There's just no good way to put this: The things you love baffle and confuse over 95 percent of the American population. They think you're strange for liking them, even when one of them is nominated for Best Comedy Series at the Emmys. (Well, that or the things you love air on a network that barely deserves to be called a network anymore, and they just haven't heard of them.) Obviously, this isn't going to be news to most of you. That time at Thanksgiving when you were talking about how great Breaking Badwas, and everybody just kind of looked at you funny, and then your grandfather threw up all over the table? That probably clued you in. But for some of you, this is going to be a very sad moment indeed.
The general theme of the week, Americans are willing to watch TV, just so long as it isn't NBC, continued Thursday night, as the returns of numerous series did well in the ratings, and new shows on ABC and CBS did all right and quite well, respectively. NBC at least had a bright spot, in that its new comedy Whitney did well enough for itself, but its opening hour of comedies, featuring two of the very best shows on TV, was dire indeed.
Let's break down NBC's woes hour by hour, shall we?
8 p.m.: Look. We love Community here. We will always love Community here. It's a show tailor-made for The A.V. Club. But it's also a show that should not be leading off a night of television. It's a show that needs a comfortable time slot, where it can be allowed to hang on to just enough of some other show's audience to run for years and years. This is the sort of thing the NBC of old understood, giving a show like Night Court, a show that could never really be a self-starter but would also keep just enough of some bigger hit's audience to be profitable, a time slot where it could do its thing for years at a time. True to form, Community led off the night with 3.91 million viewers and a 1.7 in the demo. The latter number is the key reason Community's still on the air. So long as the show stays above a 1.5 (and, ideally, a 2), it's probably safe on a network that's in such disarray. But if it falls from the premiere, as most shows do, it could start to look like a dead show walking on a network that's gotten promising numbers from Up All Night. Community was followed by Parks & Recreation, which only drew 4.11 million viewers but at least posted a 2.1 in the demo. Though a low-rated show that's never going to break through like it probably should (it's honestly amazing the show never found any ratings traction after The Office), it's at least not as low-rated as other things on the network. It'll be fine, so long as it holds up.
The question many will throw out, of course, is "Well, why not just switch Parks & Recreation and Community?" The problem is that both shows aren't exactly self-starters, and you need self-starters in the 8 p.m. hour. Toss Parks that early, and its ratings will sink, too. There's just no good answer for NBC in this time slot, which is why Up All Night at 8 is probably looking fairly good to NBC at this point. But with Whitney doing well (again, more on that in a moment), that means either Community or Parks & Recreation gets squeezed out or moved to another night to die a quiet death with the likes of the midseason Chelsea Handler show. The optimum situation is that both shows perk up in the ratings in weeks to come (and both shows did relatively well in reruns), but the competition in the hour is fierce, and there's no guarantee that will happen.
9 p.m.: Here, NBC can breathe a little more easily. The Office premiere was down quite a bit from last year's debut (which garnered 8.40 million viewers), but this is its first premiere in the post-Michael Scott era, and 7.64 million viewers and a 3.9 in the demo is a damn sight better than most anything else on NBC. The more interesting story is Whitney, which held on to 6.84 million of those viewers and grabbed a 3.3 in the demo. While neither number is great, it's hard to call either number bad for NBC either. (In particular, Whitney did slightly better in the time slot than last year's post-Office show, Outsourced, did. Outsourced held on to only 88.6 percent of The Office's audience, but Whitney held on to 89.5 percent. It was also an improvement over what 30 Rock used to do in that time slot, as well as what Parks & Recreation did earlier in the year.) Now, obviously, Whitney could lose many of those viewers (as it did throughout the half hour, according to TV By The Numbers' 15-minute breakdown), and Office retention is always a tricky thing to bet on (the very best show in terms of audience retention ever to follow The Office was the Community pilot, but it fell off substantially the next week). For now, though, Whitney looks like a relatively solid follow-up to The Office.
10 p.m.: Here's a disaster zone. Prime Suspect picked up over a third as many viewers as Community led off the night with (landing 6.05 million viewers), but it actually posted a demo number (1.8) only one point higher than Community's, meaning very few of its viewers were young and, therefore, desirable to advertisers. And when you consider both numbers will likely fall in weeks to come, Prime Suspect starts to look like yet another show NBC will have to replace, until you consider they really don't have anything to replace it with. Obviously, making a remake of a British series no one had heard of doesn't seem like the best idea in the world anymore, huh?
In other news:
- The show that won the night (continuing to build our big "comedy is back" thesis) was the second half-hour of a whole hour of Big Bang Theory, which pulled in 14.94 million viewers and a 5.1 in the demo. (That's good enough to beat yesterday's excellent Modern Family premiere number in viewers, though not in the demo.) The first half hour grabbed 14.30 million viewers and a 4.9. CBS had a solid night overall, as new drama Person Of Interest debuted solidly, with 13.33 million viewers and a 3.1 (it's that latter number, which actually lost to The Office, that is of concern), and The Mentalist grabbed 13.56 million viewers and a 2.8. Both shows were down from last year's time slot occupants, but not by so much that CBS would be greatly alarmed, particularly when Big Bang is doing so well.
- Fox's The X Factor did well in its second airing, hanging on to much of its Wednesday audience, pulling in 12.51 million viewers and a 4.3, just giving Community yet another headache in the 8 p.m. hour.
- ABC's once mighty Grey's Anatomy seemed a little tired last night (like it's the protagonist of a Hold Steady song), but it still won the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours in the demo, grabbing 10.38 million viewers and a 4.1. New show Charlie's Angels led off the night and did just fine, though if it falls off at all, it will likely be canceled fairly quickly (in order to make way for Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes' new show, perhaps). It pulled in 8.76 million viewers and, more troublingly, a 2.1 in the demo, exactly the same as Parks & Recreation. (However, the 15-minute breakdown linked to above shows that it was relatively steady throughout the hour, without much audience erosion and, indeed, a slight growth in the final 15 minutes. Heh, heh. Growth.)
- Finally, we have The CW, which saw solid (for The CW) numbers for both Vampire Diaries (2.52 million viewers and a 1.2) and Secret Circle (2.12 million viewers and an 0.9). The network, at this point, has far bigger worries than either of those shows.