NBC's internet drama debuts to low ratings

The shelf life for “Quarterlife” — as a TV series, anyway — may be short, after the young-adult drama opened to meager ratings Tuesday night on NBC. It was trounced by the Peacock’s sister cabler MSNBC, which drew big numbers for its Ohio Democratic presidential debate.

Nielsen estimates that MSNBC averaged 7.78 million viewers from 9 to 10:36 p.m. ET, the largest aud on record for the news cabler and the second most for a cable debate this election season — behind only the 8.32 million for CNN’s California Democratic get-together on Jan. 31.

As for “Quarterlife,” the series from Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (“My So Called Life,” “Thirtysomething”) that was produced first for the Internet settled for 3.13 million viewers (and a 1.3 rating/4 share among adults 18-49) in the 10 o’clock hour. NBC picked it up during the writers strike to boost its output of original programming, but it may not last long after this start.

Last week, Herskovitz said that “Quarterlife” had garnered 6 million views total — including almost 4 million views on MySpace and nearly 1 million views on Quarterlife.com. Viewership for individual episodes fluctuated but maintained a healthy 100,000 aud as the skein unfolded.

As a TV show, though, interest seems minimal. NBC gave it a good young-female lead-in courtesy of weight-loss reality skein “The Biggest Loser” (2.9/7, 7.47m), and beginning this weekend, “Quarterlife” is skedded to air Sundays at 9 behind “Deal or No Deal.”

Elsewhere Tuesday, MSNBC’s debate was the No. 4 program of the night in total viewers, more than doubling the net’s previous viewership high (3.7 million for one of the first nights of the Iraq war in March 2003). Cabler also set a record for its reach among adults 25-54, averaging 3.24 million.

The post-debate analysis segment also did well from 10:36 to 11 p.m., averaging 6.73 million viewers.

Fox won the night with a 90-minute “American Idol” performance show featuring the top 10 male finalists (11.1/27 in 18-49, 28.59m). Net remained on top at 9:30 with a special original episode of first-year comedy “Back to You,” which posted series highs (4.4/11 in 18-49, 12.15m).

CBS was on the rise from 9 to 11 p.m. with “Big Brother” (2.6/6, 6.72m) and “Jericho” (2.2/6, 6.90m), with the former benefiting from a shorter “Idol” and the latter from the absence of usual slot-leading drama “Law & Order: SVU.” Also boosting “Big Brother” was news that two contestants were removed from the house temporarily for medical reasons; their exits via ambulance and their return to the house were chronicled in Tuesday’s seg.

ABC did virtually nothing from 8 to 10 p.m., but came to life with the premiere of limited-run newsmag “Primetime: What Would You Do?” The series, which examines how people react to ethical dilemmas in public, won the slot with a 2.9/8 in 18-49, a 3.4/8 in 25-54 and 7.67 million viewers overall

Less “Idol” in the 9 o’clock hour also boosted CW’s “One Tree Hill” (1.4/3 in 18-49, 3.18m), which was up week to week and placed second to Fox in the time period among femmes 12-34 (2.9/7).

Meanwhile, the February sweep wrapped Wednesday, with Fox cruising to victory.

February has become the most irrelevant of the sweep periods, once the Super Bowl shifted there permanently a few years ago, and there are even more caveats and asterisks this time around as a result of the writers strike. While “American Idol” kept Fox at near-full strength, other nets were hampered without their top scripted shows.

Fox, which aired the Super Bowl this year, led through Tuesday night in the “most current” averages with a 7.0 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and was up 35% vs. last year (down 6% if you take out the Super Bowl). It was followed by ABC (2.8/7, down 30%), NBC (2.5/7, down 19%) and CBS (2.3/6, down 56% and down 41% if you take out last year’s Super Bowl).

Fox also led in total viewers with 18.0 million, followed by ABC and CBS (both at 8.3 million).

Cable was a big beneficiary of the writers strike, with seven of the top 10-rated networks up by double-digits vs. February 2007.

Also getting a boost on the broadcast side was MyNetwork, which shot up nicely vs. its first February sweep of a year ago. The net, which figures to become more competitive in the fall with the addition of “WWE Smackdown,” was averaging 1.2 million viewers in February — up sharply from last year’s 730,000.

On Tuesday, MyNet drew its largest nightly aud to date for series, as “Street Patrol” and “Jail” averaged 1.74 million viewers.

Univision, unaffected by the strike, moved up to fourth place for the month among adults 18-34, beating out CW and CBS. It was led by 8 o’clock telenovela “Al Diablo con los guapos” (Down with the Beautiful).

(Diane Garrett contributed to this report.)

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