The hills are alive with the sound of… ratings gold? NBC’s 1950s-style live staging of The Sound of Music gave the flagging network a needed ratings win, with the beloved musical coming in as most-watched show of the night with 18.6 million viewers.
It was the network’s best non-sports outing in four years. Overall it drew a notable 4.6 rating in adults 18-49 last night, beat out only by The Big Bang Theory, which saw a two-tenths rise to 4.8/14 to win the demo.
Still, and despite decidedly mixed reviews among watchers, The Sound of Music delivered NBC’s best adults 18-49 Thursday average (non-sports programming) since 2009’s show finale of ER. And it was the network’s largest non-sports Thursday audience overall in 9.5 years, since the Frasier finale in May 2004.
So wherefore the magic? The event was billed as just that — an event — and promised to bring back an experience from the golden age of TV. Those who remember the live 1950s musicals likely were wooed by the nostalgia factor, but The Sound of Music itself is a beloved classic for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers as well.
There was no Julie Andrews or Christopher Plummer to be found, but it had the star power of Carrie Underwood and Vampire Bill from True Blood (Stephen Moyer). And while the critics were not kind to Underwood’s acting or Moyer’s singing, audiences seemed to appreciate the difficult exercise that the three-hour production required. The plot was taken from the play version of the classic, and the significant differences from the film version served to soften comparisons with what has come earlier: in general, consumer response was enthusiastic.
The U.S. apparently likes the format: a two-hour, black-and-white production of Fail Safe on CBS in 2000, starring George Clooney, averaged 15.9 million viewers and drew a 5.8 in the 18-49 demo. The network was so pleased that it went on to stage a follow-up live event, a remake of On Golden Pond in 2001 starring—irony alert—Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews.
NBC has struggled this season for ratings except for two very bright spots: the Blacklist, which is the breakout hit of the autumn, and sports. The network drew 18.9 million in primetime last Thursday with an NFL game.
Live events are of course the raison d’etre for linear television; sports, live results shows for competitions, awards shows and news are obvious ways to capture eyeballs in real time and keep the advertising base up. However, experiments like The Sound of Music may pave the way for more innovation in live TV.
To “fight the DVR…we need to be in the event business,” said NBC Entertainment...