As network executives break out the “I Survived Premiere Week” T-shirts, they are probably relieved as most nets have something to brag about. Overall, the comedy genre’s comeback was in full force: Half-hour series had a big showing, claiming the top six highest-rated non-sports programs of premiere week among adults 18-49, including rookies 2 Broke Girls (7.1/16 in Live+Same Day) and New Girl (4.8/12) and returning Two and a Half Men (10.7/25), Modern Family (average of 6.1/16 for two episodes), How I Met Your Mother (5.0/13) and The Big Bang Theory (5.0/15). (Additionally, Modern Family, HIMYM and The Middle were all up double-digits from last fall’s premieres, while Big Bang was essentially flat). For comparison, the highest-rated drama series last week was veteran NCIS (4.3/12) and the highest-rated reality series was the X Factor premiere (4.4/12).
Comedies also stood out among the crop of new series, with two potential breakout hits, Fox’s New Girl and CBS’ 2 Broke Girls; two promising new entries, NBC’s Whitney (3.3/8) and Up All Night (2.4/7); and only one dud, NBC’s Free Agents (1.3/4). In contrast, there were no drama breakouts this past week, with four solid openers — ABC’s Revenge (3.3/9) and Pan Am (3.1/8) and CBS’ Person of Interest (3.1/8) and Unforgettable (2.9/8) — and three disappointments in NBC’s The Playboy Club (1.6/4) and Prime Suspect (1.8/5) and ABC’s Charlie’s Angels (2.1/6).
By averaging less than half of American Idol‘s debut ratings, X Factor‘s numbers were low enough to bruise Simon Cowell’s ego but high enough to help Fox score its first premiere week victory in network history. Also encouraging for the reality singing competition was the fact that it was down only a tenth in its second night on Thursday. Below are the preliminary rankings in 18-49 for premiere week and the % change vs. the same period last year. Also factoring into Fox’s double-digit growth was New Girl‘s big premiere number and the fact that the network had an NFL overrun on Sunday vs. no overrun last year. Meanwhile, despite the huge Two and a Half Men season debut and solid performance by almost all CBS shows, the network is down year-to-year because it had the NFL overrun last year, which inflated its premiere week numbers, but didn’t have it this past Sunday.
1 Fox, 3.3/9 (+27%)
2 CBS, 3.0/8 (-9%)
3 ABC, 2.8/8 (flat)
4 NBC, 2.6/7 (-7%)
5 Univision, 1.5/4 (-6%)
6 CW, 0.7/2 (-36%)
Returning series, especially on networks other than CBS, continue to post big double-digit season-to-season declines in their season premieres: ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (down 24%), Desperate Housewives (-28%) and Body of Proof (-26%), NBC’s Law & Order: SVU (-28%), Harry’s Law (-38%), Community (-23%), Parks and Recreation (-38%) and The Office (-11%), and CBS’ The Mentalist (-18%). Part of the reason is the increased DVR penetration, leading to a larger portion of viewing being shifted to a later date. For instance, in the just released Live+3 ratings for the first half of premiere week, and Parenthood, Law & Order: SVU and Harry’s Law‘s 18-49 numbers went up 33%. That has got to be good news for NBC, which got murdered on most nights last week, finishing twice with an average below a 2 demo rating: On Monday (1.8/5), where The Sing-Off and Playboy Club struggled mightily, and on Wednesday (1.8/5), where the network’s average was dragged down by Free Agents (1.3/4) and Harry’s Law (1.2/3)
The CW seems to be in trouble, tumbling in the ratings from last fall as its series were pummeled by the premiere week competition. New reality series H8R (0.4/1) is joining a string of reality misfires on the network, and veteran America’s Next Top Model (0.7/2) appears to be suffering from the move to 9 PM. The CW’s returning series are down significantly across the board, with no other show besides The Vampire Diaries cracking the 1 18-49 rating mark. (Encouragingly, newbies Ringer and Secret Circle came the closest, both posting a 0.9/2.) On the other hand, CW shows were among the biggest gainers in Live+3, including chart-topper Top Model (+57%), meaning that the network is being hurt from the non-traditional ways its viewers are consuming its programming.
While premiere week is formally over, the TV season is a marathon, not a sprint, and there will be as many questions about the new series’ prospects answered this week as there were last week. Because the networks’ lineups were loaded with viewer favorites — two hours of Grey’s, one hour each of Modern Family, Big Bang, The Middle and HIMYM — Week 2 will probably expose more vulnerable spots on the broadcast schedules. Stay tuned.