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Can NBC Get Its Fall Shows Into The Olympic Spotlight?

Aug 10, 2012
Originally published on August 10, 2012 5:47 pm

With the Olympics drawing to a close, NBC is looking especially golden. They have had two weeks of great ratings — including record highs. What better time than on the eve of the network's new fall season to rack up two weeks of record audiences? But what might seem a slam dunk for the network is anything but.

Sure, you may be spending a lot of time with NBC this summer. But they'd like you to start thinking about the fall, too. That's why what seems like every third commercial during the Olympics is for the network's own shows. Animal Practice, Go On, Chicago Fire ... they're all on NBC's fall schedule, and you may feel like you're hearing about them — complete with lame sports metaphors — as much as you're hearing about gymnastics and track.

But the network isn't stopping at mere promotion; they're airing entire episodes of select shows after primetime coverage of the competition. Some will even start their seasons right after the closing ceremonies.

You may ask yourself: If the Olympic Games are such a powerful viewer magnet, why not schedule all the fall shows to start right after they end?

The answer: Because it almost never works. NBC has tried again and again over the years to use the Olympics as a launch pad for other programming. But do you remember Father Of The Pride in 2004? Or Conviction in 2006? Didn't think so. Both are examples of shows that failed to take off after being heavily promoted during Olympic coverage.

There are a number of theories as to why it doesn't work. First, there's the distinct possibility that none of the shows NBC has tried to launch out of the Olympics were all that good. Or maybe it's the fact that the Olympics provide what NBC's rivals dismiss as a "rented audience," meaning they're the kinds of viewers who flock to the Olympics but aren't interested in much else.

If that isn't enough, keep in mind that August is a notoriously tough month to launch new shows in any year, Olympic or not. Long summer days keep viewers outdoors — and off couches — later.

ABC discovered in 2000 withWho Wants To Be A Millionaire? that it isn't quite impossible to launch a huge hit this time of year. And with that tantalizing taste of possibility hanging out there, NBC can't just hang an "Out To Lunch" sign until September. But if history is any indication, even the Olympic torch won't make these shows catch fire.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. With the Olympics drawing to a close, NBC is looking golden. They've enjoyed two weeks of great ratings, including some record highs, and all those eyeballs couldn't have tuned in at a better time, as the network tries to build interest in its new fall lineup.

But, as Variety's Andrew Wallenstein explains, NBC's Olympic success doesn't mean any of its new shows will win with audiences.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: You may be spending a lot of time with NBC this summer, but they'd like you to start thinking about the fall, too. That's why what seems like every third commercial during the Olympics is for the network's own shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: He's the first from his homeland to compete in the summer games. They said he couldn't handle the heat, but he's here to prove that just because he can't fly doesn't mean he can't take home the gold.

WALLENSTEIN: Commercials with lame metaphors. That's how NBC intends to take the wind from the Olympic sails to propel its fall shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Dancing. Dancing like a human.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: "Animal Practice," Wednesdays this fall.

WALLENSTEIN: But the network isn't stopping at mere promotions. They're airing entire episodes of select shows after primetime coverage of the games. A few shows are even starting their seasons right after closing ceremonies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Are you kidding me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: Stars earn stripes the Monday after the Olympics here on NBC.

WALLENSTEIN: So you might be thinking, if the Olympics is such a powerful viewer magnet, why not schedule all the fall shows right after the games end? That's because it almost never works. NBC has tried again and again over the years to use the Olympics as a launch pad for other programming, but do you remember "Father of the Pride" in 2004 or "Conviction" in 2006? Yeah, didn't think so.

And there's a number of theories as to why it doesn't work. First, there's the distinct possibility that none of the shows NBC tried to launch out of the Olympics were all that good. The Olympics also provide what NBC rivals dismiss as a rented audience, meaning they're the kinds of viewers who flock to the Olympics, but aren't interested in much else.

Then there's the fact that August is a notoriously tough month to launch new shows. The summer keeps viewers outdoors later, but as ABC discovered in the year 2000, that doesn't mean it's impossible to launch a huge hit this time of year.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE")

REGIS PHILBIN: Ready to play?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5: I'm ready.

PHILBIN: Audience, are you ready? Sure. Let's do it. Play "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

WALLENSTEIN: With a few shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" having beaten the odds, NBC can't just hang an out to lunch sign out until September. But, if history is any indication, even the Olympic torch won't make these shows catch fire.

BLOCK: That's Andrew Wallenstein, TV editor at Variety. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.