Gary Levin, USA TODAY
Cold-weather months have put NBC ratings into a deep freeze.
The network, riding high last fall with Sunday Night Football and The Voice, is now back in the ratings cellar.
With both shows off the schedule, the network has gone from first back to worst again among the young-adult audience it sells to advertisers. And its stable of replacement scripted programming has been DOA.
First Deception, a soapy mystery patterned after ABC's Revenge, replaced Revolution on Monday nights, opened modestly and has declined nearly every week, hitting a series-low 3.1 million viewers on Monday.
Last week, Do No Harm, a Jekyll-and-Hyde medical drama about a dual-personality surgeon, premiered with 3.1 million viewers, the worst opening for a major-network drama series ever during a regular TV season. (The show did even worse than cellar-dwelling news magazine Rock Center with Brian Williams, which was bumped to Friday to make room, and is not expected to make it past this week.)
And Tuesday's second-season premiere of Smash, which goes inside the making of a Broadway musical, set series lows with 4.5 million viewers. That marked a 61% plunge from last February's series opener, which aired behind The Voice, and a 25% from May's finale, which drew 6 million. Among young adults, the cliff was even steeper - 71% and 39%, respectively.
Matthew Perry's comedy Go On also has suffered without its Voice lead-in, dropping from 6 or 7 million viewers last fall to about 4 million now.
The ratings figures reflect same-day viewership only, and don't factor in longer DVR delays. But the trend line is similar. In the four weeks since NBC's NFL football coverage ended in early January, the network has averaged a fourth-place 5 million viewers, a figure that factors in the nearly 20 million who watched the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 13. But last fall it was averaging 8.8 million, and ranked a strong second in total viewers. And among those young adults, its audience has been cut in half.
The challenge for NBC programmers is that the network lacks a ready supply of replacement programming. Community returns Thursday but has always been a low-rated show; Celebrity Apprentice returns March 3 but will pale compared to Sunday's football crowd. And The Voice isn't back until March 25, when fan loyalty to one of fall's top new dramas, Revolution, will also be tested after a four-month break. Hannibal, a new take on the Silence of the Lambs killer that's NBC's only other backup drama, has not been scheduled and was being eyed for summer, but might be called into action a lot sooner.