USA Network on Thursday night celebrated its first winter series launch, bowing the Sarah Shahi dramedy Fairly Legal to 3.88 million total viewers.
Leading out of returning USA hit Royal Pains at 10 p.m., Legal drew 41 percent of its opening-night audience from the ranks of adult viewers 25-54. The one-hour premiere averaged 1.58 million members of the target demo, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data.
Shahi and company also delivered 1.39 million viewers 18-49, accounting for 36 percent of Legal’s total audience.
Given its winter habitat, it’s not entirely sound to try and make an apples-to-hand-grenades comparison between the Legal opener and other recent original series premieres on USA. Ah, but what the hell: Thursday’s debut held its own with the June 28, 2007, launch of Burn Notice (3.99 million viewers), but fell shy of the numbers generated by the first installment of Covert Affairs by some 1 million viewers.
Legal lead-in Royal Pains returned for a six-episode run, marking the series’ first foray into the chill of winter. Pains delivered 4.43 million viewers at 9 p.m.; as was the case with Legal, 41 percent of its viewership was culled from the ranks of adults 25-54.
Pains also scared up 1.5 million viewers 18-49, a draw representing 34 percent of its total delivery.
Of the 25 episodes of Pains that have aired since the show’s June 2009 debut, Thursday night’s is the only installment to deliver fewer than 5 million total viewers. The season 2.5 premiere marked Pains’ first stab at a 9 p.m. lead-in slot; last summer, the series occupied the Thursday 10 p.m. slot, where it reaped the benefits of its Burn Notice lead-in.
Along with the uncertainties that came with its cold-weather launch, Legal also faced a formidable challenger in MTV’s Jersey Shore. The GTL juggernaut once again smashed its own ratings record, drawing an all-time high 8.9 million viewers in the Thursday 10 p.m. time slot.
Both Fairly Legal and Royal Pains should boost their respective deliveries upon application of time-shifted viewing data. Last summer, Pains was the fourth most-watched series on ad-supported cable, serving up an average 6.89 million total viewers. When credited with a week’s worth of DVR playback, the series saw its total deliveries rise 58 percent from its original live-plus-same-day numbers.