The crossbow-toting adventurers on the post-apocalyptic TV drama "Revolution" are fighting to restore power to a blacked-out world.
It's a goal NBC executives can identify with.
Last fall's top-rated new series, "Revolution" has been looking energy-deprived since late March, when it returned from a four-month hiatus. The two most recent episodes tied for series lows, with 6.3 million tuning in — a 46% slide from the September premiere, according to Nielsen.
"Certainly the longer hiatus didn't help," said Helen Giles, director of national broadcast at Detroit-based ad firm Campbell Ewald.
To make matters worse, NBC at the last minute preempted this week's episode for a Brian Williams special on the Boston Marathon bombings. Despite heavy competition from cable news networks, the NBC News anchor's program Monday drew 8.8 million viewers, easily beating the recent marks for "Revolution."
The network said Tuesday that as a result of the preemption, the drama's season finale will air June 3 — long after most shows have already wrapped up and when the available audience will be smaller because of summer vacations.
NBC executives say viewers still want their "Revolution" — it's just that the show has been dragged down by the same forces that yanked the network from No. 1 last fall to a dreadful fourth place for the first three months of 2013. When the singing smash "The Voice" and NFL games disappeared from the schedule in January, NBC's numbers coughed out like a dying generator.
"The ['Revolution'] ratings are fine, if you look at it relative to what the trend on NBC has been," said Jeff Bader, president of program planning, strategy and research for the network. "We're now in a rebuilding mode, so our ratings are coming back up."
This isn't the way "Revolution" was supposed to unfold. The series — among the most expensive on TV, with a per-episode cost of about $3 million — came with impeccable pedigree. The executive producer is J.J. Abrams of "Lost" and "Star Trek" fame, one of the most powerful creators in Hollywood.
Abrams adapted an idea from writer Eric Kripke about a modern world returned to a primitive state, throwing in a previously unused concept about electrical power mysteriously going out worldwide. Tracy Spiridakos plays the central character, Charlie, a young woman who's fighting to reunite her family and overthrow evil overlords who have taken over an overgrown, anarchic America. Armed with her crossbow, Charlie echoed Katniss Everdeen, the archery-loving heroine played by Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games."
NBC executives were so high on the show that they scheduled it in their 10 p.m. Monday slot, right after the singing smash "The Voice" — about as strong a slot as any producer could hope for.
Or so one might think. The problem is that many of the most devoted "Voice" fans — especially teenage girls and young women — aren't necessarily interested in a dark, twisty sci-fi serial, a genre that typically skews male. The April 8 episode of "Revolution" lost more than half of "The Voice's" audience ages 18 to 49 — the network's key demographic.
Bader conceded that "Voice" was "probably not as compatible" with "Revolution" as another similarly themed drama might have been — but NBC has no such drama.
"For our network right now, ['The Voice' is] the ideal lead-in," Bader said. "We have nothing else that comes close" in terms of ratings firepower. He added that ABC's crime drama "Castle" eventually caught on, even though its lead-in, "Dancing With the Stars," is not an obvious fit.
The creators have kept their promise to make "Revolution" more than just a show about a blackout, although as the story develops the body count keeps climbing — so much so that even fans may have trouble keeping up.
"Maybe too many people have gotten killed off," joked Tom Talbert, who works alongside Giles at Campbell Ewald.
Added Jeffrey McCall, a media studies professor at DePauw University: "The post-apocalyptic science fiction thrust of this show is just not compelling enough to keep viewers over a long haul. It was a novelty last fall and curious viewers watched for a while," he said. "But the ratings had leveled off even before it went on hiatus and the energy of the show had waned. I am not surprised that the audience has failed to flock back."
Bader insists that the creative direction is not the problem. "The show's definitely broadening out," he said. "It's becoming less about 'no power' and more about this new world."
One ray of hope for NBC? The show continues to be a top DVR draw, with about 4 million viewers watching on a time-delayed basis. However, even that figure must be put in perspective: AMC's zombie smash "The Walking Dead" totals more than 15 million weekly viewers after delayed viewing is added.
Loyal fans probably don't need to worry that "Revolution" will go untelevised, though. Analyst Brad Adgate of ad firm Horizon Media points out that with so many failed programs and trouble spots on its schedule, NBC is almost certain to flick the lights back on for another season.
"How many shows can they cancel?" Adgate asked.
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)