Denis Leary in Rescue Me Minisode

FX‘s Rescue Me, the hit show starring Denis Leary that follows a group of New York City firefighters and their lives in our post-9/11 world, was hit hard by the timing of last year’s writer’s strike, which forced it to go on hiatus for all of 2008 – season 5 of the show is expected to debut in April of 2009, a full 19 months after the season 4 finale. Although the fifth season promises 22 episodes (as opposed to the usual 13), worries have been that the show won’t be able to keep its fan base satisfied for such a long period of time.

To give fans their fix, the show created 10 mini episodes, or ‘minisodes’ as they are calling them, which have been airing between FX’s regular programming on Tuesday nights. Knowing, however, that most viewers aren’t going to tune in for a five minute minisode (next week’s episode is sandwiched between two showings of The Hot Chick), FX has turned online, airing the minisodes on Crackle and Hulu, as well as on YouTube, MySpace, AOL, and Sprint through Sony Pictures Television‘s The Minisode Network. The strategy has paid off – the minisodes have garnered over 2.6 million views, and that figure doesn’t include viewership data from Hulu (which keeps its data private).

Releasing minisodes to help a struggling show is not without a hint of irony; Rescue Me was delayed by a strike that hinged largely on the issue of how to deal with online media, and to solve the problems caused by the delay, they turned to… online media. The minisodes are great – in the eighth episode, the guys play “Person, Place and Thing” in the surreal setting of a burning building, and in the fourth episode we get a heart-wrenching look at the last time the guys got to hang out carefree before the tragic 9/11 attacks. There are two more minisodes to debut, after which fans will have to wait eight months for the season 5 debut. The next minisode (tentatively entitled “Sweat”) airs next Tuesday at 10PM PST on FX, and should debut on Crackle and Hulu at about the same time.

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