NBC finds its ‘Voice’

Even CBS' Monday comedies affected

NBC’s decision to shift “The Voice” to Monday for its second season has reshaped the competitive landscape on the night in a way that raises questions for this season and beyond.

After a strong start in the 2011-12 midseason, the singing contest continues to be a godsend for the struggling Peacock, averaging a 6.3 rating/16 share in adults 18-49 over its first four weeks, according to Nielsen, on the heels of a post-Super Bowl preview. “The Voice” has even been outdelivering primetime’s reigning champ, “American Idol,” in the demo.

While another addition to Monday, Broadway-themed drama “Smash,” isn’t seeing similar success at 10 p.m., “The Voice’s” two-hour episodes are doing well enough to vault NBC from the deep fourth-place standing it inhabited the first half of the season to a comfortable first on the night.

” ‘The Voice’ is something NBC desperately needed to work,” said Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media. “It’s an encouraging step in what will otherwise be a long rebuilding process.”

Together with “Smash,” which is doing better in the timeslot than “The Playboy Club” and “Rock Center” earlier this season, NBC’s revamped Monday sked is up 206% (more than tripling the rating) vs. the comparable February weeks of a year ago.

Shift to fall?

But with TV’s hottest show in hand, NBC may be mulling another bold move. The network is reportedly considering bowing the next cycle of “Voice” in the fall, a prospect Peacock reps will not confirm.

Whether that will mean “The Voice” will move to fall instead of or in addition to the midseason isn’t known. But a double run would open the possibility that NBC could exhaust the long-term viability of the franchise in order to achieve a short-term gain.

Strong as it has bowed, “The Voice” isn’t invincible. The show’s ratings got dented Monday by a Fox telecast of the Daytona 500. And like all 8 p.m. shows, “The Voice” may see some drag from the March 11 onset of daylight savings time, which keeps some viewers away from their TV sets until later in the evening.

Regardless of when “The Voice” bows next season, the network also must decide which new property should get what’s looking to be primetime’s highest-rated lead-in. It’s a position that “Smash” may not be able to hold onto even though its ratings stabilized at a 2.3 rating in the adults 18-49 demo in its fourth week Monday. The drama series is averaging a 3.1 rating in 18-49 — up from the 1.2 that “Playboy” and “Rock Center” averaged earlier in the season — but it’s still too early to assess its chances of earning a second season.

NBC’s improved Monday performance is all the more remarkable given how competitive the night is. One of the biggest stories of the first half of the season was the strength of CBS on Monday, where leadoff hitter “How I Met Your Mother” is up 22% over last season, and the smooth transition of “Two and a Half Men” from Charlie Sheen to Ashton Kutcher has resulted in gains of 28% in the 9 o’clock half-hour. The combination of “Mother” and “Men” have helped CBS turn “2 Broke Girls,” sandwiched between them at 8:30 p.m., into the season’s top-rated new show.

But the emergence of “The Voice” has pushed CBS to second place on Mondays in February, with NBC winning by a sizable 45% in adults 18-49, and by about 25% in both adults 25-54 and total viewers. From September through January, CBS was beating No. 2 Fox by 33% in adults 18-49 and also winning in adults 25-54 and total viewers.

Even steady CBS could be facing a Monday dilemma, though one borne of strength rather than weakness: Can its lineup withstand moving one of its half-hour comedies to bolster a different night? It certainly looks as if CBS will test that proposition on April 12, when the Eye will try a repeat of “2 Broke Girls” at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, where it will follow primetime’s biggest comedy, “The Big Bang Theory,” airing at a special time.

CBS has developed a habit of late-season experiments that translate into next-season scheduling changes. But would the Eye, which would certainly love to extend its comedy stronghold on Thursday to two hours, be taking too big a risk to ship off a hot freshman comedy when it’s doing fine where it is?

Adgate says the Eye has the right pieces to make a move. “They’ve got a ton of comedy development (nine pilots are under consideration) that could work in protected timeslots on Monday or Thursday,” he said.

‘Dancing’ challenge

“The Voice” will be tested again when ABC returns stalwart “Dancing With the Stars” to the schedule March 19 in the same Monday 8-10 p.m. block the latter series has called home for years. ABC may be more worried than NBC given that “Stars” started to show its age in the fall; it’s still a good performer but down 20% year-to-year. For the season on Monday, ABC was third in 18-49 (ahead of a charging NBC) and down 13% vs. last year.

“The Voice” is expected to win the Monday showdown in young adults, while “Dancing” should prevail in total viewers.

But the biggest concerns on Monday are at Fox, which may have to start from scratch in the fall. The net is actually up on Mondays year-to-year, but since “The Voice” arrived, it has placed fourth a few times.

Sensing how tough the night has become, Fox execs shifted new drama “Touch” from its planned Monday timeslot to Thursday at 9. Veteran drama “Bones,” which had been airing on Thursdays, will finish out the season by taking one for the team Mondays at 9, where it will face brutal competition.

That lineup is likely just a placeholder while Fox sorts through its options. The fate of another Monday entry from last fall, “Terra Nova,” is still uncertain, and “House” isn’t coming back. It’s too soon to say whether “Touch” or another Monday entry, “Alcatraz,” will make it to a second season on a night where Adgate believes Fox may need to make a bolder move to regain a foothold.

“Fox has its work cut out for it on this night,” Adgate said. “They might have to completely revamp Monday in the fall — especially if NBC puts ‘The Voice’ there.”