If TV learns anything from the NBC sitcom "Animal Practice," it will be this: Just because test audiences really like a monkey featured in the show's initial episodes during previews doesn't mean the program will fare well once it gets on the air.
NBC convinced ad buyers to support its new fall sitcom, "Animal Practice," by bragging that Crystal, a capuchin monkey with a prominent role in the series, was the highest-testing characteramong audiences for its 2012 fall lineup. But the comedy has limped into autumn, prompting the Peacock to cancel the series and replace it with the second season of "Whitney" starting November 14th.
It's not as if NBC didn't promote the heck out of "Animal Practice," which is set in a veterinary hospital. The network ran an ad-free preview of the program during the closing ceremonies of this year's London Olympics (a move that forced viewers to wait around to see The Who play from the U.K.). In trumpeting the program during the upfront and on its air, NBC may have inadvertently made its capuchin a symbol of the new TV season
In TV's past, it's been hard not to win audiences by playing up an animal's appeal -- as anyone who watched "Lassie," "Flipper, "Rin-Tin-Tin," "Mr. Ed" or even "Green Acres" can tell you.
And yet, "Animal Practice" has captured just approximately 2.1 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 as of Oct. 14, according to Nielsen. In contrast, ABC's "The Middle," which airs opposite "Animal Practice" Wednesdays at 8 p.m, has lured nearly 3.7 million, Nielsen said.
To be sure, "Animal Practice" has had heady competition in its time slot, including "Survivor" on CBS and "The X Factor" on Fox.
This is TV's second cancellation of the 2012-2013 season. Last week, CBS ended the run of Friday night's "Made in Jersey" after just two episodes aired. One other show seen as ripe for potential termination is Fox's "Mob Doctor," which airs on Mondays at 8 p.m.
Crystal's demise underscores NBC's fragile condition. Even though the network has had its ratings buoyed by "Sunday Night Football" and "The Voice," which air Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, respectively, its schedule on other days of the week is not as strong. NBC's entire Thursday-night lineup has been limping along. Indeed, stalwart programs on that night -- "30 Rock" and "Up All Night," for example -- have generated even fewer 18-to-49 numbers than Crystal and her pals.
The monkey can also rest easy knowing that in the first three weeks of the season, she trumped none other than NBC News lead anchor Brian Williams. The program he hosts on Thursday night at 10 p.m, "Rock Center," has attracted just 1.19 million viewers between 18 and 49 on average, as of Oct. 14, according to Nielsen.