No Laughing Matter: Season Premiere of ‘The Office’ Falls Flat

No end in sight for NBC’s Thursday night struggles

NBC’s Thursday night lineup continues to underwhelm, as the season premieres of The Office, Parks and Recreation and Up All Night failed to find an audience.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, The Office’s ninth season opener averaged just 4.28 million viewers and a 2.1 adults 18-49 rating, marking a drop of 46 percent versus the Sept. 11, 2011 table setter and tying a series low in the demo.

Much of that decline is safely attributable to the old “what a difference a year makes” trope. After a summer of speculation, last season’s premiere revealed that Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard was tapped to replace Michael Scott (Steve Carell) at the helm of Dunder Mifflin.

This will be the final season of The Office, which returns under the auspices of original showrunner Greg Daniels.

The Office also labored under the burden of a weak lead-in. Sophomore comedy Up All Night returned with a whimper, averaging just 3.11 million viewers and a 1.3 in the demo. In stark contrast, a repeat of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory delivered 9.32 million viewers and a 2.5 in the demo in the same time slot (8:30 p.m.). 

After serving up 10.9 million total viewers and a 3.7 rating in its Sept. 14, 2011 debut, Up All Night never has come close to delivering such lofty numbers. When its first season wrapped last April, the Will Arnett-Christina Applegate sitcom drew just 2.58 million total viewers and a 1.2 in the demo.

Critics’ darling Parks and Recreation also stumbled, averaging 3.5 million viewers and a 1.7 rating in the 9:30 p.m. slot, down 19 percent year over year.

It’s worth noting that NBC’s premieres were largely unchallenged by fresh content. Although Fox brought out the big guns with The X Factor (10.2 million viewers/3.5) and Glee (7.46 million/2.9), CBS aired wall-to-wall repeats and ABC countered with the finale of its summer series Wipeout (3.94 million/1.2) and a Grey’s Anatomy rerun.

The competition begins in earnest nest week, when ABC and CBS trot out their respective Thursday night rosters for 2012-13. ABC bows the new action drama Last Resort Sept. 27 at 8 p.m., leading into all-new installments of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. CBS returns fire with a pair of big-reach comedies (TBBT and Two and a Half Men) before taking a turn toward the mysterious with Person of Interest and its new interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes myth, Elementary.

Broadcasters can expect further complications by way of NFL Network’s beefed-up Thursday Night Football franchise. While preliminary numbers for the New York Giants’ 36-7 rout of the Carolina Panthers are not currently available, last week’s Bears-Packers game ate up a chunk of GRPs, drawing 8.56 million viewers and a 3.8 rating.

All told, Fox won the night with an average draw of 8.81 million viewers and a 3.2 rating in the demo. CBS took second (7.74 million/1.9), while NBC finished third (4.03 million/1.6).