It used to be that picking on NBC was wholesome fun for the whole family. You'd open with some gags about Jeff Zucker supersizing something, segue to a few riffs on Ben Silverman and Knight Rider, then wrap it all up with a couple of knocks on Whitney. It was the kind of thing you and the wife and kids could do around the dinner table, like you were on the cover of the Game of Life, only now, it was the game of making fun of NBC. But lately, all that mockery of NBC's utter ineptitude to behave like an actual television network, instead of a more boutique outfit has started to feel just a little bit hollow. After all, NBC may be the Claire's Accessories to CBS' K-mart, but, dammit, you can get some awfully nice things at Claire's Accessories that you can't get at K-mart, even if Claire's keeps hiding its most precious items in the back and saying they'll be sold again in the "spring," whatever that means.
The latest data point for mocking NBC? The network opened February sweeps last night with a bang by... falling into a statistical tie with Univision for fourth place. (Univision actually narrowly beat NBC in average total viewers, helped immensely by the fact that NBC's 10 p.m. show, The Firm, continued to tank horribly.) This is absolutely good news for Univision, the surging young Spanish-language network that had one of the youngest audiences in TV right now. It's considerably less good news for NBC, however, particularly when you consider that 30 Rock, which leads off the night for the network, posted a 1.3 in the adults 18-49 demo and an incredibly low 1.1 in the 18-34 demo. That number was enough for The CW to post a tie in the 18-34 demo with the network with Vampire Diaries. Now, Vampire Diaries is a good show, but if NBC is tying with The CW (the Spencer Gifts of the TV network 1989 shopping mall) in anything at anytime, it's probably time for the network to sit down and take some time to think about what it's done. Both shows were narrowly beaten in the 18-34 demo by Univision's El Talisman, which sounds kind of awesome, no? (30 Rock led both shows narrowly in total viewers, posting 3.21 million viewers to Talisman's 3.17 million for its first half hour and Vampire's 2.87 million for its first half hour.)
Compared to 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation looked positively smashing, grabbing a 1.8 (with a 1.9 in the 18-34 demo, nearly doubling 30 Rock's numbers) and 3.65 million viewers. That was enough to beat both El Talisman and Vampire Diaries, which for NBC is pretty good. After The Office, Up All Night matched Parks' performance in both demos and grabbed 3.76 million viewers, which, honestly, is worse than it was doing in a terrible Wednesday timeslot with no lead-in and barely any promotion. This same weird drop-off bedeviled Parks last season. What on Earth is happening after The Office ends? Are people checking out the second half of Grey's Anatomy en masse? (Actually, Univision's La Que No Podia Amar beat Up All Night in total viewers quite handily, so maybe that's where everybody went.)
If there's a "bright spot" in this mess of a night for NBC (and we haven't even talked about how The Firm sank to a 0.4 in the 18-34 demo in its second half hour), it's that The Office remains a somewhat dependable hit for the network. Granted, this is a "hit" by NBC's standards, so it's still only garnering 5.27 million viewers, but it grabbed a 2.7 in the 18-49 demo and a 3.1 in the 18-34 demo, so you can be assured that you will get to see the adventures of Jim and Pam hoodwinking their co-workers into letting them do whatever the hell they want for years to come. If there's a "bright spot" for fans of good TV, it's that NBC can't realistically say at this point that the problem with Community was that it was just a show nobody wanted to watch. We have fairly conclusive proof now that America just doesn't want to watch NBC on Thursdays, period, especially when there are Spanish-language talismans to be pursued. That suggest the beleaguered cult show's bar for renewal will be very low indeed. Basically, it will be, "Don't get beaten by El Talisman."
But, just for some perspective, let's remember we're talking about NBC, CW, and Univision here. That 5.27 million viewers might start to look pretty big if you squint! Here are the numbers posted by every show on the other three major networks last night. Now you can try to imagine how NBC president Bob Greenblatt gets through his days without weeping. (Probably by imagining that Smash is going to be a much bigger hit than it actually will be. Poor Bob Greenblatt! We told you the mockery was going to start tasting like ashes.)
8 p.m.: Wipeout (5.93 million viewers, 1.8 18-49, 1.5 18-34)
9 p.m.: Grey's Anatomy (9.64 million, 3.4, 2.9)
10 p.m.: Private Practice (6.64 million, 2.3, 1.8)
8 p.m.: The Big Bang Theory (16.38 million viewers, a series high and good enough to beat American Idol in that half hour; 5.4 18-49; 4.0 18-34)
8:30 p.m.: Rob (11.28 million, 3.4, 2.0)
9 p.m.: Person Of Interest (14.92 million, 3.2, 1.6)
10 p.m.: The Mentalist (13.54 million, 2.7, 1.3)
8 p.m.: American Idol (17.12 million viewers, 5.3 18-49, 3.8 18-34)
9 p.m.: The Finder (6.93 million, 2.4, 1.7)