Early premieres help NBC's Olympics glow
Posted August 22, 2012
NBC leaned on the record-setting Summer Olympics to gain traction for its new fall lineup — and so far, so good.
In its perennial quest to escape the ratings cellar, the network previewed two new sitcoms on Olympics nights, and opened a reality show and Season 2 of fantasy drama Grimm the day after closing ceremonies.
"Given where we are, we felt it was imperative to take advantage of the Olympics performance," says NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke.
She called the move a "big success," and early signs are encouraging. In commercial-free sneak previews that began around 11 ET/PT, Go On, starring Matthew Perry as a sportscaster in group therapy, drew 16.1 million viewers after a high-profile swimming event. And Animal Practice, with Justin Kirk as a curmudgeonly veterinarian, claimed 12.8 million after the closing ceremonies.
The next day, NBC slated an early return for Grimm, which posted an above-average 5.6 million, and Stars Earn Stripes, a patriotic competition series, opened with 5.2 million, winning their time periods.
"The strategy was sound," says Sam Armando, analyst at Chicago ad firm SMGx. "You cannot directly relate any Olympics promotion to the success of a show" that will premiere weeks later. But airing full episodes during the Games is another story. "When you have the size of the audience they had for two weeks with the Olympics, it's foolish not to introduce programming."
Whether viewers stick around when the shows return is another question. Go On and Animal Practice scored another 4.8 million and 3.6 million viewers respectively in repeats Tuesday and are available online. But they won't return with new episodes until Sept. 11 and 26, facing more intense competition and smaller lead-ins. Stars plunged 31% with this week's second episode; Grimm, which dipped slightly this week, slides back to its regular slot on low-rated Fridays on Sept. 14.
"We'd like to think we'll get better premiere numbers" for the shows in their regular slots "based on that exposure," Salke says. "But we remain realistic; we're trying not to be fools."
In 2008, the Beijing Games followed a writers' strike that crimped series development. None premiered early, and newcomers promoted during the Games faded fast. In August 2004, heavily touted 'toon Father of the Pride opened strongly with 12 million viewers, but by December was canceled.
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