Can ‘Superstore,’ ‘Telenovela’ Thrive Without ‘The Voice’?

NBC elected to use multiple timeslots to launch both sitcoms via previews

Monday night will mark the normal time-period premieres for NBC sitcoms “Superstore” and “Telenovela,” but the two shows are anything but brand new to the airwaves by now.

The freshman comedies actually debuted weeks ago, when NBC elected to use its hot hand of “The Voice” to gain sampling for the two scripted series. “Superstore,” which will be a self-starter tonight at 8 p.m., premiered in November, which feels like a distant memory already. “Telenovela” debuted Dec. 7.

The gamble introduced both shows to a larger audience upfront than they’d normally see, which is good, but also set up potentially too high of expectations for advertisers, which is not. Plus, the crowds that tune in to the 8 p.m. hour may not have even been awake for the first two introductory episodes, which aired at 10 and 10:30 p.m. To confuse matters further, the shows even jumped around to totally different timeslots almost randomly during the holidays, when new episodes aired at 9 and 9:30 p.m.

In other words, NBC’s programming decision is as much a matter of exposure as it is performance — but will it work? One competing broadcast network insider told TheWrap that it probably already has.

“With a new series, the Number 1 priority is to get as many people as possible to sample the show, period,” the person said. “If the series is creatively strong, getting a broader sampling will give you the best chance at building a solid core audience longterm — even if that means taking a few hits in the ratings once the big lead-in is gone.”

So it’s a good thing, so long as the shows themselves are good. Well, are they? “Superstore” has generally received fairly poor critical reviews while “Telenovela” has gotten modestly good ones. (To be fair to the former, TheWrap gave the America Ferrara series a pretty glowing reception.)

Why does any of this matter? Well, save the now all-live “Undateable,” NBC primetime doesn’t have any other comedies on its schedule. That’s pretty weird for the channel that brought us “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “30 Rock,” and “Parks and Recreation.” (NBC turned down an opportunity to discuss its programming decision for this story.)

If none of that inspires much confidence for the future of the programs, both shows previously had their orders reduced from 13 episodes to 11 in October, when “Telenovela” was still being called “Hot and Bothered.”

But let’s see what we’re working with so far, ratings-wise. “Telenovela” earned a 1.4 rating in the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic, and 5.4 million viewers in its initial 10 p.m. post-“Voice” timeslot on Dec. 7. A second episode at 10:30 got a 0.8 rating and 3.3 million viewers.

That’s an already-scary drop for the Eva Longoria offering of almost 43 percent half-hour over half-hour in the key demo. Not good.

A week prior, NBC’s “Superstore” pulled in a 2.2 rating and 8 million viewers at 10 p.m., followed by a 1.9 rating and 6.1 million viewers at 10:30. It got the same reality show lead-in bump, though obviously “Superstore” fared comparatively better, both starting higher and maintaining 86 percent of Episode 1’s demo audience.

For NBC’s part, the broadcaster doesn’t likely think any comparison generated from this evening’s episodes to the actual preview premieres will mean much — and mostly rightfully so.

However, there is a comparison to make that at least approaches “apples to apples” status. Last Monday, the network aired originals of “Superstore” and “Telenovela” at 9 p.m. — their third episodes and essentially their third timeslots. Those episodes had already been available to view online for three weeks prior to their broadcast debuts.

More clock-hand differences aside, the holiday week makes tune-in a bit squirrelly there too, but here are those numbers anyway: “Superstore” at 9 managed just a 0.8 demo rating and 2.6 million viewers overall. At the time, that was good enough to tie for for No. 2 the time period among the Big 4 networks.

Unfortunately for NBC, those numbers were was once-again the stronger of the two — at 9:30 p.m., “Telenovela” averaged a 0.6 and 2.2 million total viewers.

That means from Episode 2 to Episode 3, “Telenovela” dropped another 25 percent. “Superstore,” which had more distance available for a fall, plummeted almost 58 percent.

Surely both shows must fare better than those Nielsen numbers tonight.

The reality is that NBC will probably be able to concoct some fairly flattering comparisons to last week come tomorrow morning, and we won’t be able to appropriately point to the prior preview numbers as a meaningful measuring stick. Instead, we’ll just see how the shows handle their new timeslots, self-starting, and the CBS, Fox, and ABC series “Superstore” and “Telenovela” will battle it out with moving forward.

The bigger question will remain — has too much jumping around damaged the shows, or did NBC play its comedy cards right? We’ll need even more time and a larger episode count to determine those answers.

Episode 4 of both sitcoms debut in primetime this evening, with “Superstore” at 8 leading into “Telenovela” at 8:30.