Rookies Rarely Get to Play on Super Bowl Sunday

Airing 'The Voice' after Giants-Pats, NBC continues trend of pushing vets rather than launching something new

The Super Bowl, assumed to be TV’s biggest
annual launch pad, has yielded such longrunning
hits as The Wonder Years (1988) and Family
(1999). But the time slot has also produced its
fair share of flops. In the 1980s and early ’90s, when it
was commonplace to premiere a new series out of the Big
Game, ABC’s MacGruder and Loud and Extreme, NBC’s The
Last Precinct
and The Good Life and CBS’ Hard Copy and
Grand Slam all fell to cancelation the same season.

Since then, networks have often taken a different approach,
tending to give the prime real estate to an existing
yet on-the-rise series, hoping to spotlight it rather than
risk setting up a new show with enormous expectations.

“The goal is to pick a show that’s still in its ascendancy,”
said a network executive who requested anonymity.
“Pick a show that’s still on the way up so that you can
really get something from the additional exposure.”

That’s what NBC will do this year with The Voice,
premiering the second season of the singing competition
series out of its Super Bowl telecast on Feb. 5.
It’s a vote of confidence by the network to bolster the
series—a breakout hit in its rookie season—into the
long-term franchise NBC desperately needs.

While the Super Bowl is routinely the most-watched
telecast of the year, putting a series, even a hit one, after
the game doesn’t necessarily expand its reach. Last
year, Fox’s Glee drew an 11.1 rating in the 18-49 demo
for its post-game episode but still ended its second
season down from its premiere at a 4.7. In 2009, NBC’s
The Office saw an audience close to 23 million after the
Super Bowl and ended with 6.8 million in May, below
the 9.3 million it averaged that season.

But putting an established show in the highly visible
time period at least ensures that regular fans of the
show will tune in (likely live) and allows the network
to monetize the audience, an easier sell for an existing
series than an unproven one. Fox in particular has
made a practice of announcing its post-game scheduling
at its upfront, allowing it to sell the pricey spots
at a premium.

“Since the mid-’90s, it really hasn’t been about compatibility
or launching a show—it’s generally been
more about, ‘How do you spotlight your hot show
and make some money in the process?’” said Preston
Beckman, Fox executive VP, strategic
program planning and research.

The exception to the rule in recent
years was in 2010, when CBS launched
the reality show Undercover Boss, a
broad appeal series that could take advantage of a Super
Bowl audience. The show drew more than 38 million
viewers in its premiere episode and is now in its
third season on CBS’ competitive lineup.

For NBC, the temptation could have been to premiere
its mega-hyped Smash after the game, but apparently
there were enough factors to keep the network from
trotting out its star rookie in that high-profile slot. Additionally,
unscripted series tend to be more consistent
with the feel and audience of live football coverage (two
editions of Survivor have drawn north of 30 million
viewers after the Super Bowl for CBS). By going with
The Voice, which is still a young show, NBC can expose
it in a way it couldn’t in its regular primetime lineup.

“There is no better showcase on television than to
follow the Super Bowl, and we believe The Voice is deserving
of such high-profile exposure,” NBC Entertainment
Chairman Bob Greenblatt said last May when
announcing the scheduling. “The attention-grabbing
blind audition phase of The Voice has mass appeal and
will fittingly team up with the biggest sporting event
of the year.”

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However, NBC is being very careful to temper expectations
for The Voice, which moves this year from Tuesdays
to Mondays where it will face CBS’ powerhouse
comedy block and ABC’s strong reality franchises
The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars. Though the
network would of course hope to grow The Voice in
season two, its appearance after the Super Bowl will at
least remind fans of its return (perhaps a problem for
American Idol this year) and help temper any ratings
decline from the time-period change.

And the show’s season-two premiere episode has
been set up for a ratings touchdown with the New
England Patriots-New York Giants contest, a rematch
of the incredibly exciting Super Bowl XLII and featuring
two big media markets, which should put the audience
in line with the last several years’ record-breaking
viewership. Now NBC must hope The Voice can convert
on it to become a lasting player.

“Anything you put there is going to do well—the
real question is what’s the long-term benefit,” the network
executive said.

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