Drawing viewers with music both brand-new and a half-century old
With “The Voice” powering not just NBC’s ratings but sales of breakout tracks, Robert Greenblatt took a risk with another music project: the first live TV staging of a Broadway musical in more than 50 years with “The Sound of Music Live!” starring Carrie Underwood. The experiment, which cost an estimated $9 million and pulled in 18.6 million viewers on Dec. 5, generated revenue beyond advertising through a sponsorship deal with Walmart, a DVD and a soundtrack through Sony. The soundtrack has sold 108,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. NBCUniversal has the option to repeat the musical (it already has once) and sell it internationally.
As a follow-up, NBC will broadcast a live performance of James M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” on Dec. 4. The lead role will be played by a male rather than a woman, as is standard. (Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby are best-known for playing Pan.) NBC famously staged a live broadcast of the Broadway production in 1955 with Martin and Cyril Richard that attracted a then-record 65 million viewers.
Greenblatt announced the musical selection on Jan. 19, saying, “In the hopes that lightning strikes twice, we think we’ve landed on another great Broadway musical—which ironically also starred Mary Martin—that is a timeless classic for all audiences, young and old, who just never want to grow up.”
Meanwhile, getting NBC to its second consecutive fall season at No. 1 among the coveted 18-49 demographic owed a fair amount to the ratings success of “The Voice,” which consistently won Monday’s 8 p.m.-10 p.m. slot. The season-five premiere had an audience of nearly 15 million viewers and the finale was watched by 14 million, according to Nielsen data.
And it also launched another million-selling single, this time “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera. The song peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has sold 2.3 million million downloads.
Responsible for all aspects of prime-time, late-night and scripted daytime programming, Greenblatt will be part of the transition of “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno and Burbank, Calif., to Jimmy Fallon and New York. If Fallon’s edition remains as music-centric in the 11:30 p.m. slot as it was at 12:30 a.m., “The Tonight Show” will offer formidable opportunities for new and established artists.