Tough start for NBC’s ‘The Firm’

Drama doesn't look like the net's midseason savior

One of NBC’s hopes for midseason — legal drama “The Firm” — opened softly on Sunday prior to its move to Thursday.

Meanwhile, ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” held up well in its first original airing in three weeks, and Showtime saw its latest original skein, Don Cheadle starrer “House of Lies,” get off to a promising start.

NBC was hoping the Josh Lucas-fronted drama based on the John Grisham novel would help compensate for its pair of disappointing drama bows, “The Playboy Club” and “Prime Suspect.” But “The Firm” went flaccid in its preview.

Sunday was instead dominated by the end of CBS’ Denver Broncos-Pittsburgh Steelers NFL wild-card playoff game, which peaked with well over 40 million viewers. Looking at the preliminary national estimates from Nielsen, NBC’s “The Firm” averaged a 1.4 rating/3 share in adults 18-49 and 6.3 million viewers overall from 9 to 11 p.m., about in line with its lead-in from “Dateline” (1.2/3 in 18-49, 6.2 million viewers overall), with the newsmagazine doing a 1.7 demo rating in its final half-hour.

The 1.4 is a big dropoff from the 2.6 that short-lived drama “The Cape” did with its special Sunday preview on the same night a year ago for NBC. “The Firm,” which drew about 5.7 million in its final half-hour, debuts in its regular 10 p.m. Thursday slot this week.

The early part of Sunday was all about football as the NFL wild-card game between the Broncos and Steelers on CBS averaged a huge 25.9 household rating/43 share in Nielsen’s metered-market overnights from 4:30 to 8:15 p.m. ET — the highest-rated opening-round contest of the NFL playoffs since 1988 (26.7 for Seattle-Houston on NBC).

The game likely drew about 45 million viewers for its 75-minute primetime segment.

At ABC, “Once Upon a Time” (prelim 3.7/8 in 18-49, 10.3 million viewers overall) shot up by more than 25% vs. its most recent original on Dec. 11 and provided the net with significant time-period demo improvement over last year’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

At Showtime, the premiere of “House of Lies” drew 1.03 million (on par with October’s launch of “Homeland”), while the sophomore season bow of “Shameless” attracted 1.58 million — up from the 982,000 who watched its series preem a year ago and the 1.16 million who tuned in for its first-season finale last spring.

“House of Lies” drew a combined 1.6 million viewers over its three telecasts Sunday night, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen preliminaries also show that “Shameless” captured just a bit more than 2 million combined viewers over its two telecasts despite taking on original episodes of dramas on ABC, CBS and NBC.