The surprising success of The Sound Of Music helped NBC hit a milestone last week, winning six of the seven nights in adults 18-49 for the first time in 11 years in-season with no help from Winter Olympics. A follow-up live musical for next year’s holiday season with Sound Of Music executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron is already in the works, with the title choices narrowed down to three, according to NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt. Rights issues are currently being sorted out, with the network and the producers expected to make their selection after the first of the year. Not surprisingly, stagings and other live entertainment events are all the rage right now, with everyone looking to jump in. But don’t expect those to start popping up often. “I’d love to do more but it is not that easy to put them together,” Greenblatt said. They’re also expensive; The Sound Of Music staging reportedly cost just under $10 million. But when they hit it big, it does pay off.
“The Sounds Of Music will be profitable with modest return from the DVD,” which is about to be released, Greenblatt said. Because the ratings blew out expectations — NBC had been projecting internally mid-1 demo rating, with 2 considered overly optimistic, and instead, the musical drew a 4.6 in Live+Same Day — “the advertising revenue alone was enough to push the show to where we wanted it to be (financially),” Greenblatt said. The Sound of Music is getting an encore tomorrow night. Also, “we own it, and if we run it once a year for the next few years, even at a modest rating as an annual special it adds up to a nice little business,” he said. Still, “we have to do these specials more efficiently,” Greenblatt admitted, noting that the budget for the next one likely would not be as big because it won’t need the R&D costs associated with doing such a live musical production for the first time in 60 years. Also helping with containing the cost on the marketing side — NBC parent NBCUniversal. Greenblatt stressed that NBC spent “very little or no money on off-air promotion” for The Sound of Music, instead of relying on promotion across all divisions of NBCU as part of the company’s so-called “symphony” synergy initiative.
For a second year in a row, NBC is heading into the new year as the ratings leader year after a strong fall, fueled by Sunday Night Football and The Voice, with some help from new shows (Revolution last year, The Blacklist this fall). Last December, Greenblatt was careful about managing expectations, warning that the network won’t sustain the ratings momentum in January. That was an understatement as the wheels really came off in early 2013. Greenblatt is far more optimistic this time around, and that’s not only because NBC has the Winter Olympics coming up in February. “I think we’re in better shape than before,” he said, pointing to The Blacklist, which has held up better than Revolution did last fall; Chicago Fire, which has grown in Season 2 with help from The Voice; and Grimm, which is still solid.
But while the last time NBC won six of seven nights during an in-season week was April 2002, when it was paced by a Thursday lineup anchored by Friends, Will & Grace and ER, NBC’s Thursday now has become a dark hole on the schedule that has been even more gaping this fall after the end of The Office. There had been suggestions that NBC should ditch the two-hour comedy block, at least until it has the goods to successfully re-establish it, just like it did in 2004 with The Apprentice at 9 PM, or try alternative comedies instead of traditional ones. It’s telling that currently, NBC’s two highest-rated comedy programs are late-night sketch comedy Saturday Night Live and the unscripted Hollywood Game Night. But don’t expect radical changes in midseason. “We are going to rethink and reconfigure and look at Thursday in a different light for next year,” Greenblatt said.