Sorkin's "Studio 60": It's All About The Writing And the Business

High budgets and big stars and low ratings equal entertainment TV math 101: Anything has a good chance at failure.

The first show of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" yielded a nice 5.0 rating/12 share--though the episode dropped from its first half-hour to its second half-hour. Last week, its second episode, slipped 16 percent to a 4.2 rating/11 share. This week, the show fell farther, another 19 percent to 3.4 rating/9 share.

Does NBC make money on this? Not at these declines.

At a rumored $3 million an episode, the show is now spending about $1 million per one rating point among 18-49 viewers. The network sells around 20 30-second commercials of national time per hour. If NBC reportedly gets $210,000 a unit in the show, it would give NBC around $4.2 million (Actually, somewhat less because of media agency fees). 



Thus, the show would seem to be in the black. Seem. That is, if NBC was giving advertisers exactly the ratings promised for "Studio 60"--which isn't the case. It could have promised a 12 share to some advertisers, which means in its third week, it is under-delivering by at least 25 percent. We should note here that "Studio 60" isn't alone--many shows at other networks also have problems of under-delivery.

We don't really want to beat up on NBC--the network that is always trying harder. But expectation is high for "Studio 60," especially since it's an Aaron Sorkin show, the maker of the esteemed "West Wing." Plus, given Sorkin's name and top talent, such as Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford and Amanda Peet, as well as lots of network marketing muscle, the show has, naturally, been put under a microscope.

A common theory is that viewers are not interested in TV shows about TV shows. And especially not a behind-the-scenes TV sketch comedy show, which resembles NBC's own "Saturday Night Live." Too hip for the room, said critics. Sorkin got the same reviews for "Sports Night"--about a behind-the-scenes look at a nightly sports news show. Too hip may also mean too good.

No matter that critics generally love it. It's not selling--not with viewers, and soon, not with advertisers that side viewers' decisions. Money, talent, good writing-- it's always been part of the sometimes rough equation of TV. 

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