TNT premieres their new drama Southland tonight ... except that it's not really new. Southland was an early casualty at NBC this season; many suspect it was The Jay Leno Show at 10 PM ET that did it in. The content was too dark (and it is) and sophisticated for the earlier time slot. Now that NBC is yanking Jay from prime time, I wonder if they regret this decision. I don't, because I think the looser restrictions of cable will only benefit this show.

I'm one of the people who missed out on seeing Southland last season when it took over ER's time slot on Thursday nights. So TNT was kind enough to send me the first and last episodes of the first season, which ran only seven episodes. The first is an extended episode, with six additional minutes of footage. It will air with no commercial interruptions.

Let me say that it is a fantastic debut episode. I have no idea which six minutes were added, though there are some graphic moments both visually and with language that I suspect are additions. I immediately liked the rapport between John Cooper and his rookie trainee, Ben Sherman. John's a dick cop, though definitely not the worst one, while Ben is very quiet and green, but proves to be capable when it counts.

The ensemble comes together quickly, and yet I can't begin to tell you who all the cops are or what their connections are yet. One obvious standout was Regina King as Detective Lydia Adams, a smart and compassionate detective who struggles with the difficulties of her job, while proving herself a badass when it counts.

The strained partnership of Dewey and Chickie reaches a climactic moment in the final episode of the first season, but I guess a lot of people already know that. Those that haven't seen any of it, like me, would do well to tune in. It looks like NBC forced some tonal shifts with the second season episodes, which they still refused to air. When the six episodes filmed toward it air as the back half of TNT's run, beginning Tuesday March 2nd, the focus will be more on Ben and John, and take a more procedural approach than the serialized approach.

If enough people tune in to these thirteen episodes, TNT has the option to commission their own second season, and keep the show going. Even though I haven't seen any of the back six that NBC messed with, I hope if it does continue at TNT, they take it back to the dark serialized roots that was working so well in the two episodes I have seen. As much as I like Ben and John at the center, the entire ensemble is fascinating, and everyone is putting in top-notch performances.

I had intended to close this preview with another discussion about how ironic that Southland will be going up directly against the show that got it booted from NBC, The Jay Leno Show, but by the time those new episodes begin in March, Leno will no longer be in prime time. Still, if Southland grows into the massive cable hit it certainly has the potential to become, NBC will still be pretty bitter. I'm sure they're regretting dropping it already, now that they have five hours of 10 PM ET programming to fill come March. They had the perfect show for it, and they let it go.

Southland airs Tuesday nights at 10 PM ET on TNT.

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