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Wait for all the numbers before deciding on 'Parenthood'

September 29, 2010 |  3:47 pm


Is NBC's "Parenthood" in trouble or are its ratings reflective of the new reality of how people watch television?

A quick glance at the performance of "Parenthood" so far this season -- the show's second -- might keep some Peacock network executives up all night scratching their heads. After two episodes, its audience has dropped by 25% to 5.3 million viewers an episode, according to Nielsen. This week's show averaged just 4.8 million viewers. Those numbers are pretty close to what Fox's con man drama "Lone Star" averaged, and that show was just canceled.

The picture isn't much prettier in the key adults 18-49 demographic, where "Parenthood" is down 22% in viewers. One could argue that the results of just two episodes are too little too early to make judgment calls on "Parenthood." After all, last week it faced off against two hours of CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles," and this week it battled the return of "The Good Wife," although that drama was also off 7% in viewers and 21% in adults 18-49 compared with its premiere of a year ago.

But it may be a little too soon to throw in the towel on the Braverman family. Last season, as NBC noted in analysis of its numbers, ratings among adults 18-49 grew by 31% when counting viewers who recorded the family drama on digital video recorders and watched the episodes within seven days of their airing. This season's premiere of "Parenthood" saw its numbers jump almost 30% after three days of recorded viewing were factored in.

As DVRs become more common -- currently almost 40% of homes have some sort of digital video recording device -- networks and the media that cover them are going to have to rethink spinning and analyzing ratings. CBS has already taken this step by offering projections of what the ratings for its shows will be after DVR numbers are factored in. The media, always in a rush to get the news out fast, may also benefit by waiting for DVR numbers before deciding what is working and what isn't.

Some shows are more DVR proof than others, but as the quality of television grows and the number of outlets to watch it increases, more people will be able to make their own schedules. The downside for that is that networks have to find ways to promote and market their shows so that they get sampled enough to become shows people record and watch later.

Not every show that tanks in its time period has great DVR ratings. It is unlikely that "Lone Star" will be born again when all the numbers from viewers who recorded it are in.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: NBC's"Parenthood." Credit: NBC