Stay Tuned: No ‘Doubt’ this show deserved to be cancelled
“Doubt,” the CBS lawyer show featuring Katherine Heigl, was cancelled after two episodes. The show had problems, as I make a case for below, but is there another case to be made for giving it more than two episodes to appeal to viewers? Can’t we give Katherine Heigl, who has had little success with TV since her stint on “Grey’s Anatomy,” more than 2 hours to convince us that this time, things will be different?
Sadly, no. Blame too much good TV. You can find it across streaming channels and subscription services but also on the traditional networks who, facing competition from a crowded TV landscape, don’t want to give viewers an easy reason to turn the channel. And “Doubt” made it really easy.
Let’s start with the show’s character problems. At the practice of Isaiah Roth (Elliot Gould), Sadie Ellis (Katherine Heigl) worked with close friend Albert Cobb (Dule Hill), Cameron Wirth (Laverne Cox), a transgender lawyer and two junior associates. While Heigl moved her performance robotically between impulsive risk-taker and serious fighter for justice, Hill’s primary role was to scowl in disapproval at Sadie’s tactics or generally be the no-nonsense voice of reason.
The junior associates were meant to be quirky competitors trying to best one another for the boss’ approval but the chemistry between the actors was zero and neither had the necessary charm. Gould, the biggest name star on the series, was given too little to do.
It was a bad sign that you could have replaced Heigl in the role of Sadie and barely notice. She gave such a bland performance, it was as if she was on acting autopilot. Barring some ingenious twists, the story of a lawyer falling in love with a potentially dangerous client (the show’s main plot) was too familiar to survive her unmemorable effort.
The underwhelming characters were also caught in the show’s confused tone. The case of the week plots, all two of them, were serious but then undermined with an odd lightheartedness. One featured the adult children of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease accusing her husband of rape because her illness prevented her from giving consent. The man accused, a former judge, had a heartfelt moment with his wife’s daughter in the hallway while Sadie sat next to him doing a crossword puzzle.
Cox’s transgender lawyer Cameron was an inclusive and contemporary addition to primetime but instead of offering opportunities to explore complex issues regarding gender and race within the context of cases and the character’s experience, the show reduced Cameron to giving simple monologues about life getting better.
From CBS’ point of view, “Doubt’s” swift cancellation was the result of having no interest in waiting to see if the poor ratings would improve and why should they wait? They know that the pressure is intense and the bar is high, particularly when a “Law & Order” episode is available to watch at a moment’s notice. What the show needed was to do better because viewers deserve better.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.