The Life and Death of ‘The Grinder’

Ryan Aday

NBC announced The Grinder‘s death in May, and many refused to believe the news. The Rob Lowe-anchored sitcom was seen by some as the first quality network comedy since Modern Family. There was some hope that it might be resuscitated by Netflix or TBS but all efforts fell through. It is time to make the call; The Grinder is dead.

Gone too soon. The Grinder fell prey to bad ratings after just one season.

The Grinder was born September 23, 2015, @ 9:30pm.

Dean Sanderson Jr. (Rob Lowe) was an actor who starred in the fictitious legal drama The Grinder. His character Mitch Grinder’s catch phrase of “Never stop grinding” led him to fight tooth and nail for his clients. As a method actor, Sanderson would become the Grinder on and off camera.

When the show was canceled, it was hard for Sanderson to tell where Mitch Grinder ended and Dean Sanderson began. He returned home to Boise to live with his brother, Stewart (Fred Savage) and visit his father, Dean Sr. (William Devane). Coincidentally, they were actual lawyers practicing law in the small town. With his acting future in doubt, Sanderson decided that he had enough experience as a TV lawyer to help his family in their real law practice.

The Grinder Rob Lowe promo shot

Dean’s family and Dean Sr. saw it as a great idea. Stewart clearly understood the flaw in that logic. The back and forth between the gung-ho Dean Jr. and the conservative Stewart drove the show and was the vessel for it’s funniest comic moments. Stewart’s only ally in his fight against his brother’s nonsense was a young associate, Claire (Natalie Morales). Her sarcastic reactions to Dean’s ideas were often taken as confirmation and led to building more confidence in his legal plans.

A pair of big-name recurring characters helped to build a bridge between Dean’s new life and his past as an actor. Cliff Bemis (Jason Alexander) was his agent and appears several times, once offering him a role in the spin-off series The Grinder: New Orleans. The star of that show was Timothy Olyphant (himself) playing Mitch’s brother Rake Grinder. Olyphant visited Boise several times and even had a relationship with Claire.

The series was well received by critics boasting a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score. Lowe earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Dean Sanderson. Timothy Olyphant received a Critic’s Choice award for his portrayal of Timothy Olyphant.

Watch Olyphant speak to Conan O’Brien about his toughest role:

The Grinder died May 16, 2016. It is survived by its creators, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogul. It is also lovingly remembered by a tremendous cast who are all moving on to bigger and better things.

Lowe has been working as the voice of Simba on Disney’s The Lion Guard. Savage has a role in the TV show Bojack Horseman. Mary Elizabeth Ellis, who plays Stewart’s wife, stars in the upcoming film The Truth About Lies. Morales is cast in the Billie Jean King film Battle of the Sexes. Dean’s kids, played by Hana Hayes and Connor Kalopsis, have upcoming work in the film To the Bone and the TV Movie Journey to the East respectively. Timothy Olyphant will be featured in Oliver Stone’s upcoming biopic Snowden.

A grieving cast of The Grinder will attempt to move on to other work
A grieving cast will attempt to move on to other work

Much like Arrested Development and Firefly, The Grinder will go down as a show whose tremendous critical reception did not lead to ratings success.

Ryan Aday
Ryan is a former college athlete with a degree in Communication from Point Loma University. He is also a 5-time Game Show Contestant (Incl. Wheel of Fortune) and decorated fantasy football player (Fantasy Football Evolution National Champion Runner-Up). Mr. Aday is kind to animals.
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