Will NBC’s “Hairspray Live!” be the production that convinces the broadcast networks to rethink their strategy of pouring resources into high-profile live musicals? Probably not, The New York Times reports, even though Wednesday night’s broadcast delivered the lowest viewer numbers of NBC’s four live musical events aired in the past three years.
“Hairspray Live!” settled for 9 million viewers, the story reports — still enough to make it the most-viewed show of the night, topping Fox’s “Empire” and CBS’s “Survivor.”
“Though it garnered mostly good reviews, ‘Hairspray Live!’ saw a big drop from NBC’s production of ‘The Wiz Live!’ last year, which had 11.5 million viewers,” The Times reports. “’Hairspray Live!’ also had a smaller viewership than 2014’s ‘Peter Pan Live!,’ which had 9.2 million viewers, and the 2013 live production of ‘The Sound of Music,’ still the highest-rated at 18.6 million. The second-most-viewed of the recent spate of live musicals was Fox’s ‘Grease Live!,’ with more than 12 million viewers, in January.”
With NBC now carrying “Thursday Night Football,” the network moved “Hairspray” to Wednesday, instead of the usual Thursday slot used for NBC’s three previous musicals. The move may have contributed to the erosion, but the report notes that all of the three previous productions aired opposite football on other networks.
“TV executives have used live events in recent years as an antidote to eroding ratings that have affected all networks,” The Times adds. “But even those events have taken a hit this year: Awards show ratings — like the Oscars, the Emmys and the Golden Globes — have been down, and NFL prime-time ratings have nose-dived.”
But live theatrical events still have legs on the broadcast nets. NBC has announced that it will air a live production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in December 2017, and the network also has a live production of “A Few Good Men” in the pipeline. Fox, meanwhile, has been working on a live musical for next year and ABC has expressed interest in a live production.