Sunday Night Ghost Town: Soft Launch for ABC’s Red Widow

No quick fix for troubled 10 p.m. time slot

Like a strip mall that houses an endless succession of failed take-out restaurants, some time slots are seemingly doomed to failure. And unfortunately for ABC, its Sunday 10 p.m. hour appears to be one of the more haunted slots on the dial.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, ABC’s special two-hour premiere of its midseason crime drama Red Widow failed to scare up much of a crowd last night, delivering 7.13 million viewers and a 1.5 in the adults 18-49 demo. The series opener finished last in the 9-11 p.m. period behind the final hour of Fox’s “Animation Domination” block (1.8), NBC’s two-hour series debut of Celebrity Apprentice (1.7) and CBS’ The Good Wife (1.6). In the 10-11 p.m. slot, The Mentalist on CBS tied Red Widow with a 1.5 rating.

Last season, ABC used the time slot as a showcase for its short-lived dramedy GCB. The show debuted on March 4, 2012, to 7.56 million viewers and a 2.2 in the dollar demo, marking a 30 percent decline from the 11.1 million viewers/3.1 rating achieved by the previous time slot occupant, Pan Am.

By comparison with last spring’s premiere, Red Widow was off 32 percent in the demo. But such is the narrative arc of this broadcast season; whereas 2011-12 was marked by shows that faded fast after strong debuts, this year’s launches have been weak across the board.

Red Widow’s opening deliveries are disconcertingly similar to those of ABC’s Zero Hour, which was canceled after three episodes. The Anthony Edwards mystery bowed Feb. 14 to 6.38 million viewers and a 1.4 rating before falling to a 1.0 in the demo last Thursday.

Red Widow shifts to its regular 10 p.m. time slot on March 10. If nothing else, the move takes it out of reach of the ravenous AMC series, The Walking Dead, which owns 9 p.m.—and every other hour you can think of—outright. Sunday night’s installment of the zombie apocalypse hit beat all comers, delivering 11.3 million viewers and a 5.7 in the demo.

Boasting a 2.0 in the dollar demo, Talking Dead—the official postgame show of The Walking Dead—beat everything on broadcast in the 10 p.m. slot.

History also helped take a bite out of the broadcast audience, as the premiere of The Bible delivered 13.1 million viewers and a 3.3 rating, while Vikings averaged 6.21 million viewers and a 2.0. 

The Sunday night capper has been a challenge for ABC since Brothers & Sisters ended its five-season run in 2011. The network also faces a dead spot in the Thursday 8 p.m. time slot, which has been haunted by its own string of high-profile failures (Zero Hour, Last Resort, Charlie’s Angels, My Generation, Flash Forward).

Perhaps no time slot is more fraught with perils than NBC’s once-legendary Thursday 10 p.m. hour. But for a few interruptions, the Peacock from 1981-2009 aired just three dramas in the slot: Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and ER. (At its peak in the pre-DVR/lousy cable halcyon days of 1995-96, ER averaged a now unimaginable 16.8 in the dollar demo, more than double the 8.2 rating served up this season by prime time’s top-rated series, Sunday Night Football.) Since ER flatlined in 2009, occupants of its old time slot include the likes of The Marriage Ref, Prime Suspect, The Firm, Awake and Do No Harm.

One network that appears to have exorcised one of its more vexing time slot demons is Fox, which boasts one of the few hit freshman series in The Following. Through six episodes, the bloody-minded drama is averaging 9.05 million viewers and a 2.9 in the demo, deliveries that have helped erase all memories of previous inhabitants of the Monday 9 p.m. slot (The Mob Doctor, Alcatraz, Terra Nova, Lone Star, The Chicago Code).

Twenty-two weeks into the season, CBS is in first place among adults 18-49, averaging a 3.1 rating (down 3 percent versus 2011-12). NBC is second, with a 2.6, down 4 percent, while Fox remains in third with a 2.5, down 24 percent from the year-ago period. Through Feb. 24, ABC is in the cellar with an average prime-time rating of 2.3, down 8 percent from last season.

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