Monday, 10 January 2011

TV Ratings: 'Primeval', ITV1

Monday, 10 January 2011
Can you say "Stargate"?

ITV1's Saturday sci-fi series Primeval is having a tough time in the ratings. Its New Year's Day premiere only managed to pull in 4.4 million viewers, while the next-day audience for episode 2 dropped to 3.29m. The most recent third episode only marginally increased to 3.7m. At this rate, ITV will be wondering why they bothered bringing it back from cancellation, as I'm sure Primeval's still costing them a pretty penny, even if they're splitting costs (between BBC America, UKTV, Pro Sieben) and filming in Ireland for tax breaks.

So what's gone wrong? New Year's Day was a prime timeslot for Primeval's return, and the decision to debut two episodes that weekend wasn't bad. Maybe it would have helped if those episodes had been a more overt two-parter, spending some time introducing the new characters? More likely, I think the main reason Primeval's struggling with audiences is simple: the idea's exhausted itself, because the writers haven't risen to the challenge of giving the show a mythology that deepens and strengthens things. Why aren't the ARC team travelling into the past/future through those anomalies? Why haven't they got more control over these portals, to allow such adventures? Why are most episodes happy to be a slight variation on the basic monster-hunt scenario?

The fact Primeval's been off-air for 18 months is another contributing factor, as the show can't help feeling like yesterday's news. The fact it didn't explain the loss of characters Danny Quinn and Sarah Page (as the actors couldn't return) may have also rubbed some people up the wrong way. Quinn and Page were both new additions for series 3, so there's been an unfortunate lack of consistency for half the show's existence.

So is Primeval doomed? Well, not for awhile. There's definitely going to be a fifth series, because it was filmed back-to-back with the fourth (Watch have the UK premiere later this year.) But after that? I can imagine ITV pulling the plug, if ratings don't start to rise. A big show like this needs to be averaging 6m every Saturday, really. When you remember that Primeval's supposed to be ITV's equivalent of Doctor Who (in terms of popularity), it's not getting anywhere close to Who's average of 8 million last year.

Maybe if Primeval continues to be an overseas success and a ratings goliath for digital channel Watch, it'll get a sixth series -- but its survival is far from assured, based on its UK performance so far.