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Crash and Burn: ABC’s 'Pan Am' Is Another Downer

Three weeks into the new season, dramas are flailing

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Heading into the third week of the 2011-12 TV season, the new crop of broadcast dramas appears to be dying on the vine.

Programs that got off to a healthy start during premiere week wilted the second time around, and shows that stumbled at the gate did even worse in their return dates. Most recently, the promising Pan Am on Sunday night plummeted 28 percent from its debut deliveries, averaging 7.75 million viewers in ABC’s 10 p.m. time slot. 

The period piece also dropped 17 percent in the crucial 18-49 demo, notching a 2.5 rating/6 share per preliminary Nielsen live-plus-same-day data. The Sept. 25 premiere of Pan Am delivered 10.7 million viewers and a 3.0/8 in the demo; final ratings data revised the initial numbers upwards to 11.1 million viewers and a 3.1 rating/8 share.

Despite the big week-to-week declines, ABC is likely to be extremely patient with Pan Am, which once again won its time slot with women 18-49. Against NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Pan Am is skewing heavily female, premiering to a 4.2/11 with women 18-49, versus a 2.0/5 among men 18-49.

Pan Am retained 86 percent of its Desperate Housewives lead-in.

While Pan Am is holding its own with women, the NFL enjoys a substantial female fan base. Last season, 33 percent of the viewers who tuned into Sunday Night Football were women.

Speaking of football, the Baltimore Ravens’ 34-17 humiliation of Rex Ryan and the New York Jets drew a 7.7 rating/17 share in the demo and 18.9 million total viewers. The blowout went head-to-head with TBS’ coverage of the National League Division Series battle between the Phillies and Cardinals.

Also looking shaky on the drama front is ABC’s Charlie’s Angels. On Sept. 29, the reboot fell 19 percent to 7.11 million viewers, while drawing a weak 1.5 rating in the demo, consigning it to last place in the Thursday 8 p.m. hour. While Angels is seemingly targeted to men, female viewers 18-49 actually outnumber their male cohorts by a 3:2 ratio.

ABC’s Revenge is in the middle of the pack Wednesdays at 10 p.m., sandwiched between two old-timers in CBS’ CSI and NBC’s Law & Order: SVU. The second installment of the new drama averaged 8.55 million viewers and a 2.7/7 in the demo, down from 10 million viewers and a 3.3/9.

CBS’ A Gifted Man on Friday night (Sept. 30) dropped precipitously after a relatively strong initial outing. The Patrick Wilson vehicle fell 14 percent to 8.18 million viewers and finished a distant third in the demo (1.2/4) in its 8 p.m. time slot behind the Univision telenovela Teresa (1.9/7) and Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares (1.6/6).

That excepted, CBS’ new series are faring well. Along with the breakout comedy hit 2 Broke Girls, the Tiffany Network appears to have a hit in the Poppy Montgomery procedural Unforgettable. In its second time at bat (Sept. 27), Unforgettable won its Tuesday 10 p.m. time slot outright, drawing 12.4 million viewers and a 2.5/6 in the demo. 

Person of Interest is also holding up. While the J.J. Abrams thriller finished third in its time slot in the demo, it won the race for total viewers, averaging 12.5 million to 10.2 million for Grey’s Anatomy and 6.7 million/5.4 million for The Office/Whitney.

While it’s too soon to tell how Terra Nova will fare in the long run, the premiere of the long-delayed adventure series didn’t set the world on fire. Fox’s lone new drama finished third in its time slot, drawing 9.22 million total viewers and a 3.1 rating on Monday, Sept. 26. One of just two new series to over-index among male viewers, the two-hour Terra Nova premiere drew a 3.5 rating with men 18-49, trailing CBS’ How I Met Your Mother (4.2), 2 Broke Girls (4.1), and Mike & Molly (4.1).

NBC clearly has the toughest road ahead of it, as The Playboy Club and Prime Suspect have largely flopped. In their second outings, the two new series served up a 1.3 and a 1.5 in the demo, respectively.

If ABC and NBC are getting the worst of it, the networks’ new entertainment chiefs aren’t exactly being raked over the coals. ABC’s Paul Lee and NBC’s Bob Greenblatt inherited their fall slates and are unlikely to be judged for this quarter’s performance.

Greenblatt actually has an ace up his sleeve in Smash, the musical drama he brought over with him to 30 Rock from Showtime. Starring American Idol alum Katharine McPhee and Debra Messing, Smash has media buyers and critics buzzing and could well be the runaway hit of the season when it bows this winter.

For his part, Lee has three midseason series at hand, including the soapy Good Christian Belles, the Shonda Rhimes drama Scandal, and the lacerating comedy Apartment 23.

In the meantime, new comedies are more than pulling their weight and returning series continue to hold up. And while the numbers don’t look promising for the likes of The Playboy Club and Charlie’s Angels, the networks may be slower to issue a Do Not Resuscitate order.

“[Fox’s] Lone Star was already canceled this time a year ago, and [ABC’s] My Generation was pulled a few days later, both after just two episodes,” said Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate. “Things aren’t looking good for a lot of these new shows, but I think this year the networks may be a little more patient.”