A Dramatic Premiere Week

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

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 viewing.

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 Girl, 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 Practice, 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 On 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 Minds, 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.”

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @andreamorabito

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