I, like many other fans, have come to wonder what the fate of Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" may be. I thought it was odd, rude, and unwise to put Studio 60 off for a week while another new series was debuted. The more I think about it though, the more I wonder if there aren't other things at play that we're not considering.
One possible explanation for Studio 60 going on hiatus is the recent birth of star Amanda Peet's baby. Peet has played a central role on the show such that her absence would be pretty conspicuous, especially with the developing relationship between hers and Bradley Whitford's character Danny Trip.
The childs birth isn't a cause for delay so much as the physical disability that a late term pregnancy often causes in the lead up to the actual birth, and even a week away from the set could throw as many as three episodes into complete disarray unless her character was written out of them completely.
Peet gave birth only just 10 days ago.
On the other hand, ratings have continued to fall. In typical fashion, NBC refuses to stop playing games with Studio 60's schedule. I believe that one reason for recent ratings decline across the board is a direct result of the bone headed maneuvers by networks to divide seasons into two parts, and unnecessary preemptions are a guaranteed way to drive away fans.
I find it a little bit amusing at how quickly perspectives can change in television though. While researching this story, I found an two old reports just before and just after Studio 60 was picked up for a full first season.
TV.com reporter Colin Mahan began spreading rumors that Studio 60 was about to be canceled in late October, and even went so far as to repeat rumors started by Fox's Roger Friedman that unnamed cast members had begun telling friends that the show was all but canceled already. Mahan described Studio 60's debut ratings of 13.4 million viewers as "mediocre ", even though those numbers are comparable to what ABC's Lost is currently pulling in today.
Two weeks later, after NBC had decided to order scripts for the remainder of the season, Mahan changed tunes by describing Studio's 13.4 debut as "solid", though by early November, the much anticipated drama had seen its numbers fall below 8 million.
NBC is quick to note that while Studio 60's overall numbers are disappointing, the core demographic of the affluent and wealthy is actually abnormally strong, meaning they can charge more for advertising than you might see possible for practically any other show such as Heroes or Lost, if they had a similar overall audience size.
Studio's temporary replacement -- mid-season pickup drama The Black Donnellys -- hasn't faired any better in the Monday 10PM time slot than the show it's covering for. Perhaps this is a sign not of the creative weakness of Studio 60, but that this particular time slot is unwinnable for just about anything when up against a power house such as CSI, even in reruns.
And who could blame people for not tuning in when you don't know if it's even going to be on the air or not? The least they could do during production delays is show reruns, but to debut an entirely new series in its slot? I know that NBC is working hard to reestablish itself as a player amongst the big four, but these kinds of judgmental mistakes reek of amateur hour.
If you take a step back from ratings, and consider that Studio 60's core audience are people most likely to own DVR's, another pattern begins to emerge that may be playing tricks with the Nielsen ratings, which don't currently cover digital video recorders.
“We’re the No. 1 time-shifted show on television,” [Sorkin] says. “When you add the number of people who are recording the show and watching later in the week, the audience grows by over 10 percent – 10.9 percent.” (link)
I can vouch at least partially for the truth of this claim, as the longest living video on my home-built DVR appear to be none other than Studio 60. Once holding the entire first half of the season, it now has been pared down slightly to four of the very best that have been produced so far. I watch them at semi-regular intervals, because there just isn't any other place on television where you can get what Sorkin delivers.
The article from which I borrowed the above quote also makes mention of Studio being on hiatus, but reinforces the idea that Donnellys isn't setting up permanent residence so much as it instead testing the waters to see if anything can survive in that slot.
It isn't uncommon in racing to have a struggling driver replaced temporarily -- these days the engineering is so fantastically precise and complex that it's hard to get a firm understanding of the root cause of problems -- just to find out if it's the driver, or the car that needs fixing.
NBC may actually be using the same methodology here, as the Donnellys hasn't exactly been heralded as the next break-out hit, looking to see if Studio 60 needs fixing, or if they just dealt it a bad hand to begin with by dumping it two hours from midnight on a Monday.
NBC may also have done Sorkin and the show a disservice by allowing speculation and hype to run out of control before anyone had seen produced material. It's hard not to have high expectations for such a stellar cast and a celebrated and award winning executive producer and writer such as Sorkin, but even he isn't going to knock it out of the park with every swing.
Studio 60 and Donnellys aren't the only NBC shows being moved around the schedule for the spring schedule either, as ratings getter "Deal or No Deal" is swapping places with Crossing Jordan, moving from Wednesday to Sunday. "The Apprentice" will also be bumped, though only its starting time will change.
The biggest thing to consider right now is that while the ratings aren't where NBC wants them to be, they still believed in the show enough to pay for a full seasons worth of it, and nobody over there is talking right now. I consider that a good sign, at least when it comes to finishing this season. It's also not like ending things after one season is the end of the world; many fantastic shows really could have benefited from maximizing everything they can possibly get from a one off, and then start all over again with something new.
Prison Break is a great example of what I'm talking about. The first season was one of those smash hits that nobody saw coming -- myself included -- that nobody thought could be sustained over the long haul. Turns out everyone who said that was right, and the second season has been doing even worse in the ratings that Studio 60 has, but what if they had just called it quits after the first season? They'd look like maverick geniuses about to revolutionize the entire industry. Instead, we've got one great season, and one crappy one.
But man, wasn't that first season a killer?
I won't be surprised if Studio 60 ends the first season in a high note, because I've seen what Aaron Sorkin can do with drama laced cliff hangers. We all know what the man is capable of. If it gets that far, chalk it up to NBC for having the guts to stop being penny pinching shrewds and for returning to their creative entertainment roots and giving a voice to a gal that may not be the prettiest, but still has a lot to offer.
If not, then the least they can do is honor their commitment and let the rest of the season air out. Then Sorkin can move to another network, maybe someplace that doesn't debut "the most anticipated new show of the year" at freaking 10PM on a Monday night.
Update: Studio 60 will return to the air on May 24th at 10PM EDT. Yes, that's a Thursday, its new time slot for the remainder of season 1.