cast. (That trend continues at NBC, with only the often-unseen baby on "Mad About You" representing the younger generation.)
"Something So Right" is sort of a modern-day "Brady Bunch." It's the story of the marriage between Carly (who has two ex-husbands and a child by each) and Jack (who has one ex-wife and a daughter).
"I think at NBC, we were an experiment," Pillot said. "We were a hip family show, and there really had never been that kind of a show (at that network). I think they liked us, but I don't think they needed us as much.
"And on ABC, which is known more for family shows, we do fit in better."
"What we always felt was that the people who were watching `Must See TV' didn't really want to see a show with kids - or at least they had to be coaxed into wanting to watch a show with kids," Peas-lee said. "Whereas people, it seems to us, who are watching ABC don't have that wall of resistance up."
And NBC programmers tried their best to make "Something So Right" fit the so-called "Must See TV" mold.
"They tried to do several different things with us - `Make it more adult.' We were more adult for a while. `Make it more family like.' We did that," Pillot said. "And the pendulum kept swinging and one thing we learned is that the show can handle either end of the spectrum. We can go very adult and hardly see the kids at all. Or we can rely on the kids and the family as an additional character. I think if we always write to the series and the complexities of this kind of a family, we always come out on top."
But the show didn't come out on top at NBC - despite every indication that it was going to and no indication that the show was in trouble.
"There were absolutely no warnings," Peaslee said. "We sat in (NBC Entertainment President) Warren Littlefield's office the week before the NBC (schedule) announcement, and he told us where we were going to be on the fall schedule. And he had a few pieces of advice to give us about what he'd like to see in the show for the second season. But the whole tenor of the meeting was, `Let's talk about what we're going to do next year creatively.' "
However, things can change fairly quickly in network television.
"And about three days later, one of our agents called up and said, `There's a little problem at NBC. They had a screening over there and something tested pretty well,' " Peaslee said. `And we went, `Oh.'
"And about 24 hours after that, they said, `Well, it's a big problem now.' And then the next thing we knew . . .
"There was no problem," finished Pillot.
Even for TV veterans like Pillot and Peaslee (former executive producers of "Coach") and stars Burns and Harris, the cancellation was stunning.
"It was really, really a shock," Pillot said. "Literally everybody was saying, `Oh, you're a shoo-in. Everybody is saying you're definitely on.' We've been doing it long enough to know that that sounds good, but who knows? And then - boom! - we were gone. We were off.
"Sometimes when a show goes away, everybody shakes hands and nods and goes, `Well, yeah. we understand why and it was time.' This show was just taking off."
And, actually, it was after the unexpected cancellation that the saga of "Something So Right" really got strange. For one thing, the show's ratings improved in reruns. For another, it won the prestigious Humanitas Prize.
"It got to be very frustrating after we were canceled by NBC," Pillot said. "It was like we were more respectable in death than we had been in life. And that was part of the wave, I think, that led to us being picked up by ABC."
Oddly enough, for a time, not only was ABC pursuing the show but NBC was trying to get it back.
"After NBC had canceled the show, and the show had gone on to fly in the ratings and win the Humanitas (Prize), NBC wanted to pick it up again," Burns said. "And it was too late."
"They wanted it back, but it was already too late," Peaslee said.
Littlefield doesn't have a lot to say on the subject, but he did admit,"We probably made a mis-take."
Once NBC canceled the show and the actors' contracts had expired, ABC signed Burns to a production deal. And, the more they got to thinking about it, the more ABC programmers thought they didn't need to develop a new show for the actor.
"We liked the show and we think it will do very well for us," said ABC Entertainment Chairman Stu Bloomberg.
And the new network didn't see the need to make any changes in "Something So Right."
"The show is very much the same as it was last year," Peaslee said. "We're getting all the advantages of being a second-year show, which is that you know exactly what works and what doesn't work. I think we've done a little bit more physical comedy this year, but basically the show is the same.
"We liked the show last year. We were surprised when it was canceled, so it didn't feel broken and it didn't feel like it needed to be fixed."'
The only real change this season is that the ex-husbands and ex-wife are semi-regulars.
And it was strangely fortuitous that the producers were able to bring back all the actors. "It was just pure luck that we were able to pull the cast back together," Peaslee said.
"NBC, right up to the end, talked about picking the show up, so none of the actors had gone off and done other pilots," he said. "Because all of the people on this show work all the time, and normally if you'd thought you were going to be canceled I think everybody here would have gone out and gotten into second position on another pilot. But it came so out-of-the-blue that nobody lined up to do another pilot."
And there's no bitterness toward NBC - not with the way things worked out.
"Warren gave us a gift he didn't know he was giving us when he canceled us," Pillot said. "When we were picked up by ABC we went into our sophomore season with an amazing freedom. Because it's like the movie `Fearless' - once you've been dead, they can't hurt you anymore."