Blast From the Past: 'Will & Grace' Reboot Draws a Crowd

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'Will & Grace' on Thursday became the second-biggest comedy premiere of the new broadcast season.
'Will & Grace' on Thursday became the second-biggest comedy premiere of the new broadcast season. Credit: NBC Universal

The return of "Will & Grace" may not have put up Must-See TV numbers, but Thursday night's premiere delivered the highest ratings for an NBC sitcom in five years.

According to Nielsen fast national data, "Will & Grace" averaged 10 million viewers and a 2.9 in the demo, which works out to a hair under 3.75 million adults 18 to 49. This marks the Peacock's most robust delivery of advertiser-coveted viewers in a comedy since the Matthew Perry vehicle "Go On" drew a 3.4 in the so-called dollar demo, or 4.32 million adults 18 to 49, in its Sept. 11, 2012, time-slot premiere.

Update: The final Nielsen live-plus-same-day tally adjusted the "Will & Grace" audience up to 10.2 million viewers and a 3.0 in the demo, which translates to 3.87 million adults 18-49.

"Will & Grace" now stands as the second-biggest comedy premiere of the young broadcast season. On Monday night, CBS's "Big Bang Theory" prequel/spinoff "Young Sheldon" bowed to a staggering 17.2 million viewers, a 3.8 in the 18-to-49 demo and a 5.5 among the network's target audience, good for 6.64 million adults 25 to 54.

If nearly hitting a 3.0 counts as a towering debut in 2017, the rating is a bit shy of the turnout "Will & Grace" once commanded as part of NBC's powerhouse MSTV lineup. At its peak in 2001-02, the show averaged a whopping 17.3 million viewers and a 9.4 rating, which works out to 11.8 million adults 18 to 49. By comparison, last season's top-rated scripted hit, AMC's "The Walking Dead," averaged 11.4 million viewers and a 5.4 in the comparable demo.

That said, last night's deliveries aren't all that removed from the numbers generated by the eighth and final season of the original "Will & Grace." No longer boosted by high-octane running mates like "Friends" and "Scrubs," "Will & Grace" v. 1.0 closed out its run with an average draw of 8.63 million viewers and a 3.6 rating (4.7 million adults 18 to 49).

Per media buyers, the average unit cost for a 30-second spot in "Will & Grace" secured during the summer upfront bazaar was $211,856. Tech/gizmos were well represented, as Google snapped up a half-minute of airtime to talk up its Pixel 2 phone, while Apple took two units -- one for the Apple Watch and another for the iPhone 8. MGM Resorts ponied up for a 60-second spot, and the movie studios were represented by Marvel ("Thor: Ragnarok") and Twentieth Century Fox ("The Mountain Between Us").

The rest of NBC's comedy roster couldn't keep up with "Will & Grace," which was clearly a half-hour of destination TV. The 8 p.m.-9 p.m. anchor "Superstore" (1.3) was down two-tenths of a point versus its year-ago time-slot premiere, while "The Good Place" (1.3) slipped a tenth. "Will & Grace" lead-out "Great News" (1.3) lost 55 percent of the previous half-hour's demo.

'Grey's' return
Elsewhere on the broadcast schedule, ABC's indefatigable medical sudser "Grey's Anatomy" returned for its fourteenth season to a preliminary 7.95 million viewers and a 2.3 in the demo (2.96 million adults 18 to 49). That was down just two-tenths of a point from its year-ago premiere and up 10 percent compared to its 2016-17 season average. The special two-hour installment of "Grey's" led into the season four opener of "How to Get Away with Murder," which finished last in the 10 p.m. slot with a 1.1 rating. (CBS's "Thursday Night Football" hung up a preliminary 3.2 in the demo, while NBC's "Chicago Fire" drew a 1.5.)

Fox's new space dramedy "The Orville" was flat versus last week's time-slot bow with a 1.1 in the demo, which marked a 38 percent improvement over the gimpy "Gotham." With an average draw of a 0.8 (1 million adults 18 to 49), "Gotham" fell nearly 40 percent compared to its year-ago Monday night debut (1.3), but improved a tenth versus the premiere of last season's time-slot occupant, "Rosewood."

All told, the Big Four's 18-to-49 deliveries were down 21 percent year-over-year, thanks in large part to an underwhelming showing by the Bears-Packers game on CBS. The latest in a string of prime-time blowouts (Green Bay whupped Chicago by a 35-14 margin), the "Thursday Night Football" broadcast opener averaged a preliminary 10.7 million viewers and a 3.2 in the demo, down 48 percent versus last season's analogous Texans-Patriots game (6.1). The NFL numbers, which were likely dampened by a lengthy first-half rain delay, are likely to adjust upward in the final live-same-day numbers.

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