Nellie Andreeva

In the days leading to last night’s premiere of NBC‘s new drama Do No Harm, tracking was soft, with awareness weak across the board and intent to see below average, leading to modest ratings expectations. Rival networks were predicting a premiere 18-49 rating a little below the 2.0 that fellow midseason NBC drama Deception recently opened to, with a 1.8 rating considered a reasonable target. But Do No Harm came in at a 0.9, the lowest in-season premiere rating for a series on the Big 4 broadcast networks. Ever. It was even lower than the dismally rated newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams averaged in the Thursday 10 PM hour (1.0) this season. Do No Harm‘s viewership was a paltry 3.1 million viewers. The shocking underperformance was reminiscent of the fall 2010 debut of Fox’s drama Lone Star. Launching behind House with a major marketing campaign behind it, the well-reviewed drama was projected to deliver a premiere 18-49 rating above a 2.5. Instead, it opened to a 1.3, dropping to a 1.0 in the second week before Fox yanked it off the schedule. NBC did not rush to cancel Do No Harm today as executives there were as puzzled by the abysmal ratings as everyone else, but will likely do so next week unless Do No Harm‘s ratings miraculously rebound, something that almost never happens.

The soft pre-launch tracking suggested that many viewers didn’t know of the show or weren’t sure what it was about, something that can be chalked up in part to the modest marketing campaign supporting the launch. Do No Harm also was saddled with a weak lead-in from an original The Office (1.9) on a night where NBC’s lights had been off for a long time. And it faced spirited competition in the 10 PM hour from the pre-Super Bowl episode of Elementary and hot sophomore Scandal. While all of those factors contributed to Do No Harm‘s demise, the magnitude of the flop indicates that the show was utterly rejected by the audience. Why? For starters, reviews were pretty bad across the board, indicating that Do No Harm was probably not going to be appointment television. Then comes the cast which some say was not compelling enough to draw people in. Because of its setup, the show rests on the shoulders of young Steven Pasquale in his first leading role. He is not a household name to begin with (best known for his supporting role on Rescue Me), and the key art for the show scrambled his face to a point where it was unrecognizable.

And then there is the Jekyll and Hyde premise of a successful neurosurgeon with an evil alter ego (Pasquale). Interestingly, it was NBC that tried the Jekyll and Hyde dual-personality premise most recently with the 2008 drama My Own Worst Enemy. Toplined by Christian Slater, it too died a quick death. There has been a host of dual-reality series in the past couple of years, including Kyle Killen’s Lone Star and Awake, which fizzled in the same NBC Thursday 10 PM slot last midseason — one of three new NBC dramas to come and go in the hour last season, along with Prime Suspect and The Firm. The post-mortem consensus on most of those complex-narrative dramas has been that they are likely better suited for cable. Especially with an antihero at the center like Do No Harm‘s Dr. Jason Cole.

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