Why Even DVR Won't Save 'Smash' Ratings (Analysis)

The NBC drama would need an unprecedented surge (triple digits!) to salvage its catastrophic premiere.
Will Hart/NBC

In this brave new world of evolving TV viewing habits, the DVR can be a series' savior. It cannot perform miracles.

And that is just what Smash needs. NBC's glossy musical drama returned Tuesday night with a new showrunner (Josh Safran), an A-list infusion to the cast (Jennifer Hudson) and a 71 percent drop in ratings from its series premiere in February 2012.

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Nielsen's Fast National returns give the two-hour opener a 1.1 rating among the targeted adults 18-49 and a shade under 4.5 million viewers. It might seem unfair to compare the series to its 2012 bow, so greatly boosted by Super Bowl promotions and a juggernaut lead-in with The Voice, yet it remains a death knell for any scripted Big Four drama.

But for the sake of argument, what sort of DVR growth would be required to push Smash into more desirable territory?

During its freshman run, the series averaged a 2.3 rating with adults 18-49 in Live+Same Day ratings. A healthy boost of 43.5 percent moved it up a full point to a 3.3 rating in the demo. A steady 43.5 percent improvement for this first outing would only push Smash to a 1.6 rating in the demo -- in other words, just a tenth of a point more than the overnight returns for ABC's ill-fated 666 Park Avenue. (That show garnered a 2.4 rating in Live+Seven.)

To match last season's same-day returns, Smash would need to post 110 percent growth. And to match last season's seven days of time-shifted viewing, Smash would need to leap 200 percent. Both of those numbers seem so far removed from the realm of possibility that they're barely worth acknowledging.

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According to the most recent Live+Seven stats, updated through Jan. 20, the current season's top two percentage growers are ABC's Private Practice and NBC's Grimm. They see respective gains of 85 and 81 percent, the highest ever for network series -- and one of the pair (Practice) just wrapped for good.

So what hope is there, if any, for Smash?

The series remains a high priority for the network. NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt brought it over with him from Showtime, where he originally developed it in 2009. And the latest season has seen no shortage of aggressive marketing to promote the big changes.

Fans and skeptics also can make a case for inevitable improvement with a better lead-in than Tuesday's birthday celebration for Betty White. That pulled a 1.5 rating in the key demo and 6 million viewers in total. Smash's new regular lead-in, The New Normal, most recently earned just a 1.1 in the demo and 3 million viewers.

The Feb. 12 pre-emption for the State of the Union address means the Smash ratings debate can be put on hold for another two weeks -- but NBC likely is eyeing a bit farther down the line to March 25, when The Voice again gives Tuesday an infusion to the 8 p.m. hour.

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV