Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has picked up a back 9. So that’s all right then.
Here’s what that actually means:
A US TV season is commissioned initially for 13 episodes. They’ve generally got about half-a-dozen in the production chain by the time they start airing, and are starting to prep the last half of the series.
If a series isn’t performing well, they stop at 13. That’s just about enough episodes to release on DVD (hello Firefly).
If a series is performing dismally, they don’t even air the full batch of episodes on TV, replacing it with something they know will perform. If it’s an outright failure, it may even be cancelled after just a couple of episodes and everyone sent home (hello Coupling).
As a US producer, what you actually want is a full season commission. A full US season is 22 episodes long, and those extra episodes are known as the back 9. So if the series is performing well enough (and what a world of calculation and deal-making is hidden in those two words), you’ll be commissioned for the rest of the season.
If you’ve picked up a back 9, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to stay in the game. Find your audience, and you can make it to a second season.
So congratulations to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s the new show from Aaron Sorkin, with two great actors in the lead (Matthew Perry – who knew?), and Tommy Schlamme as the staffed director.
There are a few problems with it, to be sure. It’s a show still finding its feet as of episode 6. At the moment, we keep cutting from the story to watch the show-within-the-show. In other words it’s as if the West Wing showed the voting in Congress every week for ten minutes of the running time. Not so fun.
Nonetheless, I think it’s got the potential to be great.
Now we’ll get the chance to find out if it matches that potential.