|A lot has changed about the television landscape since NBC canceled Law & Order in 2010, but audiences’ appetite for procedurals remains healthy. The return of the rebooted show drew solid numbers Thursday night.|
The Dick Wolf-produced program, which returned many of its longtime stars, averaged 5.54 million total viewers, according to Nielsen overnights, which measure live-plus-same-day DVR playback. L&O finished as the evening’s No. 3 program in total viewers. That was also a half-million more than the network’s No. 2 program, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Among adults 18-49, the key advertiser demographic that NBC uses to sell ads, the premiere of Law & Order averaged a 0.7 rating. It tied with three other shows (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy) for first in the demo for the night.
L&O aired at 8 p.m., where it faced stiff competition in Station and CBS’s Young Sheldon, the network’s No. 1 program in the demo this season. Sheldon (6.76 million) and fellow CBS comedy Ghosts (5.61 million) both drew more total viewers than L&O.
So how did the new procedural’s numbers compare to L&O’s last go-round? Viewership was down a good bit, which isn’t at all surprising. In its 20th and final season on NBC, Law & Order averaged 8.2 million total viewers and ranked 60th on broadcast, according to Nielsen.
But times have evolved since then, and it’s rare for any non-sports program to draw such numbers these days. TV faces competition it didn’t have a decade ago, including smartphones that deliver entertainment options and streaming services that have become extremely sophisticated with their programming, as well as becoming more prolific.
This season, the most-watched scripted program on broadcast, CBS’s NCIS, is averaging 7.5 million total viewers. Back in 2010, when L&O went off the air, that wouldn’t have even ranked among the top 65 shows.
L&O became NBC’s No. 4 show in total viewers with its debut, behind the trio of Wolf-produced Chicago shows (Chicago Fire, Chicago Med and Chicago PD, all of which have already been renewed for another season).
Of course, the challenge for the original L&O will be to maintain its strong start in coming weeks. Debuts usually draw bigger numbers because of the hype surrounding them, and NBC got to promote Law & Order to a large audience of engaged viewers during the recently ended Winter Olympics as well as the Super Bowl. So NBC won’t truly know if returning L&O was a good move for a couple months, as numbers stabilize.