'Southland,' 'Parks' bow strong

New series shine Thursday for NBC

A pair of series premieres Thursday night gave NBC hope for an eleventh-hour comeback this season.

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

"Southland" (9.9 million viewers, 3.2 adults 18-49 rating), from "ER" producer John Wells, had the best opening of the night, winning the 10 p.m. hour and building slightly on its "30 Rock" lead-in (6.7 million, 3.1).

"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," NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman said.

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 debuted "Medium."

"Harper's Island" (10.2 million, 2.6) did OK but fell 29% from its "CSI" lead-in (16.7 million, 3.8) 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.

NBC surrounded 8:30 p.m.'s "Parks" (6.9 million, 3.0) with two original episodes of "The Office." "Parks" performed decently, especially for its time period, where it placed second to CBS' season-low "Survivor" (11.2 million, 3.4). But the rookie fell slightly from its special "Office" lead-in (7.3 million, 3.3), and then the 9 p.m. "Office" (8 million, 3.9) went up 30% from "Parks."

"Parks" might 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 build from a weak opening easier than dramas, and this opening wasn't weak.

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 by the likes of "Kings" and "Chopping Block." "Southland" and "Parks" demonstrated what could be described as "inconclusive potential" Thursday night, and the network hopes that when heavy-hitting ABC returns to originals in two weeks, the new shows will hold their own.