The return of Rove McManus to our flat screens was something of a mixed-bag, as the veteran presenter’s new vehicle Bring Back Saturday Night pulled soft first-up audience numbers, solid critical reviews and generated a good deal of social traffic.

In a week rammed with pilots, those new shows with a test run of typically 10 episodes, Rove’s Saturday Night on Network 10 crashed to No. 8, way behind the top rating newbie Trial By Kyle.

After its first episode, Saturday Night won a national audience of 297,000, according to audience measurement agency OzTam, more than 220,000 viewers off the pace set by Kyle Sandilands’ new venture.

The headline numbers, however, tell just part of the story. Rove’s variety show is admittedly locked into a programming dead-zone (apparently people do things other than watch TV on Saturday night), and analysis of the evening’s chatter on socials would suggest Saturday Night was a talking point.

rove mcmanus
Rove McManus

Media monitoring firm Meltwater measured social activity relating to “pilot week” and found Saturday Night commanded 21.44 per cent piece of the online conversation, just two percentage points behind the leader, Disgrace.

Curiously, Sunday night’s Disgrace was the second least popular pilot in terms of audience (301,000), which means the two least-engaged shows second in terms of audience, were the top ranked shows for the Twitter generation.

So what does this mean? It’s further evidence that conventional audience metrics, on its own, isn’t the holy grail of data it once was. And this all presents a headache for the paymasters who decide on which projects to fund. Of course, a wave of Twitter talk doesn’t mean a show is connecting in a positive way. It could be garbage, and everyone’s onto it (the why-did-they-do-it U.S. network reboot of Dirty Dancing is a go-to case study).

Social isn’t just background noise. It’s a barometer of engagement, and instant feedback. Rove and his team will be studying the tweets for clues on what works, where to make fixes and what to abandon.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s TV critic Michael Idato liked what he saw. “The sketches were excellent, particularly the Squiggle biopic. The comedian-in-the-weekly-comedy-spot (Tom Gleeson) was sharp,” and Rove made for a “proficient master of ceremonies,” he noted in his four-star review.

Television-land’s struggles for eyeballs with the smorgasbord of on-demand and catch-up platforms is well documented. More music is coming to our sets with Spicks and Specks returning this November for a one-off special, a new, Recovery-style format The Songroom got its launch Sunday on Channel 31, and the Seven Network is pushing its EndemolShine Australia-developed All Together Now singing contest (it’s listed as “coming soon”).

If they’re to outlast their pilot phase and take flight, the old measurement stick for popularity will need an update.