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NBC's latest 'Last Comic Standing' edition struggling to attract fall viewers

By Reality TV World staff, 09/11/2004 

The early returns are in regarding NBC's attempt to transform its Last Comic Standing series from summer filler to fall programming feature -- and so far, things aren't looking too good for the Jay Mohr-hosted reality series.

Despite airing after the special 90-minute season premiere of the network's hit Fear Factor, Last Comic Standing 3's special 90-minute (9:30-11:00PM ET/PT) preview episode on Monday, August 30 still only drew 7.8 million viewers and finished third in its time period. The 7.8 million viewers figure was well below that of Fear Factor's 10.8 million and also considerably below the 9 to 10 million viewers that the summer's Last Comic 2 regularly drew during its first several weeks of broadcast. The premiere did fare better in the Adults 18-49 demographic, where it drew a 3.9/10 rating/share and finished second, and also in Adults 18-34, where it finished first, but given that an ABC NFL pre-season NFL broadcast was the only significant original programming it faced, the performance was not particularly impressive and the broadcast finished 21st in the weekly ratings rankings.

While NBC was quick to note that Last Comic Standing 3's debut managed to draw slightly higher Adults 18-49 ratings than the last five Tuesday 8-9PM ET/PT pre-Olympic broadcasts of Last Comic Standing 2, the statistic is more illustrative of the sharp ratings decline that Last Comic 2 experienced as it limped to the finish line following the July premiere of regular Tuesday 9-10PM ET/PT time period competitor Big Brother than it was a reflection of a strong Last Comic 3 debut.

The news got worse the following night when Last Comic 3 debuted in its new regularly scheduled Tuesday 8-9PM ET/PT time period. Airing without the benefit of a Fear Factor lead-in and versus original episodes of both CBS's Big Brother 5 and Fox's Trading Spouses, Last Comic 3 drew only 6.5 million viewers and a 2.7/9 rating/share in the Adults 18-49 demographic. The Adults 18-49 performance did allow Last Comic to finish second behind Big Brother, but the episode managed to only rank 31st in the weekly ratings rankings.

This week's second Tuesday 8PM broadcast showed flat growth, with preliminary Nielsen figures showing Last Comic Standing 3 once again drawing only 6.5 million viewers and a 2.7/8 rating/share in the Adults 18-49 demographic. The ratings performance placed Last Comic fourth in its time period behind a repeat episode of CBS's Navy NCIS, a repeat episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and an original episode of Fox's Trading Spouses. The order was slightly different among Adults 18-49, where Last Comic still finished fourth, but behind Trading Spouses, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Navy NCIS.

Given that Last Comic Standing 2 drew its best numbers during its initial semifinal and finalist competitions which featured a heavy dose of stand-up comedy and little of the "house happenings" and challenge competitions that the program's later episodes were structured around, it had been speculated that Last Comic 3's "all stand-up, all the time" format featuring weekly faceoffs between the program's Season One and Season Two casts would prove popular with viewers, however that clearly hasn't been the case to date. And with both ABC and CBS both set to roll out new original episodes of time period competitors Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Navy NCIS as they launch their fall schedules in the next few weeks, it remains to be seen whether Last Comic's numbers will see any considerable improvement.

In retrospect, perhaps NBC would have been better off going ahead with its originally announced plans for Tuesdays at 8PM ET/PT... and aired its Average Joe: Average Jane series in the time period. If Last Comic continues to underperform through the balance of its run, it might not just bode poorly for future editions of Last Comic, but it might also impact likelihood of success for the show that is scheduled to take over the NBC time period come November -- namely reality uber-producer Mark Burnett's highly-touted The Contender.

Faced with already enormous expectations from NBC (largely because of its record production costs), The Contender is already going to saddled with attempting to overcoming the natural comparison to Fox's poorly performing The Next Great Champ reality boxing series... will it also be able to deal with taking over a fourth place timeslot against three already well-entrenched competitors? That might be a fight that even Burnett and his boxing dream team of Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, and the fictional Rocky Balboa won't be able to win.

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