Peacock mulls options for August bows on heels of Games

NBC looks likely to launch original series in late summer to capitalize on the influx of viewers that will tune in for the network’s coverage of the London Olympics.

Insiders said Peacock brass are weighing which of its pilots, returning series or unscripted development projects will be the focal point of extensive promotion throughout the Summer Games and bow shortly after its Aug. 12 conclusion. A decision has to be made soon because NBC can’t wait until May to order what may be multiple series bowing at least a month earlier than the traditional late-September start of the season.

NBC declined comment.

The chosen shows may represent NBC’s best shot at fielding a hit given that the Olympics could be the network’s most potent marketing platform since the Super Bowl in February was leveraged to propel “The Voice” to new heights in its second season.

But repeating the effectiveness of the Super Bowl will be tough. For one thing, the London Games will end two weeks earlier than the Olympics usually do. That’s why NBC wants to take some shows out earlier to ride the event’s coattails, but it means launching at a time of year when viewers aren’t conditioned to sample new series and HUT levels are at yearlong lows.

You can count on one hand the number of successful TV launches that have come out of August, though one notable exception is ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Though the network has tried repeatedly, NBC has struggled to launch a bona fide hit coming out of the Olympics. Nevertheless, the event’s long-unrealized potential to enrich the rest of the net’s schedule is one reason parent company Comcast was willing to pony up more than $4 billion last year to keep the Olympics on NBCUniversal platforms through 2020.

The gaudy ratings the Olympics routinely achieve make it hard to resist basking in its afterglow. The Vancouver Olympics in February 2010 averaged more than 24 million viewers and a 6.5/18 among adults 18-49.

NBC will choose shows that likely appeal to the composition of that audience, which was 56% female — such as new episodes of a femme-centric drama like “Smash,” which received an early pickup for a second season on Thursday.

Some of the 23 pilots vying for slots on NBC’s 2012-13 sked may have a better chance to be showcased at the Olympics — particularly the few that got early pilot orders. The comedy “Isabel” from Sony Pictures Television is already shot, as is Sarah Silverman’s “Susan 313″ from 20th Century Fox TV. Both could play to the Games’ female-skewing aud.

However, Peacock execs could just as easily bet on a production based on the strength of scripts and go ahead with an episode order before a pilot is done. NBC could even select a co-production to which it’s already committed for 13 episodes: drama series “Hannibal” from Gaumont Intl. Television. It has an international flavor and epic scope compatible with the Olympics, as does another co-production, “Dracula,” shepherded by Tony Krantz and Colin Callender.

Or NBC may take its cues from “The Voice” and elect to launch a new reality franchise out of the Olympics. There’s even a possibility “The Voice” itself will be pressed into service in August given the increasing likelihood that the series will be on the net’s fourth-quarter sked.

The year 2004 may offer something of a precedent to this summer because the network launched five new series in the days immediately after the Olympics ended on Aug. 29, though that date brought it closer to the fall season. But while heavily promoted fare like “Father of the Pride” and “Joey” bowed solidly that year, neither lasted long.

In 2006 (a Winter Olympics year), NBC fumbled the launch of its lone March bow, “Conviction.” In 2008, the net concentrated much of its marketing on returning series rather than on the premiering “Kath and Kim” and “My Own Worst Enemy,” which had abbreviated post-Olympics runs.

And two years ago, NBC was criticized for cutting away from the Closing Ceremony to air a preview of “The Marriage Ref,” which over the long term wasn’t able to hold onto the huge auds that sampled the Jerry Seinfeld-fronted unscripted series that night. “Parenthood” was also launched out of the 2010 Games, and though it remains on NBC’s schedule, its ratings performance has been middling at best.

NBC’s cold streak of launching shows out of the Olympics may say less about the event’s power as a launch pad and more about the creative doldrums in which the Peacock has remained for most of the last decade. Or it’s a reflection of the difficulty luring audiences viewing any marquee TV event (like the World Series) considering that the additional viewers they draw are often people who rarely watch regularly scheduled series.

What insiders say has already been ruled out: NBC is not going to start the fall early and cluster most of its new series in August. Nor will it evenly disperse its series launches across each week from mid-August through September.

In all likelihood, there will be a small cluster in mid-August followed by a bigger cluster in the traditional September launch period. Those two launch periods will be bridged by the closing weeks of “America’s Got Talent,” which will be a promotional platform for the second cluster.

That strategy reflects NBC’s desire to stagger the launches of its fall programming more than the network has done in previous years to avoid overloading the sked with so many September bows that they effectively cancel each other out.

NBC could also be incentivized to start shows earlier this season because in October the broadcasters have to contend with four primetime presidential debates across four consecutive weeks that fall out on four different weeknights (not Friday). That’s a lot of interruption at a time when vulnerable viewing habits are still being formed.

However, series that start in August will also run up against the Republican National Convention, which starts Aug. 27, or Democratic National Convention, starting Sept. 3. Both events will take bites out of primetime as well.

NBC won’t pick up too many series because Comcast will likely have other promotional priorities outside of the network that the Olympics will be used to plug. Universal Pictures’ “The Bourne Legacy” will likely get exposure on the Games’ opening days given its Aug. 3 release date, and tentpoles scheduled later in the year should get some love, including “47 Ronin,” the November actioner starring Keanu Reeves.

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