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NBC Rides Ratings Momentum Into Second Half of TV Season

Good Bows for 'Superstore,' 'Shades of Blue' Add to Net's Hot Run

It’s too early to tell if “Superstore” and “Shades of Blue” can remain hot following their promising premieres of this week, but one thing is clear as the broadcast biz heads into the second half of the television season: No network has more momentum than NBC.

The addition of two of the season’s hottest new shows — “Blindspot” and “Chicago Med” — combined with No. 1 reality series “The Voice,” a record-setting season of “Sunday Night Football” and a handful of highly rated specials to make NBC the dominant network in all key demos during the fourth quarter. In adults 18-49, it beat its rivals in 14 of the season’s first 15 weeks, according to Nielsen’s “live plus same-day” estimates, and it many weeks it wasn’t close.

In fact, NBC’s 22% “most current” advantage in adults 18-49 through December (2.8 vs. 2.3) represented the largest 18-49 margin for any network in 18 years.

NBC has won the fall before — this season marked its fourth straight victory — but there’s more meat on the bone at the Peacock these days. And that should help keep the network, which typically falls off the ratings map once football ends and “The Voice” hibernates for winter, more competitive during a stretch when its rivals will have their turns winning weeks.

Key to the network’s staying afloat until “The Voice” returns at the end of February will be a midweek block of dramas, led by the “Chicago” trilogy of shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. Each series has been picked up for the full season, and NBC has plenty of episodes of them at its disposal. To help create some excitement out of the gate in 2016, the network this week used the first three-show crossover storyline featuring the Dick Wolf-produced dramas — and to good effect: “Fire” and “Med” produced potent ratings even without a boost from “The Voice” on Tuesday and “PD” closed out the event Wednesday by spiking to a 14-month ratings high.

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has been a big proponent of specials on the network.
Kurt Iswarienko for Variety

On Thursdays, the solid-but-unspectacular drama “The Blacklist” may now have more support on the night courtesy of Jennifer Lopez cop drama “Shades of Blue.” Launched on Thursday of this week, at a time when ABC’s potent “How to Get Away With Murder” was on hiatus, “Blue” delivered a good 1.8 rating in 18-49 while drawing the largest overall audience for an NBC premiere in the Thursday-at-10 hour in nearly seven years (8.6 million).

The return of “The Voice” on Feb. 29 will also coincide with the midseason launch of NBC’s biggest scripted weapon: “The Blindspot.” The Greg Berlanti-produced drama is the season’s No. 1-rated new series in both adults 18-49 and total viewers, and with an uninterrupted string of original episodes, it should help keep Monday firmly in NBC’s corner during the homestretch of the season.

Comedy has remained a bugaboo for the Peacock in recent years, but there are bright spots here too. Office comedy “Superstore,” which had gotten some on-air exposure following an episode of “The Voice” in the fall, had its official series premiere last Monday (leading off the night) and impressed with a 1.8 rating in adults 18-49 — the top rating for a Peacock comedy premiere without benefit of a lead-in from “The Voice” in more than two years. Another newcomer, “Telenovela,” opened OK behind it.

(NBC also enjoyed some success with the multi-cam family comedy “The Carmichael Show” last summer, and it’s expected to be a part of the network’s primetime lineup this spring.)

One of the hallmarks of NBC under Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has been the inclusion of specials as part of the primetime programming mix. The network’s presentation of “The Wiz Live!” on Nov. 26 spiked 42% over last year’s “Peter Pan” to deliver the network’s second-best Thursday, excluding sports, since the “ER” finale in 2009. It was followed up in December with the original movie “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” broadcast television’s most-watched movie in more than six years (13 million same-night and nearly 16 million in 7-day viewing), and concert special “Adele Live in New York City,” the top-rated music special on any network in 10 years.

NBC’s primetime success has also lifted the tide of other Peacock boats.

The network, thanks in part to a No. 1 finish in 18-49 and 25-54 during the final half-hour of primetime leading into the local news, is beating its competition by bigger margins in late-night this season. “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” bested CBS’ new “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert by 69% in 18-49 during November and came close to doubling him in December, and “Late Night with Seth Meyers” has widened its head-to-head advantage over both CBS with James Corden and ABC with “Nightline.” And “Today,” meanwhile, has moved to No. 1 in key demos, topping ABC’s “Good Morning America” this fall for its first quarterly victory since 2012.

Looking ahead, CBS is expected to pull ahead of NBC for the season-long 18-49 lead next month thanks to its telecast of Super Bowl 50. But with NBC possessing a stronger overall roster than any time in recent years, a third straight season-long victory for the Peacock — something that may have seemed like a long shot a few months ago — is looking more and more like a real possibility.

 

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