TV Review | Make or Break TV: Unsub

Canadian content: Unsub is one of Stephen J. Cannell’s Vancouver-produced series.  I’m glad to see Make or Break TV find ways to meet CanCon regulations while still talking about American shows.  A show like Make or Break TV would work better in the United States, where there isn’t the need to limit the subject matter just for a cultural mandate.  I love Canadian regulatory laws.

Unsub has a good reputation among Cannell fans.  The Thrilling Detective Web Site considers Unsub one of the best things Cannell ever did, while SFF Net calls it underappreciated by all but a few people.  Renegade does not stir the same emotions in people.

Former NBC president Warren Littlefield is given intense face time on Make or Break TV.  The man made NBC a ratings powerhouse in the mid-1990s, but no wonder he was fired in 1998.  He’s such a smug, unlikable bastard.

Littlefield has a laundry list of excuses why NBC was skittish about Unsub, his excuses being variations on “I was expecting The A-Team/Hunter/Stingray” or “it made advertisers uneasy.”  It almost sounds like he wanted the show to fail.

Littlefield even complains about Unsub‘s name – “is it a submarine? is it underwater?”  Hey Littlefield, what’s a seaQuest DSV?  Is it a quest?  Is it a sea?  Is DSV some guy’s initials?  Network executives must think people are mentally five.

I like how Littlefield says Unsub was not Miami Vice, the show Unsub displaced in February 1989.  Unsub‘s debut episode, a lovely little number called “White Bone Demon,” made former NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff blanch when it was first screened for him, yet Unsub was green-lit and fast-tracked because Stephen J. Cannell.  Creative control is wacky!

Cannell is interesting to listen to.  The man knows what he’s talking about and obviously knows how to make a critically-acclaimed, successful show.  Even some of his critic-proof shows, like The A-Team, have gained a measure of respect years after their cancellation.  He’s as entertaining as Littlefield is stultifying.

There’s one thing Cannell does that surprises me.  He talks about Unsub being the most interesting show of 1988-89.  He says he gave Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues a run for its money.  Uh, Cannell, don’t you mean L.A. Law?  Hill Street Blues was cancelled in 1987.  Why does he mention Steven Bochco, of all people?

This episode of Make or Break TV is sloppily edited in places.  The Unsub clip used in the beginning of the show cuts the chosen dialogue off in mid-sentence.  There is a choppy edit from Stephen J. Cannell to MoBTV‘s “where are they now?” wrap-up.  These are minor faults, which makes me wonder how quickly these episodes are produced.  I hope this is not the start of a trend.

I’d lament the lack of Cannell product currently on television, but many of his series – The Commish, Silk Stalkings, The Greatest American Hero, even Profit – are on DVD.  The A-Team and The Greatest American Hero have been turned into film properties.  It’s hard to escape the man.

Cannell will be around for at least ten more years, in one form or another.  He did create one of television history’s most enduring closing logos:

Ahhh, cheesy.

Cameron Archer

Owner/Writer at Gloryosky
Cameron Archer runs this site, and is a freelance arts writer. He has contributed to Canadian Screenwriter since 2011. He is a CMG Freelance member.
Cameron Archer