It's turning out to be a pretty good fall for most of the networks. (For purposes of this conversation, let's pretend The CW doesn't exist.) New shows are getting sampled. Old hits are doing okay for themselves. Now, granted, few shows have been genuine surprises—Fox's New Girl comes closest to being an out of the box hit, if it can maintain its numbers—but the networks must be pleased that their new shows are getting sampled. Indeed, not a single new show that's debuted so far on ABC, CBS, or Fox has outright bombed.
This happiness doesn't extend to NBC. After seeing The Sing-Off and Playboy Club both flame out Monday and watching sizable declines for former top hit The Biggest Loser on Tuesday, the network has an early candidate for DeathWatch 2011, the race to see which show is canceled first. Look: When the good news for your network concerns that Up All Night lost around 4 million of its debut episode viewers and pulled in but 6.04 million viewers, you've got a problem. And much as some of us here like Free Agents, that show's probably got one eye on the door where NBC keeps the crazy ax man that cancels their shows. Last night's episode fell from the already fairly low debut to just 3.89 million viewers, with only a 1.3 in the 18-49-year-old demographic. The woes followed from there. Last year's bright spot Harry's Law returned with 7.3 million viewers (and actually fell from Free Agents, with a 1.2 in the demo). Once venerable hit Law & Order: Special Victims Unit grabbed only 7.6 million viewers (and matched Up All Night's demo number at 2.3, which is why Up All Night seems likely to stick around for a while), when last year's debut episode pulled 9.68. Granted, at this point, the list of NBC's woes has grown so comically large that it feels like there should be an up-side at some point. But there doesn't seem to be one coming any time soon.
In other news, Fox's The X-Factor, sold as the second coming of American Idol, turned out to not be American Idol but, rather, a solid-ish debut for a new reality show, pulling in 11.72 million for its first hour and 12.56 for its second. (The demo numbers, breaking down to a 4.0 and 4.4, were fine but unspectacular.) Fox, which spent most of the summer strutting around like this was a sure thing, is now trying to sell the show as a respectable performer. Which it is! Particularly if it can hold that number! But it's not an Idol number, and it suggests there may, finally, be diminishing returns for performance-based reality shows, a notion that sends cold shivers of fear into the networks' hearts.
Unless the long-rumored return of comedy is finally here. After an amazing number for the Two And A Half Men premiere, a very good debut number for 2 Broke Girls, and an excellent debut number for New Girl, ABC unexpectedly won the whole night last night with Modern Family, which pulled in 14.29 million viewers and a 6.0 in the demo for its hourlong debut. What's more, the largely unpromoted and unheralded The Middle led off ABC's night with a respectable 9.64 million. Needless to say, both shows were way up over last year's premieres, and Modern Family actually posted its highest viewership number of all time with that rating. Does this mean comedy is back? Well, it's actually too soon to tell, but we're in the media, and we like to jump to conclusions, so we're going to say that yes, yes it is back. All of which means that NBC's last, best hope? It's Whitney. Run for your lives, people. Run for your lives.
DeathWatch leader: Free Agents (runner-up: The Playboy Club)
Also debuting last night:
- Hey, what are your grandparents watching? alert: CBS did just fine for itself, just fine. It can walk without your help. It just toddles along a little, and it gets where it needs to go just fine. What's that mean? That means 10.36 million viewers (and a 3.1 in the demo) for Survivor, 14.07 million (and a 4.1) for Criminal Minds, and 12.59 million (and a 3.1) for Ted Danson's debut on C.S.I.
- ABC had a very good night overall, winning the 10 p.m. hour in the demo to go along with Modern Family's overall win for the night. What was airing there? Why, it was the goofy new soap Revenge, or as we prefer to call it, REVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENGE!!! Emily VanCamp's uncontrollable killing spree pulled in a 3.4 in the demo and 10.15 million viewers in a time slot ABC's been trying to program for years. Again, too early to tell, but that's a promising start.
- Finally, in schadenfreude news, Free Agents might not be the first show canceled because H8R, the CW and Mario Lopez's bid to win a Nobel Peace Prize, tumbled in its second airing to 1.09 million viewers and an 0.4 in the demo. Then again, like Free Agents, H8R is on a network in perpetual crisis, and it's very cheap to produce. So we'll probably be stuck with those gleaming teeth for at least a while.