ABC’s ‘Queens’ struggling to find an audience despite good reviews

The show "Queens" featuring Brandy, Eve, Naturi Naughton and Nadine Valezquez on ABC is struggling in the ratings. (ABC/Jeff Daly)
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The show "Queens" featuring Brandy, Eve, Naturi Naughton and Nadine Valezquez on ABC is struggling in the ratings. (ABC/Jeff Daly)

Credit: ABC

The series starring Brandy and Eve is shot in Atlanta.

ABC’s “Queens” starring Brandy and Eve is in trouble.

The Atlanta-produced show, hoping to capture the magic of “Empire” and to a lesser degree “Star” on Fox a few years ago, is facing a far different world than those other shows as streaming has rapidly stolen audience from traditional broadcast TV options.

Despite solid reviews, ABC marketing dollars and serious star power, the dishy drama about four 40-something former hip-hop stars trying to recapture the magic of their late 1990s fame is flatlining after an already weak start.

The overnight ratings for the show dropped 34% from its debut over two weeks, falling to just 1.16 million viewers last Tuesday for its third episode. Overnight ratings no longer mean all that much given how many people now watch shows on demand. But that overnight number is alarmingly small even by 2021 standards.

In comparison, ABC’s other new scripted series this fall “The Wonder Years” has held up significantly better, opening at 3.23 million overnight viewers and bringing in 2.57 million by its sixth episode, a drop of just 20%. (ABC on Wednesday sent out a press release touting that the ratings over the first 35 days for the first episode of “The Wonder Years” hit 8 million viewers, with the 18-49 demo quadrupling in size from overnight numbers.)

“Queens,” a reboot of the 1980s/90s series, is also shot in Atlanta and focuses on a Black family in the late 1960s. NBC’s new drama “La Brea” has drawn 5 million overnight viewers while CBS’s comedy “Ghosts” is closer to 5.3 million.

In all, “Queens” is the lowest-rated scripted show in ABC’s current fall lineup.

Viewers who have posted on IMDb gave “Queens” a mediocre 6.0 out of 10 and it’s ranked as just the website’s 302nd most popular show and 239th most buzzed about drama. (The current top 5 most popular shows include four Netflix shows and one HBO series: “You,” “Squid Game,” “Locke & Key,” “Succession” and “Maid.”)

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"Queens" stars Naturi Naughton and Nadine Valezsquez. (ABC/Daniel Delgado)

Credit: ABC

"Queens" stars Naturi Naughton and Nadine Valezsquez. (ABC/Daniel Delgado)
Caption
"Queens" stars Naturi Naughton and Nadine Valezsquez. (ABC/Daniel Delgado)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

ABC provided two of the actors for me to talk to last week in an effort to gain some added attention.

Naturi Naughton, best known to date as tough-as-nails Tasha on the hit Starz show “Power,” plays Jill “Da Thrill.” After the group imploded in 2001 in San Diego, she recovered from substance abuse, met and married a minister and moved to Billings, Montana, where she became a devoted Christian church-going woman.

This despite the fact she was in fact a closeted gay woman. “She wanted to be a rap icon,” Naughton said. “No way she could come out at that time.”

But as the series opens in 2021, she decides to come out at the BET reunion appearance after falling in love with a woman.

Jill, early on, is a bit shell shocked by her decision. Her Tasha character from “Power,” she said, would tell Jill to “get it together! Stop worrying about what others think about you. Stand up for yourself!”

Naughton said Jill eventually loosens up and becomes a “symbol of freedom and courage. She really enjoys the attention. She’s going to act up. She’s feeling herself. It may cost her some friendships.”

She sees “Queens” as far different than “Power,” noting how it’s truly female-centric while less explicit and raw, given that it’s broadcast TV.

“We have to be a bit more PG-13 friendly on ABC,” she said. “I’ve really had fun diving into the comedy. I get a chance to be a little lighter.”

Nadine Velazquez, who plays tough-talking, super confident Valeria “Butter Pecan” Mendez and has been a long-time actor on shows like “Major Crimes” and “My Name is Earl,” said her character appears to be the villain the first two episodes but the writers give her redeeming qualities in subsequent episodes. (Valeria slept with the group’s manager and informed the other ladies in episode two in a flashback that she took advantage of them financially as well.)

“I love the layers that Valeria has,” Velazquez said. “I love exploring the different emotions.”

Caption
ABC put up billboards in Atlanta for "Queens." While in New York, I also caught a "Queens" billboard not far from Times Square on Nov. 7, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

ABC put up billboards in Atlanta for "Queens." While in New York, I also caught a "Queens" billboard not far from Times Square on Nov. 7, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Caption
ABC put up billboards in Atlanta for "Queens." While in New York, I also caught a "Queens" billboard not far from Times Square on Nov. 7, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Velazquez is the only one of the four main actresses to have no real life music career before the show and wasn’t as well versed in the hip-hop world of the late 1990s as the others, even as a listener. She had to play catch up ― and fast.

“I’ve always been the type who looks before she leaps,” she said. “I just imagine that I would learn everything on the go.” But she said she did feel intimidated at first, a feeling the other women had to allay over time.

She hopes the audience finds the show before it’s too late.

“The story lines are engaging enough to keep you turning the page,” Velazquez said. “The chemistry among such a strong group of women of color is rare. Right on top, it’s already unique and the fact we’re rapping, that’s different.”

The show has a 13-episode order and just finished shooting eight. The good news for “Queens” is networks seldom cancel shows in the middle of a run anymore so the show still has a small window to pick up steam and find an audience.

ON TV

‘Queens,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC and on Hulu the next day

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