NBC has set premiere dates for the last of its 2011-12 slate, carving out time for two new sitcoms and a hidden-camera series starring Betty White.
The Amanda Peet vehicle, Bent, bows Wednesday, March 21, in one of the toughest time slots on the dial, going head-to-head with ABC’s top-rated Modern Family at 9 p.m. The sitcom will air in two-episode blocks from 9 to 10 p.m. through the next two weeks.
A second comedy, Best Friends Forever, will debut Wednesday, April 4 at 8:30 p.m., leading out of the new reality strip Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. The twin premieres will roll out in the wake of the March 28 series finales of Are You There, Chelsea? and Whitney.
White’s geriatric Candid Camera offering was well-sampled in a special Jan. 16 preview, drawing 12.3 million viewers and a 2.6 rating in the 18-49 demographic.
While neither show is a hit, Whitney has a much better shot at a renewal than Chelsea. Through 16 episodes, Whitney is averaging a 2.0 in the same demographic, while the Chelsea Handler project has churned out a 1.7 over the course of a half-dozen installments.
NBC also announced that it is returning the cult favorite Community to the Thursday 8 p.m. slot on March 15, pushing 30 Rock up a half hour. That same night, Parks & Recreation will go on a brief hiatus, returning April 19 at 9:30 p.m. after the freshman comedy Up All Night wraps its 24-episode run.
The game of musical chairs doesn’t stop there. On March 7, Rock Center With Brian Williams will move up an hour to 10 p.m., only to return to its 9 p.m. roost on April 11 to make room for new episodes of Law & Order: SVU.
Williams’ show has already moved once, jumping from the Monday 10 p.m. slot to its current home opposite ABC’s Modern Family-Happy Endings unit and CBS’ Criminal Minds. Since bowing on Halloween night, Rock Center has eked out a meager 1.0 in the demographic. (The high-water mark, a 1.7 on Jan. 23, was reached when Williams moderated the debate among GOP candidates Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.)
That Monday 10 p.m. slot is beginning to look cursed. Despite a hefty $25 million promotional budget and a Super Bowl spot, the new musical drama Smash is flailing. After premiering Feb. 6 to 11.4 million viewers and receiving a 3.8 in the demographic, Smash plummeted 40 percent to 6.46 million viewers and a 2.3 rating.
While Smash may prove to be yet another major disappointment for NBC, the show is by no means dead and buried. Of the five new dramas NBC has premiered thus far in the 2011-12 season, Smash is still head and shoulders above the canceled Playboy Club (4.15 million viewers/1.4) and Prime Suspect (4.61 million viewers/1.2). The show is also trending above NBC’s Friday night fantasy/horror mashup, Grimm (5.32 million viewers/1.6), and the exiled Canadian import, The Firm (4.15 million/1.0).
When compared to the previous occupants of the 10 p.m. slot, Smash is still up 130 percent in the demographic (2.3 versus an aggregate 1.0 for Playboy Club and Rock Center). The show also marks a significant improvement over last season’s Harry’s Law, which averaged 6.94 million viewers and a 1.8 in the demographic in its freshman run.
The Smash slot isn’t the only one that seems to be haunted by failure. Thursday nights at 10 p.m. are also a disaster, having been the home to the high-profile flops Prime Suspect and The Firm. Before each show was burned off—The Firm was shuttled off to the Siberia of Saturday night after five episodes—the post-comedy block slot averaged a 1.1 in the demographic.
Moving into the time slot on March 1 is the supernatural drama Awake, which stars Jason Isaacs as a detective who inhabits two distinct realities after surviving a devastating car accident.
If Smash doesn’t survive past its scheduled May 14 finale, it will mark the third strike for Steven Spielberg. The director has had a hand in some of the season’s most disappointing new series, a roster that includes Fox’s pricey dino drama Terra Nova and ABC’s The River.
While Terra Nova averaged 7.6 million viewers and a 2.5 in the demographic, those numbers may not justify a second round of the series, which costs around $4 million per episode to produce. That said, weak ratings for other new Fox dramas like Alcatraz and The Finder could ensure a place for Terra Nova in the network’s fall lineup.
The River also appears to be a bust, although Tuesday night’s episode was flat versus the previous week. Per preliminary Nielsen data, the third installment of The River averaged 4.78 million viewers and a 1.7 in the demographic, on par with the show’s performance on Feb. 14.
The two-hour premiere of The River delivered a modest 7.59 million viewers and a 2.4 rating in the demographic.