A note to television executives: Audiences aren't watching shows about people leading double lives.
NBC's Do No Harm, the latest update on Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of split personalities, opened to an embarrassing 0.9 rating with adults 18-49 and 3.1 million viewers Thursday night. If the preliminary numbers hold, it will be the lowest-rated scripted series to premiere on one of the Big Four during the regular season in history. Those numbers, even if they improve, all but guarantee imminent cancellation.
And the writing was on the wall. No, not from the bad reviews or a mishandling of marketing. Recent TV history shows that viewers are overwhelmingly rejecting series with a lead playing two parts or navigating different lives or stories.
It all seemed to start with Lone Star. Fox's critically adored drama about a handsome Texas con man (James Wolk) keeping two lives and two women had all the makings of a broadcast hit. But it flopped in a spectacular fashion. It opened to just a 1.3 rating with adults 18-49 and 4.1 million viewers. Low by today's standards, it was almost shocking three seasons ago, when time-shifted viewing wasn't what it is today and anything short of a 2.0 in the key demo was tantamount to a flatlining electrocardiogram.
Lone Star lasted one more episode before Fox pulled it from the schedule and salted the earth.
The series' creator Kyle Killen took another stab at dual stories last season with Awake. NBC's Jason Isaacs starrer about a detective living in two different realities was similarly celebrated by critics -- and it aired in Do No Harm's 10 p.m. Thursday slot. A 2.0 rating in the demo and 6.2 million viewers for the premiere episode had it off to a relatively promising start, but it hemorrhaged viewers in subsequent weeks. Awake bottomed out at a 0.7 rating and 2.15 million viewers before an unceremonious cancellation at the end of the season.
The CW had its own take on double lives last season with Ringer. Sarah Michelle Gellar's first post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer vehicle, it probably ranks as the young network's most high-profile launch to date. But it was really complicated. Not only did Gellar play identical twin sisters, the flashback-heavy serial focused on one sister pretending to be the other. For a time, viewers took the soapy bait. A 1.2 rating with 18-49-ers and 2.8 million viewers was a solid premiere by network standards, and it gave The CW its best debut since The Vampire Diaries. They soon fled, though. Ringer ended its first and final season with a 0.5 demo rating and 1.2 million viewers.
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For now, at least, it looks like the network finally might be starting to take notice. Of the pilots already ordered for 2013-14 TV season consideration, nothing seems to follow the unfavorable formula.
Still, there are a few red flags. Killen has another drama in contention with Influence. The logline says it focuses on two brothers, but at least there's no mention of them being identical twins. Also at ABC, Gothica is billed as a "sexy soap" blending the myths of Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and -- uh oh -- Jekyll and Hyde.
Maybe the good doctor will perform better as part of an ensemble.