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NBC's 'Southland' tops 'Harper's'; 'Parks' solid

Southland UPDATE: NBC's Southland and Parks & Recreation held up in the nationals, but CBS' Harper's Island slipped a tenth. 

"Clearly it’s a marathon and not a sprint, but we’re really invested in these shows and they are really super high quality and last night gives us some space and belief that they’ll continue to perform," says Ben Silverman, NBC's co-chair. 

Silverman was particularly impressed with Southland growing during its hour, and rightly so -- it's the first time a drama at 10 p.m. has climbed during its series premiere telecast since 2005, when NBC's debuted Medium

"We were really happy with that uptick," Silverman says.

PREVIOUS: A trio of series premieres Thursday night gave hope to struggling NBC for an eleventh-hour comeback this season.

The debut of the network's new cop drama Southland beat the premiere of CBS' mystery-thriller Harper's Island, while Amy Poehler's comedy Parks & Recreation opened to a respectable number.

John Wells' Southland (9.7 million viewers, 3.2 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) had the best opening last night, winning the 10 p.m. hour and building slightly off its 30 Rock lead-in (6.7 million, 3.1).

Moreover, Southland increased 6% from its first half to its second. Though Southland was below ER's season average in the slot (a number that includes the highly watched finale), it's pretty close to what ER drew during typical weeks and is only a tenth below last fall's ER premiere. Southland review.

CBS' Harper's Island (10.5 million, 2.7) did OK, but fell 27% from its CSI lead in (16.4 million, 3.7) to place second in the hour (ABC aired repeats). It's a bit below the Eleventh Hour season average and Harper's lost 11% of viewers during its telecast, which is not what you hope to see in a serialized show. Harper's review.

 NBC surrounded 8:30 p.m.'s Parks & Recreation (6.8 million, 3.0) with two original episodes of The Office, bundling the premiere with its veteran comedy like a vulnerable newborn. Parks did pretty decent, especially for its time period, where it placed second to CBS' season-low Survivor (11.3 million, 3.5). But Parks fell 9% from its special Office lead-in (7.2 million, 3.3) and then the 9 p.m. Office (7.9 million, 3.9) went up 30% from Parks (and even then Office still hit a low for its regular time period).

Parks and Recreation Parks may have been the pothole in NBC's road, and a couple tenths below the premiere of Kath & Kim, but its number was solid and nearly matched 30 Rock -- which had a much higher lead in. Parks also performed far better than ABC's recent comedy debuts. Sitcoms can also build from a weak opening easier than dramas, and this opening wasn't weak. Parks review.

Neither of NBC's premieres posted numbers the network would have celebrated last fall. But coming near the end of this very difficult season they're refreshing in the wake of performances like Kings and Chopping Block. Southland and Parks demonstrated what could be described as "inconclusive potential" last night and the network hopes that when heavy hitting ABC returns to originals in two weeks, the new shows can hold their own. One suspects Southland will have an easier time given its growth during its hour and since Parks enjoyed a one-time lead-in boost from The Office.

CBS' Harper's numbers are more worrisome. Most critics like the show's Ten Little Indians concept, just wish the execution were better (Parks received mixed reviews as well, with Southland earning somewhat positive notices).

Overall: NBC tied CBS to win the night. Fox was second with Bones (8.9 million, 2.5) slipping slightly and Hell's Kitchen (7.6 million, 3.3) holding steady. ABC placed third with comedies In the Motherhood (4.6 million, 1.3) and Samantha Who (4.9 million, 1.4) falling from last week, followed by repeats. The CW aired repeats.