TV execs experiment with episode orders

Nets ordering fewer episodes to create sked flexibility

The broadcast networks, with one notable exception, are giving out episode orders this year that sound more like a lottery ticket than TV series pickup pacts: 15, 11, 8, 6, 13.

By necessity and by design, the networks are diverging from TV tradition of 13- and 22- or 24-episode orders to gain more flexibility in scheduling and to make the most of finite programming budgets.

Fox picked up midseason drama “The Following” for 15 episodes because star Kevin Bacon would commit to no more. It also gave a 13-and-out final season order to “Fringe.” The CW is said to be giving an 11-episode final season order to “Gossip Girl” for reasons that apparently will be made clear at the netlet’s upfront on Thursday.

NBC has given most of its returning comedies 13-episode orders for the full season (obviously that could change in success). That strategy undoubtedly helped the Peacock afford to pickup a bumper crop of seven comedies — one of which, Lionsgate TV’s Dane Cook starrer “Next Caller,” got a six-seg order.

Of the Big 4, CBS has stuck with the tried-and-true, and goodness knows, it’s working for them. ABC under entertainment prexy Paul Lee has also been creative in juggling episode orders to keep a steady stream of fresh programming on the air. But it’s not as simple as it sounds, especially when a network is dealing with an outside studio.

As Alphabet execs hunkered down to set the 2012-13 schedule, there was chatter that the Shawn Ryan actioner “Last Resort” is a prospective event series — i.e., next season’s “The River” — that would warrant a shorter order of eight or 10 episodes. But that would have been a nonstarter for “Resort” producer Sony Pictures TV. Why? Because the studio is heavily dependent on international licensing revenue to cover costs on the show, and anything less than 13 episodes would make it much harder for Sony to command top dollar (or yen or pound or mark) from foreign buyers.

“Resort” is not an inexpensive proposition: The ambitious drama follows the crew of a U.S. nuclear submarine (any time you’re dealing with water, the pricetag goes up) that goes renegade on an exotic island after defying orders to fire nukes into Pakistan. It’s not clear if ABC even got to the stage of proposing a short order to Sony Pictures TV, but the conversation probably would have gone something like this: “You want Shawn Ryan, Andre Braugher and a lot of sweaty action, you gotta fork over 13 license fees. Period.”

When ABC unleashed its series pickups on Friday, “Resort” indeed got 13, while an ABC Studios drama, “Red Widow,” received eight eps, the same as “The River” last year.

Another notable trend that’s emerged from this year’s pickup parade is an apparent weakening of the Big Name producers’ sway on series orders.

For the second year in a row, ABC opted against an order for a Marc Cherry pilot, “Devious Maids,” that was in contention down to the final hours of decisionmaking. Nor did Roland Emmerich’s film bona fides put his ABC drama pilot over the top.

NBC chose not to RSVP for Greg Daniels’ comedy “Friday Night Dinner,” nor did it check in to Jason Katims’ hospital drama “County.” CBS passed on Jerry Bruckheimer TV’s drama “Trooper” and in the same breath canceled “CSI: Miami” after 10 seasons. Plenty of observers (me included) figured the math in the Bruckheimer-CBS equation had to add up to one of those properties being on the air next fall. But to quote the great R&B philosopher Chuck Berry, it goes to show you never can tell.

More Voices

  • Sam Mendes Bong Joon Ho 1917

    Final Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win in the Major Categories?

    The 92nd Academy Awards are almost here… For films like “Joker” and “Marriage Story,” the journey to the Oscars began five months ago with their premieres in Venice. “1917” had the least amount of time on the campaign trail: The Sam Mendes war movie didn’t start screening until late November. In the end, however, it [...]

  • Harriet Movie BTS

    Academy Needs to Start Taking Chances With Noms; Rewards Will Follow (Column)

    Throughout its history, the Academy Awards has been subject to intense criticism for the issues it embraces — and ignores. This year’s uproar over the lack of diversity among nominations in the highest-profile awards categories is the latest example. This failure reflects a chronic dearth of opportunity at Hollywood’s top artistic and financial levels. The milestone nominations [...]

  • Baby Yoda The Mandolorian

    Media Giants Make Smaller Moves With an Eye Toward Future Gains in Streaming Era

    Maybe the empire can strike back. Or at least strike anew. Over the past few months, a number of developments have emerged for traditional media companies that indicate a spirit of reinvention and experimentation is spreading across the industry. There’s a new willingness to take a hard look at long-standing operations and make big and [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart BTS

    Olivia Wilde on Her Move From Acting to Directing With 'Booksmart'

    Olivia Wilde began acting in 2004 when she was 20 years old. It never occurred to her that she might also enjoy stepping behind the lens. “I always wanted to make movies and be a part of the moviemaking process,” she tells me. “I always assumed acting was the way in, because for many young [...]

  • Oscar Statue Oscars Placeholder

    Oscars 2020 Predictions: Who Will Get Nominated?

    The Oscar race is on. And it’s about to get a lot more intense when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the nominations for the 92nd Oscars on Jan. 13. Golden Globes shutout “The Irishman” is favored to earn several nods, as will “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which went home [...]

  • Golden Globes Analysis Oscar Race

    Why Golden Globes Will Likely Have Little Effect on Oscar Nominations (Column)

    With the Globes now behind us and Oscar noms rapidly approaching on Jan. 13, what should we be paying attention to in Hollywood’s biggest film awards race? Surefire bets are Globe winners Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), who already has one Oscar, and Brad Pitt, who should garner his third acting nomination for his work in Quentin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content