A Dramatic Premiere Week

Where rookie comedies reigned last fall, broadcast networks bring the (new) drama in 2012

Months after broadcast
was shut out of the Primetime
Emmys’ best drama
nominations category, with cable efforts
like Homeland and Breaking Bad getting
all the buzz, it turns out the networks
aren’t ready to give up just yet.

A week after NBC’s Revolution put up
the highest-rated drama premiere on
any network in three years, the adventure
series from producer J.J. Abrams
held on to an impressive share of its
week-ago premiere audience, with its
second episode averaging a 3.5 adults
18-49 rating and 9.3 million total viewers
in the face of increased premiereweek

Perhaps the surest bet of the fall, CBS’
Sherlock Holmes drama Elementary,
didn’t disappoint in its debut, turning in
a solid 3.1 rating. Fellow CBS freshman
Vegas also got off to a good enough start
with an audience of 14.7 million total
viewers. Notably, both performances
came at the tricky 10 p.m. hour, a time
period increasingly vulnerable to timeshifted

Even ABC’s thriller Last Resort opened
OK, considering it was stranded in the
8 p.m. time slot that has killed several
freshmen before it.

The one apparent early failure is Fox’s
The Mob Doctor, which barely registered
in its premiere Sept. 17 and fell even
further in its second episode to a 1.3.
In fact, the mob/medical drama (in case
you didn’t get that from the title) may be
fall’s first hit—as in the Mafia kind, not
the TV kind—by the time you read this.

Unsurprisingly given this year’s weak
development, rookie comedies fared less
well, with six of the eight comedic offerings
posting less than a 2.5 rating. ABC’s
The Neighbors put up a solid 3.3 rating
in its premiere, though the alien family
sitcom had the benefit of launching out
of the very strong Modern Family, raising
questions as to how it will fare in its
shift to 8:30 p.m., where it will follow
The Middle beginning in week two.

1001 Cover story premiere week chart

CBS’ Partners put up a moderate 2.4,
but that’s not the kind of number that
keeps you alive for long on television’s
most-watched network. Critical darling
The Mindy Project’s equal rating had a
solid 89% retention on Fox out of New
, but it lacked that series’ breakout
open of last fall.

Ben and Kate’s and The New Normal’s
2.0 ratings were too modest to be called
a success, while NBC’s twin Wednesday
comedies, Guys With Kids and Animal
, were unable to self-start on the
night, despite a tidal wave of Summer
Olympics promotion.

Signs of Life at NBC

Despite slipping 20% since its premiere,
the Matthew Perry comedy Go
held up in the face of increased
competition, underscoring an important
point from premiere week—NBC
is showing signs of life.

The network’s move of The Voice to
fall has paid off big time, helping NBC
win the first night of the new television
season despite the return of CBS’ popular
sitcom block (now minus Two and a
Half Men
). It has also, not coincidentally,
launched NBC’s top two fall performers
(so far), Revolution and Go On. While
it’s way too early to predict success or
failure, to even launch two shows is
a much rosier picture for the Peacock
than a year ago.

“They’re looking for any step forward,
any positive news they can find, and
you know what, they have a little bit of
it,” says a rival network executive.

Besides the lack of a 2 Broke Girls or
New Girl-sized breakout, premiere week
also saw a majority of returning series
post year-over-year declines, explained in
part by the lack of a big kickoff event like
last year’s Two and a Half Men premiere,
according to another exec.

While New Girl understandably failed
to best its boffo series debut, it was even
down from its May finale (a 2.8) to a
2.7—not the kind of sophomore bounce
you want from a series being asked to
anchor a new night of comedy for Fox,
especially since ratings often decline
throughout the season.

Tentpole series such as Castle, Criminal
, CSI and Dancing With the Stars
(not invigorated by an all-star cast) also
decreased more than 20% from their
year-ago openers. Ashton Kutcher’s Two
and a Half Men
debut a year ago could
explain most of CBS’ Monday lineup
declines, but even Charlie Sheen can’t
explain Hawaii Five-0’s 44% fall to a 1.9,
an all-time series low.

But network brass are not concerned
yet, and they expect many of those losses
to be made up for when DVR data
comes in from premiere week and new
series sampling levels off.

“I think the best thing is to wait for
the two weeks and see if it’s really 20%,”
says one executive. “Some of the declines
might go away or be diminished
to a degree in a couple of weeks.”

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