If you’re a fan of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, you know that the show’s been in trouble since its debut. NBC gave the show tons of promotion over the summer and even partnered with Netflix to offer a special DVD of the pilot episode that they released weeks prior to the debut. It was The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin’s return to series TV and NBC wanted to make sure everybody knew about it. Expectations were really high but the show just didn’t pull in the viewers.
Critics were mostly lukewarm to the show and viewers felt about the same. Tons of people tuned in to watch the breakout hit Heroes every week… and then tons of them left once Studio 60 began. Fewer people watched each week and it looked like Studio 60 was going to be cancelled late last year. But then NBC came out and reiterated their support for the show and even ordered additional episodes, enough to complete the season.
Like many, the series took a break for several weeks around the holidays (starting December 4th) and has back on the air just since January 22nd.
Well, NBC recently issued a release centered around two new shows and that freshman shows Studio 60 and 30 Rock (both coincidentally centered around Saturday Night Live-like shows) would be pulled from the NBC schedule in early and mid-March.
A crime drama from Academy Award winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (for the movie Crash) called The Black Donnellys will take Studio 60’s spot on Monday nights as of March 5th. Former Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter’s new comedy Andy Barker will replace 30 Rock on Thursdays beginning March 15th. The sitcom 30 Rock will return to its regular spot on April 19th. Studio 60 will return “on a date to be determined.” Whoah! That’s a very scary phrase for TV series fans. It usually means a show will be back on the fifth… of never.
Many are panicking and believe that NBC is effectively canceling Studio 60. I don’t think so for a number of reasons:
1. Network support. A few weeks ago, Sorkin said that, when Studio 60 was picked up for the additional nine episodes in late 2006, now NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker assured him of the show’s future. Zucker told Sorkin that he wasn’t focusing on the back nine episodes but more in terms of seasons two and three of the series.
2. Even more network support. At the recent Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly vowed to stick with several quality freshman shows that have struggled to find a large audience — including Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Quite honestly, the network doesn’t have a lot of other options.
3. It’s all in the timing. When a series is cancelled, the networks typically pull a show from their schedule immediately. This “hiatus” has been planned for quite awhile. NBC originally announced it back in late November 2006. On top of that, during the recent Television Critic Association press tour, Aaron Sorkin mentioned that the show would run uninterrupted for an estimated seven weeks of new episodes. The March 5th hiatus means that only six new episodes will have aired but I believe this is because Studio 60 was originally scheduled to return a week earlier in January but was bumped by the Golden Globes telecast.
4. Studio 60’s ratings have improved slightly. The return episode on January 22nd saw the audience increase by 10%, netting the series it’s biggest audience since the fifth episode in October. The numbers have dropped a bit since the return but the show is basically matching its November viewer numbers.
5. The ratings are actually higher than they appear. Studio 60 is reportedly the most-recorded show in primetime via machines like TiVo, VCRs, DVRs, etc. As a result, the show’s viewership is almost 11% higher than what’s being reported. Nielsen doesn’t include recordings in their ratings reports because it’s assumed viewers are skipping commercials.
6. The show’s audience demographic is very desirable. Sorkin said that Studio 60 consistently draws the most upscale audience — the highest concentration of households making more than $100,000 a year and the highest concentration where the head of the household has at least four years of college. The numbers seem to indicate that he’s exaggerating a bit but, network TV is all about advertising and those are very desirable demographics. NBC can charge more for advertising for Studio 60 than another show that has more viewers but a less affluent demographic.
7. And finally, it’s Aaron Sorkin. C’mon. He’s a genius and gave NBC one of their great pride and joys, The West Wing. Sorkin and producer Thomas Schlamme both have a reputation for creating very high-quality and intelligent programming — shows that the peacock network can be proud of. Granted that’s certainly not enough to keep a show on the air but it sure doesn’t hurt.
When will Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip return? My best guest is that it will be back in time for the season (series?) finale to air in May sweeps. Sweeps months (November, February and May) are the months when advertising prices are set. Networks like to air their strongest programming in these months to attract the most viewers so they can charge more for commercials.