Community, which suffered through the much-publicized, ugly firing of its creator, Dan Harmon, last year, showed surprising strength in its return Thursday night. In the 18 to 49 demographic, the premiere got a 1.8. That's up a tenth from its Season 3 premiere in September 2011 (a 1.7), and up significantly from its May 17 finale (1.3). It drew 4 million total viewers.
Considering that the show was thought to be a goner after both Harmon's departure and when NBC announced last May that it would get a Friday-night death slot, these ratings are great news for the show's devoted fans. Especially impressive is that this premiere faced American Idol, which the third season premiere did not. According to NBC's research department, the comedy actually beat Idol among 18- to 34-year-old men (2.1 vs. 2.0). It also had to stare down hugely popular The Big Bang Theory, which drew a 6.1 in the demo and 18.8 million viewers — obviously, there's no comparison, but I think Community will take this good news for what it is.
One last pleasant surprise for Community: It paired nicely with Parks & Recreation, which brought in 3.8 million viewers and a 2.0 in 18 to 49, a season high (and its highest demo rating since Nov. 17, 2011). Parks & Rec fans, you can stop worrying now, I think, about your show coming back next season.
This Community bump presents NBC, which, without football and The Voice, has fallen out of first place and is sinking fast, with an unexpected problem. As he touted the network's schedule for 2012–13 last spring and summer, chairman Robert Greenblatt was very open in saying that though he loves the Thursday comedies, "they do tend to be a little bit more narrow and sophisticated than you might want for a broad audience." Now that we're in February, we can see that the network's efforts to broaden — with Go On and The New Normal especially, which did well enough after The Voice but have fallen off a cliff without it — have not worked.
Suddenly, in this weakened NBC schedule, the Thursday-night comedies look strong. And since there are only two left, with 30 Rock gone and The Office ending in May, it's going to be interesting to see what happens. More sophistication, perhaps?