×

Lowbrow fare takes NBC high

Peacock wins reality race

HOLLYWOOD — One year after putting out the “gone fishin’ ” sign, NBC is the clear winner of this summer’s reality sweepstakes. Sure, the net has thrown a lot of the stuff against the wall, but most of it has stuck.

Led by “Fear Factor,” a gross-out series that has topped the ratings charts with new highs each of the last three weeks, and put-down quizzer “Weakest Link,” which follows “Fear” on its Monday sked, the Peacock net is on a demo roll this summer. It’s won every week since May in the key adults 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen, and it usually hasn’t been close.

Even more significantly, NBC has been ruling primetime among the youngest of adults — 18 to 34 — a segment of the 18-49 group that had become increasingly difficult for the Peacock to attract. After winning only five weeks during the regular season (October-May) in adults 18-34, the net has won every week this summer.

This is a far cry from one year ago, when CBS and ABC ruled the summer months with “Survivor” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” respectively, and NBC primarily stuck with repeats of its scripted series. NBC also sat back and watched last winter as Fox unveiled young-adult magnet “Temptation Island” and ABC boosted its demo portfolio with “The Mole.”

Critics may hate NBC’s lowbrow “Fear Factor” and meanspirited “Spy TV,” but these shows are grabbing the 18-34 crowd — and that’s just what NBC was looking for when it dove headfirst into the unscripted/reality waters this summer.

NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker, put in a position of having to defend his programming strategy to critics, said: “If we don’t try these shows, where will we be in five or 10 years if nobody under 35 has been watching our network?”

While no series this summer has come close to achieving the ratings success of CBS’ wildfire hit “Survivor,” each net can point to at least some success with alternative programming. And given the wretched rate at which most dramas and sitcoms are performing in repeats this summer, even the most modest-performing unscripted or alternative series is a step up.

“Fear Factor” has easily been the most impressive of the bunch, with its original episodes on Monday averaging a 5.5 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and 11.8 million viewers overall. And it keeps getting hotter, with its most recent episode — a July 23 seg in which contestants were forced to eat sheep’s eyes — attracting 14.1 million viewers, a 6.8/21 in adults 18-49 and a boffo 26 share in adults 18-34.

“Fear,” which is not on the NBC fall sked but has been ordered as a midseason replacement series, could be a key utility player for the net.

Also performing well for NBC is quizzer “Weakest Link,” whose original segs are averaging 12.6 million viewers and a 5.4/15 in adults 18-49.

The hidden-camera skein “Spy TV” started off very strong for NBC but has cooled a bit since. Still, its Thursday originals are averaging 9.4 million viewers and a 4.8/16 in adults 18-49. Same can’t be said for the net’s “Downer Channel,” which stumbled in its premiere last week.

CBS’ “Big Brother 2” is not a dominant performer but is nevertheless providing demo jolts for the Eye net. It’s averaging 7.3 million viewers and a 3.0 rating/11 share in adults 18-49, with its averages held down because one of its three weekly episodes airs on little-watched Saturday night.

ABC and Fox have only aired a few hours of alternative programming between them. The former’s comedy/gameshow “You Don’t Know Jack” (5.9 million, 2.6/9 in A18-49) faded after a solid start, and the latter’s “Murder in Smalltown X” got off to a decent start July 24 (7.2 million, 3.5/10).

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • 'The Muppets' Short-Form Series Coming to

    'The Muppets' Short-Form Series Coming to Disney Plus

    Kermit, Miss Piggy and co. are coming to Disney Plus. A short-form unscripted series starring the goofy puppets is set to premiere on the forthcoming Disney streaming service in 2020. The news was announced at the Disney Plus D23 Expo event. The announcement came with a brief teaser of Kermit and Joe the Legal Weasel [...]

  • Succession HBO

    'Succession' Composer Nicholas Britell on Making Music for the One Percent

    The Roys, the media empire family at the heart of HBO’s “Succession,” are ridiculously rich. They’re manipulative and cruel. They’re also a bit delusional and absurd. When Nicholas Britell conceived the show’s score, he wanted to capture all of that. “I wrote in this almost late-1700s, dark classical zone,” says Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of [...]

  • Ewan McGregor of 'American Pastoral'Variety and

    Ewan McGregor Confirms Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney Plus Series to Shoot Next Year

    Ewan McGregor has confirmed that he will be reprising the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for a Disney Plus series centered around the powerful Jedi, after Variety previously reported that he was in talks for the series. At Disney biennial D23 convention in Anaheim, Calif. on Friday, McGregor provided more details about the prospective show and [...]

  • Cody Rhodes, Brandi Rhodes. Professional wrestlers

    Listen: Brandi and Cody Rhodes Give Wrestlers’ Perspective to AEW

    Wrestlers and husband and wife duo Brandi and Cody Rhodes bring an inside the ring perspective to their executive roles at the nascent All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Cody Rhodes, executive vice president, and Brandi Rhodes, chief brand officer, spoke on Variety’s “TV Take” podcast with Joe Otterson about their new wrestling league.  AEW will put [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content