Television

Lessons From Premiere Week: Comedy Up, NBC Down, Nostalgia Mixed

Matthew Morrison and the rest of the cast of Glee are up against the wall after a very soft premiere episode last week. i i

hide captionMatthew Morrison and the rest of the cast of Glee are up against the wall after a very soft premiere episode last week.

Adam Rose/Fox
Matthew Morrison and the rest of the cast of Glee are up against the wall after a very soft premiere episode last week.

Matthew Morrison and the rest of the cast of Glee are up against the wall after a very soft premiere episode last week.

Adam Rose/Fox

So we're a week into the meat of the networks' fall season. Premiere ratings only go so far in terms of their instructiveness; as recently as last year, Outsourced did okay on its first outing, and it's dead now. Very dead.

But there's certainly something to early returns as far as what's up and what's down.

Comedy is formidable. It started last Monday night with the Gigantor-sized ratings for the post-Charlie-Sheen, bring-on-Ashton-Kutcher airing of CBS's Two And A Half Men. Whatever people expected, few if any predicted the show would be seen by almost 29 million people. Obviously, there's a curiosity factor there, but that's half again as many viewers as the season premiere of Dancing With The Stars, and close to five times as many viewers as the next closest competitor at 8:00, Fox's Hell's Kitchen. That is an enormous number by current standards, and it pushed the premiere of CBS's comedy 2 Broke Girls to almost 20 million viewers.

The biggest other success story of the week was probably Fox's New Girl, which drew more than 10 million viewers on Tuesday night. It improved on a flagging Glee number (more on that later), and was very strong in the highly sought-after group of viewers 18 to 49. In total viewers, New Girl came in behind both NCIS: Los Angeles and Dancing With The Stars, but with those younger viewers, it came in first.

Need more? Modern Family had a huge return on Wednesday night too, following its very successful night at the Emmys. The Big Bang Theory had a huge return on Thursday night, following its successful night at the Emmys.

The network that didn't benefit much from this particular trend was NBC, which makes some of the most critically acclaimed comedies on television, all of which had so-so numbers at best on Thursday night. Audiences for the most praised shows on the schedule, Community and Parks And Recreation, were particularly disappointing, while the widely panned Whitney, which airs after The Office, debuted a little better. The network is pretty much upside-down in terms of quality and viewership, which isn't going to make anybody happy.

The X Factor isn't American Idol, but so what? Fox's The X Factor, which the network has promoted as the obvious successor to American Idol, didn't set the world on fire. It is not an Idol-style juggernaut, but honestly, it did fine. It won its time slot on Wednesday, and on Thursday lost only to the huge night that CBS had, starting with those two Big Bang Theory episodes. If you compare it to Idol, it looks kind of skinny, but if you compare it to the majority of the other new shows that premiered last week, it looks just fine.

Some returning shows need to watch out. Glee was down this year, not a little, but a lot. Down a third, specifically, from last year's premiere. That means, roughly speaking, that one out of every three people who were giving the show a shot last year at this time gave up on it sometime between then and now. That's a gigantic drop for a show that's been treated as a model for other projects, and that seemed at one time to be a money-making machine. Is it the ubiquity? Is it the highly publicized squabbling? Was everybody just watching for Chord Overstreet? For whatever reason, between this premiere and the soft returns for the summer's 3-D movie, the Glee phenomenon has cooled considerably.

Furthermore, as if NBC doesn't have enough problems, one of its few reliably solid performers, The Biggest Loser, is suffering, too. Even Dancing With The Stars on ABC isn't as strong as in the past. Neither was Survivor on CBS. Some of the longer-running reality franchises may continue to be strong, but not the night-stomping supershows they once were.

Nostalgia: maybe. NBC's The Playboy Club was very weak, but ABC's Pan Am — often grouped with Playboy among soft-focus nostalgic network shows about the '60s featuring pretty women — did just fine for ABC.

There are, as always, some flat-out non-starters. Sarah Michelle Gellar's Ringer on the CW is struggling against New Girl. NBC's Up All Night with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett is doing okay, but Free Agents with Hank Azaria is a dud out of the gate.

And, to end on an extremely happy note, the CW's ill-conceived, offensive unscripted show H8R, premised on the idea that you can sell viewers the redemption stories of Snooki and Kim Kardashian, is an abject failure — no statistic generated more delight among critics than the fact that H8R was beaten, not just overall but among 18-to-34-year-olds, by an episode of Dora The Explorer.

That is, to put it plainly, awesome.

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