NEW YORK — Harold Perrineau is waiting for a simple yes or no.
He's waiting, just like his co-stars on ABC's quirky new cop drama, The Unusuals, and the rest of the cast and crew.
"It's nail-biting time," Perrineau says. "I'm trying to be cool, but I'm knotted up."
Welcome to TV's waiting game, an annual event playing out at dozens of network TV series that are neither slam-dunk hits nor terminal flops. In industry lingo, they are "on the bubble," their fate undetermined as each network formulates a fall prime-time schedule.
NBC will unveil its roster Monday. Will struggling series Chuck, Medium or My Name Is Earl make the cut, competing for precious NBC real estate against other contenders, such as the just-launched Amy Poehler comedy Parks and Recreation and gritty police drama Southland, plus any of several pilots vying for a pickup, not to mention Jay Leno's forthcoming weeknight hour, which will seize nearly one-quarter of the schedule?
At ABC, CBS, Fox and The CW, the waiting game will drag on a bit longer: Upfront week for those networks kicks off May 18.
ABC already has invited back a dozen series, including Brothers & Sisters, Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty. But the future remains murky for other ABC shows, including newcomers Castle, Cupid and The Unusuals, in which Perrineau plays an overcautious NYPD detective who refuses to doff his bulletproof vest, even at the station.
It's a fun role, Perrineau says, "and a perfect fit."
Phoning from the Los Angeles home he shares with his wife and their two daughters, Perrineau fondly recalls shooting the season's 10 episodes in New York.
"There was a lot of exterior stuff, and it was cold — definitely not Hawaii shooting," Perrineau says, referring to his stint as a plane-crash victim on Lost. "But we were having a great time!"
Then, just about the time that The Unusuals premiered, production wrapped: "We had a lot of 'so longs' and 'I hope I get to see you guys again in a few months.'"
While Perrineau waits to learn whether he and his family will head back east for another season of The Unusuals, Tom Hertz is in his own holding pattern.
As the creator-producer of the CBS sitcom Rules of Engagement, Hertz is sharing pins and needles with other members of his show, including stars Patrick Warburton, Megyn Price and David Spade. The show is halfway through its 13-episode third season. Hertz says his anxiety spikes each morning as he sifts through ratings data — numbers that can seem fiendishly inconclusive.
He reels off a few conflicting ways a set of numbers can be crunched: "The (audience) was good, but this demo wasn't as good as last week, but women (viewers) were better."
Speaking from his car somewhere in Los Angeles, he delivers a comically world-weary sigh.
"It's just another situation in life where you can't really see what's going on, and you can't control it. So you try not to go crazy. And not run out of wine."
CBS announces its fall lineup to advertisers May 20. Hertz might not hear the verdict until only days before.
How does it happen? "A guy with a crewcut, dark glasses and an earpiece knocks on your door," Hertz helpfully explains. "No words are spoken, but he opens a silver metallic suitcase and gives you an envelope that says 'yes' or 'no' inside."
Which word will be in his envelope? "I'm somewhat optimistic," Hertz says. "But I don't want to be too optimistic and jinx it."