Network TV shows in the United States usually have about 22 episodes per season nowadays*
. 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. Compare: Twelve Episode Anime
The term is derived from the Golf
terms "front-" and "back-nine", likely because the golf course
is the common executive foraging grounds
- 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 was not ordered. The scene where the second assassin was dispatched could have been cut in that case.
- Dollhouse had a DVD-only 13th episode due to confusion between the network and studio about the number of episodes in the order. It was set in a post-apocalyptic future to avoid disrupting the show's story arcs with an episode that wasn't aired.
- 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, less use of Sue Sylvester, and no theme episodes.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a subtle example. The front 13 were produced before airing, so footage from all of them was available when editing the pilot. So in the scene where Buffy thrashes around in bed having prophetic dreams, she can only predict the first 13 episodes...
- Although since Buffy was a Midseason Replacement, the first season couldn't be full length to begin with.
- Firefly is essentially the front 13 (as well as the pilot), and nothing else.
- MythQuest has only 13 episodes. It's not clear if it was cancelled or just not renewed.
- 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.
- After bad ratings for Vanished Fox told the writers to wrap it up in 13. They did.
- The Mob Doctor got cancelled after 13 episodes. The writers Just Eat Gilligan by having her kill the mob boss and run off with her FBI informant boyfriend.