Turns out Friday night's "dead zone" perception was accurate, just not in the way analysts once thought.
Horror and science-fiction shows have taken on a new life on the night over the years courtesy of series like Supernatural, Grimm, Fringe, and Medium. While most of those programs have either been retired or moved to another night and time, NBC's (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA ) Grimm remains alive and well. However the network has yet to find a solid partner for its long-running hit and many wonder if its newest companion, Constantine, will do the trick.
'Grimm' fairy tale
Grimm was given no shot by critics to work. The majority of writers took one look at its concept and its Friday night timeslot and wrote it off ... yet they overlooked its Halloween launch window. Audiences love scary shows pegged to the spookiest day of the year and Grimm was perfectly positioned to launch just a few days prior to All Hallows Eve.
When the show ultimately bowed on Oct. 28, 2011, it snared 6.5 million viewers and a 2.1 in the advertiser coveted 18-49 demo. It also built 110% on its lead-in (Chuck) and not only became the night's highest rated (non-sports) show, it became the highest-rated (non-sports) show on any of the big five that aired on a Friday in almost a year. While those numbers have slipped, it remains a consistent winner for NBC.
By comparison last week's demo ratings was a 1.3, which tied the season finale of CBS procedural Hawaii Five-0 and was just 0.1 behind Blue Bloods' capper. Still, NBC has not been able to find a suitable partner for the fairy tale thriller despite its success. Originally content with airing Dateline NBC post Grimm, last year NBC decided to launch a horror-themed block, but executives came up empty.
The first inhabitant in the timeslot was Dracula, which used the same Halloween launch pad and had a similar result. The series was sampled by 5.3 million people and scored a 1.6 in the demo, enough to win the hour. But it was still down from Grimm, which that night had 6.1 million people and a 1.8 in the demo. Still those numbers were a record for NBC and the headlines were humorous and optimistic ("Dracula shows bite," "Dracula ratings don't suck").
But those numbers plummeted soon after and Dracula ended its first (and only) season with 3.1 million and a disturbing 1.0 demo rating. Even with the series co-produced by Universal TV and NBCUniversal's U.K. banner Carnival Films and the show doing better internationally, executives couldn't justify the production costs, which included shooting on location in London and Hungary. The network was also reportedly worried about lead Jonathan Rhys Meyer who had his salary withheld during production because of fear surrounding a possible substance abuse relapse.
'Hannibal' sneaks by
With the exit of Dracula came Hannibal, which while critically acclaimed never quite found solid footing in the ratings during its first season. It started off with 4.3 million viewers and a 1.6 in the demo, which was stronger than anything NBC had put in the once-viable Thursdays at 10p.m. timeslot over the previous year. Yet in subsequent weeks the numbers fell off and the show ended with .8 in the demo and less than 1 million viewers. Call it the Scandal effect or the audience being turned off by the show's gore, but for any number of reasons the show cratered.
When it returned paired with Grimm a few months ago it rose but not by much (1.4 in the demo, 3.4 million viewers) and eventually settled back to a lower demo and viewer count (last week's episode returned to .8 in the demo and slipped to 2.1 million viewers). But the show is critically acclaimed and has the appeal of an A-list actor like Laurence Fishburne so the pickup for a third season makes sense, just not on Fridays at 10 p.m.
The 'Constantine' challenge
So now we come to Constantine, a new drama based on the DC Comics series Hellblazer. Starring Matt Ryan (Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior) as a supernatural detective, the thriller also includes Lucy Griffiths (True Blood) and Harold Perrineau (Lost). So with cable dominating the "darker" drama sect and NBC's documented problems in this area, can Constantine conquer?
The answer is ... possibly. While Dracula and Hannibal both fit into the Grimm genre they didn't fit into the Grimm world. As you can see in the trailer Constantine, will go into the underworld and give its hero some seriously freaky characters to do battle with every week. While it will likely never happen due to licensing issues, you could legitimately see a crossover between it and Grimm ... that's always been the missing link.
A perfect companion show carries a similar premise but tweaked just enough so it's not the same. Look at CSI and Without a Trace as well as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Chicago P.D. -- it isn't a stretch to pair them. The Dracula character wasn't in the same sci-fi realm as Grimm, and Hannibal, while a monster, is still (arguably) human. On the other hand Constantine's enemies are ghoulish enough to work.
We still have a long road until the fall and the buzz on this show will rise and fall, but on paper and in this moment, Constantine looks to be the perfect match for Grimm. And if not, NBC still has its Wizard of Oz-themed Emerald City and the Charles Manson limited event drama Aquarius in queue. They may not be in the same realm as Grimm either, but for NBC they may be close enough to roll the dice on if need be.
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