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For Season 5 of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, fans have been anticipating watching Jennifer Morrison’s Emma Swan take a turn to the dark side. But it appears that a large chunk of the audience wasn’t exactly willing to watch that transition as it happened live, as the understandably titled premiere “The Dark Swan” took an even more massive tumble in the ratings than anyone was probably ready for. No fairy tale beginnings for this season’s numbers.
On Sunday night, which is one of the strongest nights of the week for quality programming, Once Upon a Time was watched by around 5.8 million people, with a 1.8 rating in the key 18-49 demographic. In and of themselves, the numbers aren’t dramatically awful, but when you compare them to the Season 4 premiere numbers from last year, that’s when things get a little more bothersome from a network perspective.
As compared to Season 4’s “A Tale of Two Sisters,” which brought in a demo rating of 3.7 and 10.2 million Live+Same Day viewers, “The Dark Swan” saw a 49% drop. That’s rough by anyone’s standards, no matter what you’re considering. Now, the fantastical ABC drama often does well in terms of DVR viewings over the days following an episode, so we can expect to see that initial 5.8 million get higher. However, one would have to assume that the show’s most hardcore fans were glued to their TVs on Sunday night, and if that core group has shrunk by over 4 million, then it’s time to get worried.
Still, Once Upon a Time was viewed by more people than everything in Fox’s Sunday Funday lineup, all of which also saw drops from last year’s premiere week. I mean, even the premiere’s clip show lead-in, Dark Swan Rises: Once Upon a Time, beat all of those Fox shows with its 3.5 million viewers, according to TV By the Numbers. In comparison, though, last year’s clip show was watched by 5.49 million, so that was also down this year.
But when matched up with other shows across the dial, Once Upon a Time didn’t fare as well. The NFL is always a ratings monster, and NBC’s Sunday Night Football match-up between the Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos was watched by nearly 16 million people, with a 7.3 demo rating for the majority of the airtime. Once was even beat out in total ratings by the series that followed it, including the new Don Johnson drama Blood & Oil (6.3 million/1.4) and the new FBI drama Quantico (6.9 million/1.9).
It’s also likely that fewer people will be watching Once Upon a Time next week, since season premieres are generally among the highest-rated episodes of the season. But we’ll just have to wait and see how “The Price” does.