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'Utopia' premiere ratings not ideal

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Fox’s big reality gamble Utopia got off to a modest pre-season start Sunday night.

The two-hour premiere had 4.6 million viewers and a 1.9 rating among adults 18-49 Sunday night. That was lower than the latest episode of CBS’ Big Brother (7.1 million, 2.3), which likewise started at 8 p.m.

The pricy social experience strands 15 people in a remote area to build a perfect community. The debut was up against the massive time-period premiere of NBC’s Sunday Night Football (an estimated 21.2 million, 8.0), yet also had a strong NFL lead-in of its own that largely didn’t stick around. (If you’re a football fan, switching from Fox over to SNF is probably more tempting.)

Fox is betting heavily on Utopia, which basically replaces The X Factor as the network’s multi-night reality show this fall. Utopia is considered risky within the industry partly because broadcast reality series typically have some kind of competitive element to lend a sense of high stakes and urgency (Survivor, American Idol, The Bachelor—all are contests to some degree), yet Utopia is purely a soap. So far, there has been a fair amount of on-set drama, which could hook viewers (EW‘s premiere recap here), and last night’s performance is still considered a workable number. The audience could grow from this, especially as the fall season gets underway.