Early-Adopter Fans Kill ‘Studio 60’! (Maybe.)

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The hardest working men and women in fictional showbiz. Photo: NBC/Mitch Haaseth

On last night's episode of Studio 60, the fictional president of the fictional network explains the ultra-desirable demographic of "alpha consumers," by way of an extended Vanity Fair plug. That magazine's readers, says Jordan McDeere, are ideal viewers for her show: "The first to know, the first to try, and the first to buy. They are influencers and pleasure-seekers." Given the real Studio 60's Nielsens performance, we can't help wondering if these moneyed early adopters are precisely the problem.

Despite blanket coverage and marketing for Studio 60's launch — and the general consensus that it's, you know, pretty damn good, New York's Adam Sternbergh being the noble dissenter — Aaron Sorkin's show started out with a less-than-impressive 13.4 million viewers. After that, it hemorrhaged 20 percent of its viewers over next two episodes, last night leveling off at 8.8 million. (That's less than half of what CSI:Miami gets in the same slot.) Oddly, this is happening just as the show is cementing its water-cooler status around the kind of places that have Fiji Water in their coolers. NBC, of course, won't give up on its biggest prestige drama as easily as it has cut loose Kidnapped, the season's requisite 24-wannabe. Too much pride has been invested — and too much money, including a bidding war with CBS and a near-record licensing fee to Sorkin.

But we've got a theory brewing about the discrepancy between Studio 60's chatter and its ratings — and it concerns those pesky alpha consumers. NBC has been offering full episodes, with skippable single-sponsor commercials, on its Website. It's a new practice for the network, and it isn't reflected in any way by Nielsen, which only recently starting making adjustments for TiVo. It's doubtful that these newfangled conduits put much of a dent into The King of Queens, but when a product is pitched at a sophisticated urban audience, as Studio 60 undoubtedly is, well, maybe it makes a difference. (Okay, probably not. But it's the most generous theory possible, no?) In other words: The people watching Studio 60 might just be an advertiser's wet dream — if only they didn't skip all the ads.

The Aaron Sorkin Show [NYM]