ANALYSIS: The Demise Of 'Lone Star' And The Longevity Of Veterans 'Dancing' & 'Men'

It was hyped more than a heavyweight championship match, and the broadcast networks’ first ratings face-off last night didn’t disappoint. There was no clear winner but there was a big flop, Fox’s new drama Lone Star, and, as we know, there is nothing Hollywood relishes more than a failure. Lone Star was given the strongest possible drama lead-in on Fox with House as well as the lion share of the network’s fall marketing dollars. It also received mostly glowing reviews. So how come it drew premiere numbers that wouldn’t even pass muster at a top cable network (4.1 million viewers and a 1.3/3 in adults 18-49)? It held on to less than a third of the House lead-in and bled profusely from the first to the second half-hour. Why did the pilot directed by Marc Webb bomb so badly?

Some attribute it to confusing marketing (“they never really explained what the show really was”) and soft pre-launch tracking (“tracking never suggested that there was huge interest in the show”). Others point to Lone Star‘s rural Texas setting, not exactly Fox’s bread-and-butter as the network’s shows traditionally do best in the large cities, and to its old-fashioned Southern soap feel and pace. Some also singled out the morally ambivalent hero at the center of the show that some viewers may have had problem sympathizing with. I personally can see Fox’s rationale putting Lone Star behind House, another show with a flawed character, but I do think that Dr. House’s pill popping and verbal abrasiveness rate much higher on the forgiveness scale than Lone Star hero’s cheating on 2 wives and swindling hard-working people out of their money.

Whatever the reason was, Lone Star tanked worse than even the most pessimistic projections. “We thought a 2.5 (18-49) rating would be bad, but not as bad,” said one of the rival network gurus who are scratching their heads today. And while Fox brass are doing a lot of soul-searching today and not rushing with a cancelation decision, the writing appears to be on the wall for a serialized show like Lone Star. Rumors are already circulating that the drama may stop production, at least temporarily, and a move to pull it from the schedule can’t be that far away. The flop is certain to bring back Fox’s decision in May to pick up Lone Star and Shawn Ryan’s Ridealong over Breakout Kings, a procedural that ultimately went to A&E. In July, Fox entertainment president and big Lone Star fan Kevin Reilly told me he had absolutely no regrets over his choice.

Elsewhere on premiere night, with the final ratings in, CBS’ Mike & Molly and Hawaii Five-0 topped the rookie class with a 3.9 demo rating and widened the gap between them and No.3, NBC’s The Event (3.6). For serialized thriller The Event, weeks 2 and 3 will be key as its premiere numbers were in the range of ABC’s FlashForward and V last season, and both of those shows started fading quickly.

Overall, Mike & Molly, Hawaii Five-0 and The Event all did solid business but were overshadowed by veterans Dancing with the Stars (5.1/13) and Two and a Half Men (4.9/12), both up double-digits from last fall and ranking as the top 2 programs on Monday night by a wide margin. Both also exceeded expectations – shrewd casting like teen mom Bristol Palin brought a lot of young viewers to the traditionally older-skewing Dancing, which logged its highest-rated premiere in 3 years among adults 18-34. And Men proved to be Charlie Sheen legal woes-proof as viewers flocked back to the traditional sitcom in droves despite some trepidations about a possible backlash from Sheen’s brush with the law as well as his highly publicized salary dispute.

“It all comes back to old chestnuts Dancing with the Stars and Two and a Half Men that are hanging right in there,” one network insider said. “New shows come and new shows go, but some of the old shows continue to do well.”

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