Doc Drama Do No Harm on Life Support

NBC series is lowest-rated debut in Big Four history

The series premiere of NBC’s schizoid doctor drama Do No Harm died on the table Thursday night, posting a miserly 0.9 rating in the 18-49 demo.

Per Nielsen preliminary fast national data, Do No Harm now stands as the lowest-rated, in-season debut of any scripted Big Four show, ever.

Last season, NBC scraped the bottom of the barrel with the inaugural episode of Bent, a Wednesday night comedy that drew a 1.0 in the demo on March 21, 2012. But whereas Bent was a virtual burnoff—NBC aired back-to-back episodes of the show for three consecutive weeks before its order ran dry—Do No Harm was designed to carry its weight in the Thursday 10 p.m. slot.

While NBC has ordered 12 episodes of Do No Harm, it’s difficult to imagine how the network will see its way clear to keep the show on the air. Even the ratings-challenged time slot predecessor Rock Center with Brian Williams managed to scare up the occasional 1.1 in its second season.

Do No Harm’s performance was so poor that it practically made at least two of last season’s Thursday night anchors seem like huge hits by comparison. On Sept. 22, 2011, the Maria Bello procedural Prime Suspect bowed to 6.05 million viewers and a 1.8 in the demo, while the fantasy drama Awake bowed to 6.24 million viewers and a 2.0 in March 2012.

Last night’s premiere was more in keeping with the Jan. 12, 2012, time-slot debut of The Firm, which drew 4.23 million viewers and a 1.0 before being shuttled off to the purgatory of Saturday nights.

All three of NBC’s 2011-12 Thursday night anchors were canceled.

A postmodern reboot of the Jekyll and Hyde story, Do No Harm stars Rescue Me alum Steven Pasquale as Dr. Jason Cole, a neurosurgeon who assumes an alternate personality every night at 8:25 p.m. Like a particularly self-destructive drunk, Cole’s alter ego spends all his waking hours scheming to foul up the good doctor’s life.

While there is no question that broadcast is losing ground to the DVR and cable in the final hour of prime time, last night’s 10 p.m. numbers weren’t entirely discouraging. CBS’ freshman drama Elementary is a proven reach vehicle, drawing 10.8 million viewers against Do No Harm and ABC’s Scandal (8.10 million). Elementary did a 3.3 in its adults 25-54 target demo, while Scandal won the hour among the 18-49 set (2.7).

NBC’s other midseason premieres are also struggling. After bowing to 5.66 million viewers and a 2.0 in the demo, Deception fell to 3.73 million viewers and a 1.2 on Jan. 28. Meanwhile, the freshman Thursday night comedy 1600 Penn most recently delivered 3.28 million viewers and a 1.3 in the demo.

If nothing else, viewers this season seem to have lost patience with the medical drama. Fox’s The Mob Doctor on Sept. 17 bowed to just 5.11 million viewers and a 1.5 rating, while the CW dramedy Emily Owens, M.D. was DOA when it premiered to 1.67 million viewers and a 0.5 rating on Oct. 16. Both shows have since been canceled. 

Season-to-date, NBC retains the lead in the 18-49 race, but by the slimmest of margins. Through Week 18, the Peacock is averaging a 2.9 in the demo, leading CBS by one-tenth of a ratings point. Fox is averaging a 2.5, while ABC is bringing up the rear with a 2.3.

While NBC is the only broadcaster to improve on last season’s performance, growing the demo 16 percent through Jan. 27, in the absence of Sunday Night Football and The Voice, the network is rapidly losing ground. Last week, NBC finished tied for third place with ABC (1.7), while Fox surged into first for only the second time this season on the strength of American Idol and The Following. With a weekly average of a 2.7 in the demo, Fox easily beat out CBS (1.8) for pole position.