Fox's Terra Nova finally debuted last night - months after its originally-scheduled date - to somewhat disappointing ratings; the show was consistently beaten by whatever was on ABC and CBS at the time. Considering the high-profile nature of the series, and the high cost of each episode, is the show in trouble already?
Well, it depends how you define trouble, of course, but the short answer is "Not really." There's no getting around the fact that 9 million viewers is probably lower than Fox was hoping for, considering both the expense and pedigree that Terra Nova brought with it - Already, analysts are blaming ESPN's Monday Night Football as a potential reason why the male audience didn't turn out as expected - and there's probably no joy at the network for being completely destroyed by competition like 2 Broke Girls and Dancing With The Stars on the show's first outing. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the series when it comes to the all-important-to-advertisers 18-49 demographic; Terra Nova may still have come in third place, but barely beneath Dancing's second-place for the whole evening. Based on these numbers, the show is doing perfectly fine.
(It'll be interesting to see what the show's ratings look like once DVR numbers are factored in. Is there a great crossover between, say, Two and A Half Men viewers and people wanting to see that guy from Life on Mars frown at some dinosaurs? We'll see.)
What should be worrying Fox execs, however, is how fine the show can continue to do. I'll admit that I wasn't expecting much from Terra Nova, but found it to be diverting enough to check out the second episode. But am I alone? The potential for drop-off over the next few weeks is great (Barring some spectacular reviews and more publicity that will somehow hook an audience who hadn't heard of the show yet, it's almost guaranteed), and with each episode costing a rumored $4 million - which actually seems low, considering that the pilot cost $16 million - there is going to be a point wherein the show falls into a danger zone, and actions need to be taken.
We know, for example, that 4 million viewers was enough to put last year's Lone Star into crisis mode, with the show being canceled with the next episode (3.2 million). Fringe was moved to Friday nights for ratings of around 4.5-5 million (and that show also started with 9 million viewers - It took three and a half seasons to fall to that number, which may be worth bearing in mind). It's extremely unlikely that Terra Nova could lose half of its audience quickly, putting it anywhere near this space, but not impossible; Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles lost almost 50% of its audience between its first and second episodes, but even that kept it above 10 million viewers.
What we're left with is a soft opening for Terra Nova, and one that leaves it in a difficult space. If it can somehow keep ahold of the audience it had last night, then it'll be fine for the foreseeable future. Considering how unlikely that is, I'm betting that we'll see a move to Fridays before the season is out - Surely a Fringe lead-in would help? If not, then even getting it away from CBS' strong comedy block would be a start - or some kind of behind-the-scenes shake-up to try and refocus the show to catch a wider audience.