Before Will Forte’s Last Man on Earth premiered two weeks ago, the conventional wisdom inside the TV industry regarding the Fox comedy was that the show was a bold, innovative half-hour … which had virtually no chance of Nielsen success. Based on early evidence, the conventional wisdom was wrong. After a surprisingly strong opening, newly released DVR ratings show last week’s Last Man scored a 3.0 rating among adult viewers under 50, putting it ahead of lead-in Family Guy as well as usual Sunday night network demo champ Once Upon a Time (both of which averaged a 2.8 rating after three days’ worth of DVR replays). In fact, Last Man was easily Fox’s top-rated comedy last week, retaining 91 percent of its March 1 premiere audience in the advertiser-coveted demo. The key to the show’s early success: delayed viewing.
While the ratings for Last Man’s one-hour premiere were strong any way you cut it, those TV industry insiders who doubted the show’s viability were likely feeling a measure of vindication when initial Nielsen numbers for week two came in last Monday. Based on those same-day ratings — counting only viewers who watched Sunday night — Last Man seemed to have taken a big hit, falling 25 percent from its premiere to a 1.9 rating in the demo (and coming in a tad behind Family Guy). But once viewers who caught the show on DVR within three days were measured, the show added more than 2 million viewers to its tally and jumped an impressive 58 percent in the demo to the aforementioned 3.0. Instead of losing a quarter of its audience in a week, Last Man fell a modest 9 percent — impressive given that Daylight Saving Time kicked in last Sunday and caused many shows to take double-digit dives in the ratings. Of course, these strong initial numbers for Last Man hardly guarantee the show’s long-term survival. Its out-there premise might yet prove to be polarizing and cause more audience defections over the next few weeks. But, at least for now, it seems more than a few viewers are interested in finding out where Forte is going.