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Front 13, Back 9

Nowadays, network TV shows in the United States (with the exception of news programs and daytime soap operas) usually have about 22 episodes per season, give or take one or two. But networks rarely have enough confidence in a new show to order all 22 at once. Typically, the first 13 episodes will be ordered, followed by the remaining 9 if ratings are high enough. These sets of episodes are referred to as the "Front 13" and "Back 9", with the latter term being more commonly used. The front 13 are often produced before any episodes are aired and before there can be any public feedback. If the creators are doubtful about the back 9 being ordered, the 13th episode often contains some kind of resolution so the audience isn't left hanging. Short Runners often have 12 or 13 episodes produced, even if not all of them were aired.

For clarification, there are two elements to this Production Trope:
  1. It has to air at or near the start of the Channel's standard broadcast season, which automatically disqualifies the premiere season of a Midseason Replacement.
  2. Though the series started "on time", the Executives' original order did not cover the full season and/or the first half of the Season is self-contained compared to the second half (the halves need not be equal).

The length of the "season" does not matter; theoretically a cable channel whose seasons are 13-16 episodes can still have a show suffer this if the initial order was for only 8 episodes.note  Also, this does not necessarily apply to only the first season; a show that is Only Barely Renewed can also qualify, provided that the two halves of the season were separate orders or the production crew had reason to believe that they would be told to Wrap It Up before May.

The most obvious signs of this Trope in a series that gets to/past (e.g.) the February Sweeps (apart from Word of God) are the additions or alterations of important elements or a change in show atmosphere midway through the first Season (as opposed to between the first and second seasons) or a Series Fauxnale in the middle of any season.

Compare Twelve Episode Anime and British Brevity, the latter of which denotes a country with a short broadcast season. Contrast Cut Short, where a series doesn't even make the full Front 13 or only makes 13 when it had been promised more.

The term is derived from the Golf terms "front-" and "back-nine", likely because the golf course is the common executive foraging grounds.

Examples:

  • In Community, there is a very clear shift in tone and characterization after the first half of the first season that persisted for the rest of the show's run, making the first half come off as particularly rough.
  • 24 has Bauer's wife and daughter rescued and the first assassin killed in the 13th episode, providing some resolution if the back 9 (back 11 in this case) was not ordered. The scene where the second assassin was dispatched could have been cut in that case.
  • Glee had a crucial competition win, resolution for several story arcs, and even a traditional kiss in the final scene in its 13th episode. All of the front 13 were produced before airing and have fewer songs. They're also generally considered the show's best episodes by the majority of the fandom
  • The Parks and Recreation season 5 episode, "Leslie and Ben" was the 13th episode produced (but the 14th episode shown due to "Women in Garbage", one of the back 9, being aired Out of Order), and as such, was written as a respectable finale for the show, which has always had low ratings and shaky renewals.
  • Though its first half was as a Midseason Replacement, Dollhouse's second season qualifies. FOX made the 13-episode order primarily due to fan response; the execs , in turn, excluded the series from the November Sweeps, though at least they ran the complete half-order this time.
  • Inverted in the case of Vanished: an initial 22 episode order was cut to 13 after 6 episodes had aired.
  • The Mob Doctor is an example from the 2012 Fall Lineup: 13 Episodes ordered for September, Cut at the end of its initial run in January.
  • The 13th episode of Arrested Development draws a number of its initial plot arcs to a close, including the Love Triangle between Michael, Marta, and Gob, as well as Tobias' anxiety over going nude.


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From Special To SeriesPages Needing WicksFull Circle Portraying

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