MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The calendar says it's spring, but with multiple midseason series having program premieres, there was a touch of fall on -- if not in -- the air last night. While audiences will take time to sort out the new shows, it was a night when hope could spring eternal for NBC, as "Parks and Recreation" and "Southland" -- strategically scheduled around new episodes of "The Office" -- led NBC to tie CBS for first place.
Both networks scored in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic with an overall 3.3/10 rating and share. Fox (2.9/8) followed, with ABC (1.3/4) and the CW (.7/2) finishing fourth and fifth, respectively (all based on Nielsen fast-affiliate ratings, with final live-plus-same-day data to be released Friday afternoon).
Most notable was the 10 p.m. duel between two shows about, well, death: "Southland" (3.2/9), a gritty, grisly beat-cop drama, beat CBS's murder mystery "Harper's Island" (2.7/8) by 18%. And "Southland" was north of its lead-in, a ratings rarity for a 10 p.m. show (albeit only by a tenth of a ratings point, as "30 Rock" delivered a 3.1/9).
"Harper's Island," conversely, held only 73% of its "CSI" (3.7/10) lead-in. Most ominous for "Harper's," it declined about 10% in its second half hour, while "Southland" increased 6%. Despite that success, "Southland" is replacing one of TV's seminal shows, "E.R.," and was 9% below the medical melodrama's original-episode level (not including the series finale).
"Parks and Recreation" (3.0/9) also performed relatively well, finishing second in its time slot and increasing its delivery 36% from the season average for "Kath and Kim," the remake of an Australian sitcom that had awful ratings for NBC. Of course, it helped greatly that "Parks and Recreation" was bookended by "The Office," a similarly styled single-camera "mockumentary" about a workplace. The 8 p.m. "Office" episode notched a 3.3/11, which was 27% higher than the normal level for the usual show in the time slot, "My Name Is Earl." And the regularly scheduled 9 p.m. "Office" (3.9/11) was the highest-rated network show of the night.
Even though NBC's ratings rose from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., it couldn't outwit, outlast or outplay -- let alone out-rate -- CBS's "Survivor," which won with a 3.5/11. But that was off 15% from its season average. And "CSI" tumbled 27%, as NBC made inroads on a night it used to own.
NBC's resurgence also led Fox's "Bones" (2.5/8) and "Hell's Kitchen" (3.3/9) to cool down 14% and 15%, respectively.
Of course, one week does not a season make. And winter-weary couch potatoes may be leery about latching on to new shows. ABC's "In the Motherhood" (1.3/4), for instance, fell nearly a third in only its third week and had its lowest rating yet. Lead-out "Samantha Who?" (1.4/4, off 26%) also hit a new time-period low.
What's more, NBC's new shows will soon face new episodes of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" (1.4/4) and "Private Practice" (1.3/4), which plunged 76% and 66%, respectively, with repeats. The CW, too, which had about half of its regular viewers with reruns of "Smallville" (.7/2) and "Supernatural" (.8/2), will come back with original episodes to reclaim ratings.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Friday: After Thursday night's embarrassment of riches, Friday, with the notable exception of NBC's "Friday Night Lights," is mostly an embarrassment. So time travel -- cinematically and sociologically -- via Volkswagen Beetle as TCM runs 1969's "The Love Bug," and then switch to "Herbie: Fully Loaded," the Lindsey Lohan remake from 2005.
Saturday: For Passover and Easter, ABC's annual run of "The Ten Commandments."
Sunday: Then, perfectly named for such a sacred weekend, it's "Amen Corner" -- as well as the other iconic golf holes of Augusta National -- as the final round of The Masters runs on CBS.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Predicting golf ratings is usually up to the "Tiger factor," but this year the Easter Bunny may play a role, as Sunday's coverage competes with Sunday dinner at many houses.
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.