Are the Olympics really a platform for launching anything other than high divers?
That was the high-stakes question NBC faced last week with the launch of the CGI-animated comedy “Father of the Pride” and action drama “Hawaii” hot on the heels of 17 days of Olympic Games, during which the new-season shows were heavily promoted.
NBC knew it was taking a gamble by premiering its shows three weeks before the usual official start of the season, at a time when most viewers are concerned more about Labor Day picnics, political conventions or even the threat of hurricanes than with new TV programming.
Still, NBC wanted to make the most of access to the Games’ gargantuan audiences to promote new shows. It was also part of a plan announced earlier in the year to move away from fixed TV seasons and toward a 52-week programming strategy.
The results, so far, are mixed. According to Nielsen Media Research, “Father of the Pride’s” Tuesday 9 p.m. (ET) debut did bode well for an Olympics-driven early launch strategy. With a 7.7 rating and 12 share in households and a 10.9/17 in adults 18 to 49, “Pride” won the night in households, key demos and total viewers (12.4 million).
On Wednesday “Hawaii” also performed (although not as strongly as “Pride”), winning the night in households (7.3/13) and total viewers (10.9 million).
“I think we’ve had a good week launching these new shows,” said Mitch Metcalf, senior VP of program planning and scheduling for NBC Entertainment. “We had this wonderful gift of the Olympics. You can’t argue with an event that is seen collectively by 200 million people.”
Then again maybe you can, based on history. In October 2000, after the Sydney Olympics, the drama “Deadline” and comedy “Tucker” watched their numbers decline steadily from their post-Games premieres. They were each off the air in less than six episodes. In 2002, after the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy “Watching Ellie” opened with a 7.1/17 on Feb. 26, but by March 19 had dropped to a 3.6/10. Mr. Metcalf said events like the Olympics can introduce an audience to a show, but have no effect on continuing success.
“That just opens the door,” he said. “Then the baton is passed to the show. There is no guarantee with any platform-the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes. They will never, never guarantee the success of the show. Is the comedy consistent each week? Is the drama compelling each week? That’s what we have to do.”
John Rash, senior VP and director of national broadcast for the ad agency Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis, said shows live and die on their own merits. However, capitalizing on post-Olympics audiences and giving viewers more sampling opportunities-NBC repeated the debut episode of “Pride” on Thursday and Saturday-is a given in the increasingly fractured TV marketplace. “It’s a model of how the networks will often premiere programs in today’s cluttered media environment,” he said.
Fox may have found that out with the premiere of the reality makeover show “The Complex: Malibu,” which launched Aug. 30 with a dismal 2.4 rating and 4 share in households. Of course, a glut of reality shows and “The Complex’s” own incompatibility with the Fox audience may have had more to do with its poor showing than the lack of an Olympics-like push.
“Bickering couples arguing over home improvement is usually what people watch TV to escape,” Mr. Rash joked.
But makeover fatigue can’t explain away the success of another Fox debut last week. Going head-to-head with NBC’s “Hawaii,” the makeover show “Renovate My Family” tied its NBC competition for first place among adults 18 to 49 (3.3/11) and grew quarterly for its entire two-hour run.
For Mr. Metcalf, the show is ultimately its own platform for generating an audience. “If the show’s not going to work,” he said, “it doesn’t matter if we premiere it week 52 of the prior season or week one or two of the new season.”