A 'Star' Is Born? Solid Audition for New Fox Musical Drama

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It's unlikely that Fox's new 'Star' can match the freshman run of 'Empire,' but the network is doing everything it can to give it a shot.
It's unlikely that Fox's new 'Star' can match the freshman run of 'Empire,' but the network is doing everything it can to give it a shot.  Credit: Fox

Fox's special preview of its heavily-promoted music industry potboiler "Star" enjoyed solid sampling on Wednesday night, matching "Lethal Weapon" as the network's highest-rated drama debut of the 2016-17 season.

According to Nielsen fast national data, the one-hour advance look at "Star" averaged 6.73 million viewers and a 2.2 rating, which translates to 2.82 million members of Fox's core adults 18-to-49 demo. While the opening numbers were nowhere near as gaudy as those scared up by "Star" predecessor (and temporary lead-in) "Empire," which bowed on Jan. 7, 2015, to 9.9 million viewers and a 3.8 in the demo, they could prove to be a lattice on which to build when the show returns in three weeks for its 8 p.m. time-slot premiere.

"Star" retained 81% of the 2.7 rating that "Empire" delivered in the anchor slot, and was the night's second highest-rated scripted broadcast. On Jan. 4, "Star" will slip into the slot vacated by "Empire," which is heading into a three-month hiatus. The aforementioned "Lethal Weapon," which with an average live-same-day rating of a 1.8 is currently Fox's biggest freshman draw, will serve as battery mate to "Star."

The "Star" preview was presented with limited commercial interruption. Among the blue-chip sponsors that bought time in the broadcast were Honda, Microsoft and Coca-Cola. Movie studio messaging was preeminent: Warner Bros. hyped its Will Smith drama "Collateral Beauty," Lionsgate got the word out on the tuneful Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone romcom "La La Land," and Universal invested in a 90-second teaser for its musical menagerie "Sing." Fox sibling Twentieth Century Fox also hitched its wagon to, uh, "Star," airing a two-minute trailer for its Christmas release "Hidden Figures," which stars "Empire" lead Taraji P. Henson.

If "Star" can manage to build a following on Wednesday nights, where it will go head-to-head with the elder-skewing procedurals "Criminal Minds" and "Law & Order: SVU," it could go a long way toward maintaining Fox's Hump Day hegemony. It would be imprudent to suggest that "Star" might replicate the phenomenal freshman-year run of "Empire," which was characterized by almost implausible week-to-week ratings growth; the season finale delivered an astonishing 6.9 adults 18-to-49 rating, which marked an 82% improvement over the already superb opening number. But Fox is doing what it can to make lightning strike twice. Per iSpot.tv data, the network to date has placed 2,624 "Star" promos on its own air and a clutch of unaffiliated cable networks, generating nearly one billion (956.1 million) impressions along the way.

(If nothing else, Fox would be thrilled to see "Star" reprise the same sort of paradigm-smashing gains in the C3/C7 currency pioneered by "Empire.")

With just two series averaging north of a 2.0 rating -- the NFL-inflated "The Simpsons" joins "Empire" in that rarified air -- the network faces crippling instability across the board. The freshman baseball drama "Pitch" last week closed out its first 10-inning outing with an average live-same-day draw of 3.03 million viewers and a 0.8 in the demo, and "The Exorcist" is set to end its Friday night run with a season-average 0.7 rating. Meanwhile, many of the more established series are of little solace. The Monday night "Gotham"/"Lucifer" block is drawing a 1.1 in the target demo, and deliveries for the sophomore shows "Rosewood" and "Scream Queens" are so low they may as well have never come back at all.

But hope springs eternal, and along with "Star," Fox has a few more shots at fostering a new hit drama. Premiering out of Super Bowl LI, the CTU spinoff "24: Legacy" will be the beneficiary of the season's biggest lead-in before assuming its regular Monday 8 p.m. slot on Feb. 6. The new procedural "APB" will bow after the "24: Legacy" time-slot opener, while the limited series "Prison Break" reboot will appear this spring in the Tuesday 9 p.m. nook, after "Bones" wraps up its 12-episode final season.

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