While ABC had anticipated a roaring cataract of GRPs, the series premiere of The River brought forth little more than a lazy, trickling stream.
According to Nielsen preliminary data, the two-hour debut averaged 7.59 million total viewers and a 2.4 rating in the 18-49 demo, and while that marked a slight improvement over year-ago time slot occupants V and Detroit 1-8-7, it was a far cry from the 3.1 rating CBS scared up at 9 p.m. with NCIS: Los Angeles.
In head-to-head competition, CBS’ Unforgettable outdrew The River  by nearly 5 million total viewers, while tying it in the demo.
Of particular concern is how The River’s deliveries dropped as the night wore on. The first hour of the premiere averaged 8.2 million viewers and a 2.5 in the dollar demo, before falling to 6.82 million viewers and a 2.2 rating in the 10 p.m.-11 p.m. slot.
According to buyer estimates, The River is one of the more expensive scripted offerings on the Tuesday night roster, commanding nearly $150,000 for a 30-second spot. CBS’ veteran drama NCIS charges around $155,000 for a :30, while a unit in Fox’s Glee can cost as much as $265,000 a pop.
The tepid response to the horror/adventure strip is emblematic of much of ABC’s 2011-12 campaign. Among the underachievers that have dotted Paul Lee’s first year as entertainment president are Charlie’s Angels, which bowed to 8.76 million viewers and a 2.1 rating, and Pan Am, which started strong (11.1 million viewers/3.1 rating) before plummeting to 3.74 million viewers and a 1.2 rating on Jan. 22.
Angels was euthanized after five episodes while the final Pan Am burn-off episodes will air Feb. 12 and 19. ABC also pulled the plug on a pair of comedies (Man Up!, Work It).
At the same time, ABC has developed a number of minor hits, including Revenge, Suburgatory , Last Man Standing and Once Upon a Time , the latter of which claims bragging rights to the season’s highest-rated drama debut (4.0 on Oct. 23).
Naturally, The River doesn’t present a make-or-break situation for ABC, which still has a few cards up its sleeve. In March, the network will premiere the sudsy GCB—formerly titled Good Christian Bitches/Good Christian Belles—and the Ashley Judd drama Missing. April marks the debut of Shonda Rhimes’ D.C. drama Scandal and the biting comedy Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23.
At least one of these new series is going to have to put up big numbers if ABC is to pull itself out of the hole it’s in. Through the first 20 weeks of the season, ABC is averaging a 2.4 in the demo, leaving it in fourth place behind NBC (2.7).