The 'Blacklist' Playlist: NBC's Dark Drama a Surprise Hit for Music Supervisors

Procedural dramas, the dominant form in scripted network TV, rarely provide a platform for recorded music. "The Blacklist," NBC's breakout hit of the fall season, has been a newsmaker for its ratings success, particularly in the numbers generated by DVR viewing in the seven days after an airdate, as well as the show's attempt to become a hybrid of serialized programs that dominate cable and the self-contained story lines of shows like the "Law & Order" franchise.

Less noticed, though quickly becoming formidable, is the presence of music on the show. With a range of synchs that run from classics like the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" to contemporary tracks like Suuns' "Up Past the Nursery," music supervisor John Bissell has used music in conjunction with the scores of Dave Porter and James S. Levine to create episode-specific tones that range from eerie to wistful. Secondly, synchs have played a role in the continued story lines of FBI agents working with a criminal mastermind to apprehend criminals with names similar to Batman's old foes.

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"We saw music playing an important role from the pilot forward, and the choices John was giving us were crucial to setting the mood and the storytelling," show creator Jon Bokencamp says. A favorite was the placement of Nat "King" Cole's version of "Smile" under a particularly violent scene. "It worked so well as a contrast of what you were watching."

It's an impressive balance of the familiar and the unknown-Jim James, Dean Martin and a cover of Jay Z's "99 Problems" were in the pilot-and credit Bissell with digging deep to find obscure songs and artists. At least three tracks that had barely sold a unit had blips of commerce after their placement in "The Blacklist." Matt Corby's "Made of Stone" went from zero to 2,000 downloads sold in late October and then added another 1,000 sales in the following week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Emika's cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" sold 4,000 in the week ending Oct. 27 after selling only a handful of units since its June release, and Alice Russell's "Citizens" went from zero to 3,000 in the week ending Oct. 6.

"Some weeks call for a lot more score and other times, we're able to use a song that works perfectly for an extended use," Bissell says, citing the placement of nearly all of Corby's track during the final minutes of the fourth episode, "The Stewmaker."

"The Blacklist," produced by Davis Entertainment and Sony Pictures Television, benefits from following "The Voice" on Monday nights. NBC touted its musical Mondays last season with "Smash" following "The Voice" but the story of the creation of a Broadway show never hit its mark in the ratings. "Blacklist" has never been pitched for its musical content, but Bokencamp says it was part of the strategy from the start, tipping his cap to NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt for his support in ensuring "The Blacklist" had a strong musical element to take advantage of its time slot.

Reaction to the show has been strong since its premiere on Sept. 23. Throughout October, NBC was able to tout the show's historic ratings spikes when DVR watching was calculated. The Sept. 30 episode's total viewership was 17.9 million viewers, while the Oct. 7 telecast was ultimately watched by 16.9 million viewers.


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