Decent debut for ‘Fairly Legal’

USA show garners 3.9 million viewers

High expectations come with being No. 1, so Thursday’s USA Network premiere of “Fairly Legal” arrives with some context.

Show opened to 3.9 million viewers, a strong start for most nets but down compared to other preems for cable’s top performer.

In October, “White Collar” debuted to 5.4 million viewers, while in July, “Covert Affairs” drew 4.9 million for its initial episode.

USA Network rarely, if ever, misfires with its scripted dramas series. Only 2008 skein “The Starter Wife” didn’t make it beyond one season in recent years, and that was on the heels of a successful six-hour miniseries.

“Fairly Legal,” starring Sarah Shahi as a mediator dealing with the loss of her father and stepmother as a boss, had the back end of the season two opener of “Royal Pains” as a lead-in.

“Pains” drew 4.4 million viewers, meaning there was a 12% audience drop-off.

“Fairly Legal” went up against MTV’s “Jersey Shore” phenomenon in the 10 p.m. timeslot. Snooki and Co. drew a spectacular 8.9 million viewers, breaking an all-time record for the cabler set a week earlier.

On the broadcast side, 14.9 watched “The Mentalist” on CBS.

“Legal” debut marks the only time USA has premiered a drama in the first quarter, with the network — and its “blue sky” theme to much of its programming — having a majority of its hits airing throughout the summer.