NBC cop drama retains premiere-week aud

Cop drama “Southland” is off to a solid start for NBC on Thursday nights, but now the net will look for answers to a couple of pressing questions.

First, how will it hold up this week when ABC’s formidable “Private Practice” returns to the timeslot, airing behind “Grey’s Anatomy”? And if “Southland” continues to perform well, where might the net sked the decidedly adult show in the fall now that Jay Leno has gobbled up all the 10 p.m. slots?

As the Peacock is thinking about fall, it also has reason to believe Amy Poehler’s “Parks and Recreation” will be a part of its plans. It had a pretty good second-week showing, soundly defeating its comedy competish on ABC — “Samantha Who?” — and holding onto a good chunk of its premiere-week aud despite a much lower-rated lead-in this time around.

“The shows now have such a critical base of viewers,” NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chair Ben Silverman said. “The fact that ‘Southland’ is driving such critical interest and buzz and holding its audience and growing at the half-hour mark is exciting. And ‘Parks and Recreation’ performed the best out of ‘My Name Is Earl’ in two years.”

Looking at the numbers, “Southland” won at 10 p.m. for NBC (3.0 rating/9 share in 18-49, 9.61 million viewers overall), losing just 6% of its premiere-week 18-49 audience. In the same hour, CBS’ “Harper’s Island” (2.2/6 in 18-49, 7.82m) declined by a bigger 15% in its second outing, while ABC’s “Private Practice” was its usual limp self when it’s in repeat (third-place 1.3/4, 4.23m).

The 9 share for “Southland” is much stronger than that for a recent episode of any of the other new dramas to premiere on the nets in 2009. The Eye’s “Harper’s Island” posted a 6; ABC’s “Castle,” “Cupid” and “The Unusuals” all settled for a 5 share; and Fox’s “Dollhouse” earned a mere 4 share.

This week’s matchup against “Private Practice” should provide the best indicator of “Southland’s” strength. While NBC has a solid but incompatible lead-in from “30 Rock,” “Private Practice” enjoys a big advantage by airing behind its thematically similar progenitor, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

As for the skedding in the fall, NBC might have wanted to move a show like “Law and Order: SVU” to 9 p.m. to provide a compatible lead-in for “Southland,” but that idea isn’t possible under the net’s stated plans of airing Leno’s new show weeknights at 10.

That leaves pretty much 9 p.m. slots for the bleep-heavy skein unless it were to air on Saturday, which is very unlikely, or on Sundays at 10 after the Peacock’s football package wraps.

One show that’s looking likely to remain on Thursdays in the fall is “Parks and Recreation” (2.5/7 in 18-49, 6.02m), which held onto 83% of its premiere-week 18-49 score even though “My Name Is Earl” (2.2/7, 5.36m) provided a lead-in that was 35% lower than the previous week’s special firstrun seg of “The Office.”

“Parks” built by a few ticks in rating on “Earl” while matching the latter’s 7 share; by comparison, “Kath and Kim” typically declined by a few ticks from “Earl.”

And “Parks” seems to be recruiting young auds to NBC prior to “The Office,” as its 9 share in adults 18-34 repped a 2-share build on “Earl.”

“The Office” was the night’s No. 1 show in 18-49 (4.2/11, 8.37m), and “30 Rock” logged its best demo score since March 5 (3.5/9, 7.32m). CBS still won the night on the strength of “Survivor” (3.6/11, 11.64m) and “CSI” (3.8/10, 15.72m).

Of concern for ABC is its perf in Thursday’s opening hour, with “In the Motherhood” (1.4/5 in 18-49, 4.62m) and “Samantha Who?” (1.5/5, 4.84m) again stumbling. It will be interesting to see if the combo sticks around another week, because the Alphabet likely won’t want to saddle “Grey’s Anatomy” with what could be a sixth-place lead-in on the opening night of the May sweep.

“Ugly Betty” is due to return May 7, but the net’s nebulous “Betty” promos of late (“Coming Soon”) hint that it could be back earlier.

Friday saw a soft return for Fox’s “Prison Break” at 9 o’clock (prelim 1.2/4 in 18-49, 3.4 million viewers overall). Show, which is building to its series finale on May 15, will air at 8 on Fridays beginning this week, followed by “Dollhouse.”

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