A&E Network's new original series starring ailing star Patrick Swayze wasn't a ratings beast, but still delivered decent viewership numbers.
The Jan. 15 premiere of The Beast, starring Swayze as a tough, no-nonsense undercover FBI agent, generated 2.4 million viewers, slightly below the 2.6 million viewers the network garnered with the July 2008 premiere of The Cleaner, the network's first scripted series in seven years.
The series had generated a lot of hype, given its star's very public battle with pancreatic cancer. The Dirty Dancing and Ghost star generated even more publicity as a no-show at A&E's Jan. 9 Television Critics Association tour event after checking himself into the hospital hours earlier with pneumonia.
But A&E president and general manager Robert DeBitetto said that the network was “pleased” with the show's performance. He said the premiere, along with a subsequent repeat, drew 3.6 million viewers for the night.
Further, DeBitetto said that the series has drawn 13 million cumulative viewers over five additional airings for the week — the most for any show on the network.
“Given the outpouring of concern for Patrick Swayze and all of the stories about him and the attention that he was quite rightly getting based on everything that had been going on with him and the show, I think that some people had massive expectations,” DeBitetto said. “But we've always tried to differentiate between all the buzz and hype and the reality of breaking in a new one-hour drama series on A&E. Looking at it more clinically, I think we're really off to a strong start.”
DeBitetto said The Beast's premiere was handicapped by unforeseen competition from major news events.He pointed to cable networks' highly rated, primetime coverage of the crash landing of a US Airways jetliner in New York City's Hudson River, and the fact that former President Bush's televised farewell address pushed the airtime of popular broadcast shows such as CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation into the 10 p.m. timeslot opposite The Beast.
“More of the A&E audience watches CBS than any other network, and that CSI episode, which was [CSI lead character] William Petersen's swan song, drew 23 million viewers from 9:20 p.m. to 10:20 p.m.,” he said. “We know that we lost hundreds of thousands of viewers.”
But DeBitetto stopped short of predicting a viewership increase for last week's original episode. “Historically, series see a dip in the second week, so a decline would not be unusual,” he said. “But given what we've seen so far, there are some good reasons that we might hold pretty well.”