Viewers Have Little Appetite for NBC’s Hannibal

Cannibal drama draws a 1.6; ABC sees decent returns with new sitcom

Broadcasters this week squeezed out two of the final scripted series premieres of the 2012-13 campaign, and as has been the case throughout the season, the results were unspectacular.

ABC on Wednesday launched its penultimate freshman effort, bowing How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) after a new episode of Modern Family. Based on the title of a Fiona Apple record (ed. note: not really), the Sarah Chalke sitcom drew 8.44 million viewers and an entirely respectable 2.9 in the 18-49 demo.

How to Live with Your Parents now stands as the year’s third highest-rated new comedy premiere, trailing only NBC’s Go On (3.4, Sept. 11) and ABC’s just-wrapped The Neighbors (3.2, Sept. 26).

While How, etc.’s opening deliveries were encouraging, its retention numbers were a bit soft. The premiere retained just 69 percent of its Modern Family lead-in; the Wednesday night warhorse drew a 4.2 in the dollar demo at 9 p.m.

Things were decidedly less merry over at NBC. The Peacock last night introduced Hannibal, the latest in a long line of pretenders to the Thursday 10 p.m. throne. The cannibals n’ cops caper drew 4.36 million viewers and a 1.6 in the demo, and while that marked a tidy 78 percent improvement from the previous occupant—the first episode of the doomed Do No Harm delivered an anemic 0.9 rating on Jan. 31—Hannibal was down 20 percent from the 2.0 served up by the March 1, 2012, premiere of Awake.

Since ER closed shop in 2009, NBC’s Thursday night drama slot has been a black hole. Over the course of 13 episodes, Prime Suspect last season averaged a 1.2 in the dollar demo, while The Firm scratched out an 0.9 before it was shuttled over to the limbo that is Saturday night.

Season-to-date, NBC has slotted four series in the 10 p.m. bracket. Rock Center with Brian Williams kicked off the year before giving way to the short-lived Do No Harm; when that series was yanked, the network plugged the gap with repeats of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Ironically, the Thursday night capper once was a symbol of NBC’s iron clad stability. From 1981 to 2009, NBC aired just three series in the time slot: Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and ER. Celebrated by critics and viewers alike, these were canonical dramas, series that represented network TV at its very best.

Plus ça change… At its peak (1995-96), ER averaged a staggering 21.1 million viewers and a now-unfathomable 16.8 rating in the dollar demo, numbers we won’t see the like of again.

So hegemonic was NBC’s Must See TV lineup that for years the network could program the blandest, least compelling sitcoms in the 8:30 p.m. buffer between Friends and Seinfeld and still draw a 13. We’re talking Union Square, The Single Guy, Boston Common-echelon stuff here. Want to know what draws a 13 rating in 2013? Not a blessed thing. Even the juggernaut that is NBC’s Sunday Night Football “only” draws an 8.2, a rating that wouldn’t even have cracked the top 10 as little as 15 years ago.

Of course, NBC’s not the only broadcast net to falter on the drama front. Only three new one-hour series are still putting up at least a 2.0 in the demo; of these, The Following (Fox) and Elementary (CBS) have already been renewed for 2013-14. While certain to get picked up for a second season, NBC’s Revolution hasn’t been given an official renewal.

While the bar has been set considerably lower since the days when Jerry, Chandler and Dr. Ross ruled the dial, there are a few broadcast shows that still deliver the goods. CBS’ The Big Bang Theory is averaging a world-class 5.4 in the dollar demo, while the long-running Tuesday night drama NCIS is putting up its best deliveries ever, averaging 19.7 million viewers in its 10th season.

With just a handful of weeks before the season sputters to an end, only a few scripted premieres remain on the docket. ABC bows the comedy Family Tools on Wednesday, May 1, while Fox will take the wraps off The Goodwin Games on Monday, May 20. NBC has not announced a launch date for the Anne Heche sitcom Save Me, and it appears unlikely that CBS will go forward with the Alan Kirschenbaum comedy, Friend Me. The prolific writer/producer died on Oct. 26.

Through 27 weeks of the broadcast season, CBS is leading the pack with an average prime time rating of 3.0, down 3 percent versus the year-ago period. Fox is in second place (2.5, down 24 percent), NBC is third (2.4, down 8 percent) and ABC is bringing up the rear with a 2.3, down 8 percent from last season. Of all the broadcast outlet, only Spanish-language net Univision is putting up year-over-year gains, averaging a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49, an improvement of 2 percent versus last year.