NBC Sunday sees post-NFL slump

Web must make future plans for the night

Football is over for NBC, and the net’s new Sunday night game plan hasn’t exactly found the Nielsen end zone.

One of the down sides to airing a primetime football series — as ABC learned over 35-plus years on Monday nights — is that the audience is borrowed to some extent, and it can be difficult to start a lineup from scratch when the season ends.

The Peacock had a decent post-football attack, but its revamped Sunday lineup has pretty much been sacked, and it must now make future plans for the night.

Of course, it’s not easy replacing “Sunday Night Football,” which in its first season on NBC averaged a 6.4 rating in adults 18-49 and 16.5 million viewers overall to rank among the top 10 primetime programs on television.

And this package, because it included a pregame show and occupied all four hours of NBC’s Sunday lineup, is even more difficult to replace than “Monday Night Football,” which ate up just two of ABC’s three hours on the night from 1970 to 2005.

The Peacock ended the fourth quarter of 2006 in a tie with ABC for the Sunday 18-49 lead (5.5 rating), nearly doubling its fourth-place 2.8 average of a year earlier, according to Nielsen data. But after its soft Sunday start in 2007, the net could fall to third or fourth for the night by season’s end.

Events like NFL conference championship games, the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the Academy Awards all serve as potholes for any Sunday program in the first quarter — let alone a whole new lineup looking to find its groove. But NBC gave it a shot.

Unscripted competition skein “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” looked pretty good in its Jan. 7 premiere in the 8 o’clock slot (4.3 rating in 18-49), but auds turned out not to be hopelessly devoted: It averaged a mere 2.7 over its next three airings.

Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” was asked to fill out the 9 o’clock hour, and the Los Angeles-based edition opened with a 4.1 and has averaged a 3.0 since. Show has clearly seen its best days, but at this number, it remains a serviceable entry for the net.

Filling out the night has been the return of vet crime drama “Crossing Jordan,” which mustered a mere 2.4 rating in its first three airings at 10 o’clock opposite ABC’s promising first-year sudser “Brothers & Sisters” and CBS’ crime vet “Without a Trace.”

Not exactly a lineup for rivals to fear, but it was fairly low-risk and could have paid off if “Grease,” a search for the leads in an upcoming Broadway play, had clicked.

So going forward, one option would be for NBC to open Sundays in the second half of the season with movies and specials. However, the net’s feature film library has been dwindling over the years, while its meager output of telepics and specs makes one wonder if the division is still up and running.

But it would take just a handful of movies and specs to get the net through the event-filled Sundays of January and February, and it could finish the season with male-skewing dramas.

Net has shown this season with “Heroes” that it can use its football platform to help draw men to new hours. And if organized-crime drama “The Black Donnellys” is successful on Mondays when it bows in a few weeks, it could be the kind of appointment show that could be reserved for a second-half run next season, a la “24.”

But NBC will still need a couple of other players to help drive it the length of the field and score on Sunday once the clock ticks down on football season.

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