Still one of the most popular series on cable, Burn Notice placed sullen ex-spy Michael Westen in his hometown of Miami, where he had to contend with international criminal cartels and a clingy mother. The combination helped make Burn Notice one of the most popular shows on television — its audience of 3.8 million viewers in the latest Nielsen ratings easily trumps media-fave Mad Men’s 2.5 million, according to Nielsen.
But the show never got the respect of critics or came close to Vice’s cultural cachet. In 2010, Saturday Night Live spoofed the series’ high ratings and low profile with a fake game show titled “What is Burn Notice?”
Locally, Burn Notice was the first television series of any note since Vice that was filmed in Miami and picked up for a second season. And while Vice helped reshape Miami’s global image from bland retirement village to a sexy and shady metropolis, Burn Notice loomed nearly as large in the local production industry.
“As much as Miami Vice was the signature show for this community, Burn Notice had an equal effect,’’ said Graham Winick, director of Miami Beach’s film office. “It has carried us for the last decade and re-launched us as a television city. After Vice, no television series had succeeded here.”
According to figures on the entertainment database imdb.com, Burn Notice will have filmed exactly the same number of episodes that Miami Vice did, 111, when the cable show finishes production sometime in July. ( Vice actually filmed more, though, since many of its episodes were two-hour specials.)
Unlike Vice, Burn Notice received millions of dollars in state production incentives, making it the most subsidized production in Florida.
Its exit comes on the heels of the Florida Legislature declining to fund the incentive program, though it has enough dollars to support two more seasons of the shows and movies that have already secured money, Winick said.
Telenovelas help sustain the Miami area’s production industry now, with reality television providing its share of limited work. As far as scripted series, aside from Burn Notice the Miami area has Magic City, now on its second season on the Starz subscription channel but still searching for buzz and a significant audience.
Broward County has the Glades, a detective show that airs on A&E, and Graceland, which films in the Hollywood area but is set in San Diego. Winick said NBC is considering a pilot shot in Miami, but the network hasn’t decided whether to pick it up as a series.
No reason was given for retiring the show, which continues to have strong ratings. But with a veteran cast able to negotiate for higher salaries and a creative team faced with another year of keeping the plot lines fresh, Burn Notice is not being treated as a cancellation by the entertainment press. Deadline Hollywood called it USA’s “flagship” show in breaking the news Friday, and Variety called it a “pillar of the cabler’s sked since 2007.” Creator Matt Nix has signed a deal to helm another series for Fox Television, which produces the show for USA. It is not know where that show will be filmed.
Jeffrey Donovan plays Westen, making him one of Miami’s leading resident celebrities. Sharon Gless plays his mother. Gabrielle Anwar is the female lead and Westen’s love interest, while sci-fi cult favorite Bruce Campbell plays their sidekick, Sam. Nix initially set the show in New Jersey as a more plausible locale for a laid-off secret agent (spies don’t get pink slips, they get burn notices). But USA wanted “blue-sky” shows — series set in happy places. So Nix and Donovan had to find a way to make Westen seem glum about having to come to Miami.