That old showbiz adage "leave 'em wanting more" might apply to the TV networks next season. Several of primetime's most anticipated new dramas, including Fox's Terra Nova and Alcatraz, plus NBC's Smash and Awake, will likely air just 13 episodes during the 2011-2012 season.
When successful, series on the broadcast networks usually run at least 22 episodes from September to May. But next season some of primetime's biggest new entries are being held until January or later, limiting their run. (Mid-season shows rarely get more than 13 episodes.)
In the case of Terra Nova, the Steven Spielberg dinosaur drama debuts in September. But the show's sci-fi effects are so elaborate that a full 22-episode freshman season would be difficult. Terra Nova is expected to wrap its first season in December and not return until the following September, as producers immediately start work on shows for fall 2012.
It's no coincidence that these limited runs sound a bit like shorter cable seasons. Showtime veteran Bob Greenblatt recently took the reins at NBC, several months after former ABC Family president Paul Lee inherited ABC. In looking to revitalize their networks, both have torn a few pages out from their cable playbooks. Not only have they staggered their series' launches throughout the season, saving some of their best stuff for later in the year, but they've also given some of those winter and spring orders as little as six episodes.
In midseason ABC's campy hour-long GCB (formerly known as Good Christian Belles), from Darren Star (Melrose Place) and starring Kristin Chenoweth, will produce 10 episodes; horror series The River, from Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli, has an eight-episode order; Ashley Judd's Missing has 10; Shonda Rhimes' Kerry Washington-led political drama Scandal was given a seven-episode order. At NBC, mid-season comedies Bent and Best Friends Forever were given six episodes.
More shows require more marketing dollars, however, and one rival worries that it might be too much for viewers to digest. "It's a risky business," he says.