Starz cancels ‘Party Down’; Rob Thomas sad but not surprised

“I want to wake up some day and know what it’s like to have good ratings.”

This was “Party Down” co-creator Rob Thomas, on the phone with me about an hour after he got the unsurprising but still depressing news that Starz had pulled the plug on his series.

“No one on our side is particularly shocked by the news,” Thomas said. “Frankly, the waiting has been excruciating, and there’s a certain amount of relief in knowing and being able to move on.”

“Party Down” had been in a holding pattern for months. The second season finished filming late in ’09, and new Starz president Chris Albrecht – who was not with the network when the show was developed, and who was at HBO back when that channel passed on an earlier iteration of the series – wasn’t in a hurry to order a third, even though all the actors were on one-year contracts and available to take other jobs that would prevent them from returning to the show. (It had already happened with Jane Lynch, and it happened this year with Adam Scott and Ryan Hansen.)

Albrecht said in January that he wanted to see how the show performed when it came back and… it did not perform well. “Party Down” was one of the funniest comedies on television, but it was also one of the least-watched. The season finale drew an average of 74,000 viewers, according to TV By the Numbers. That is not a good total.

(Even worse: the 54,000 who watched the finale of “Gravity” that aired immediately afterwards, which led Starz to cancel that as well.)

“After careful consideration, we”ve decided not to continue on with subsequent seasons of ‘Party Down’ and ‘Gravity,’” Starz executive vice president of programming Stephan Shelanski said in a statement. “We”re grateful to everyone involved in the shows, and are proud to have had them on the channel. Starz remains committed to aggressively expanding our original programming lineup.”

“We were heading for a third season” before Albrecht was hired, said Thomas (who couldn’t talk long because he still had to inform several of his actors of the cancellation). “There’s little to no doubt that we were going to get one until Chris came in. But I do think if we had done better numbers, Chris would’ve kept us. I don’t think Chris wanted to come in and clean house. I just don’t think he had quite the emotional attachment that people who had been at Starz through the birth of the show had towards it.”

As co-creator John Enbom, who ran the show on a day-to-day basis, put it to me in last week’s interview, “We also understand it’s not the highest-rated show in the world, and I’m sure they would love to have something that breaks through in a more mainstream kind of way. For better or for worse, we understand the position we’re in and that we can’t get too self-righteously indignant about the fate of the show. They can always show us an audience spreadsheet and we can kind of shrug.”

Update: Also, I don’t want this post to just be a lament about the show’s low ratings, but a celebration of its awesomeness, so here are a couple of choice clips, starting with one from the series finale: