Two major TV events have hit the air since the beginning of December. One was a ratings phenomenon, the other a complete bomb. They were NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Can you guess which of the two tanked?
If you believe the Hollywood mythology, you might reasonably assume that the reworking of a somewhat obscure 1970s musical was an endeavor doomed to failure. By contrast, if you follow Hollywood’s thinking, every red-blooded American male over the age of 14 would tune in to watch supermodels parading down a runway in nothing but sexy lingerie.
But the reality is quite the opposite. Deadline reports: “The annual supermodel extravaganza was down 32 percent among adults 18-49 from last year’s airing on December 9 with an appearance by Taylor Swift… Tuesday’s 10 PM Victoria’s Secret was a low for the Fashion Show and CBS, which has broadcast the event since 2002.”
Contrast that with “The Wiz’s” performance on NBC, which drew 11.14 million viewers. It performed so well for the network, that NBC plans to re-air it on December 19th.
But surely this is an anomaly, right?
Two years ago, NBC made its first attempt at broadcasting a live musical production with “The Sound of Music” live. Just a couple of weeks prior to its telecast, Entertainment Weekly described NBC’s Thursday night ratings as “an apocalyptic wasteland; some smoldering ruinous city, once glamorous, where a devastating bomb has crumbled the skyline into gray ash.”
Overnight, NBC reversed its fortunes. The special garnered 18.5 million viewers, making it NBC’s most-watched non-sports night on any night of the week since January 15, 2007. According to EW, “Thursday had more viewers than any Thursday night for NBC since the Frasier finale on May 13, 2004. That had 22.6 million total viewers.” And, “It had the most total viewers of any non-sports Thursday night show for any network since Fox aired a Thursday American Idol on March 3, 2011. That Idol had 25.3 million viewers.”
Maybe it’s just musicals, you might say. Maybe other family-friendly programming doesn’t do as well? But you would be wrong.
A 60-year-old rerun of “I Love Lucy” that has been in near-constant syndication for the last 40 years garnered nearly twice as many viewers when it aired on CBS during prime time this past spring as the much anticipated series finale of “Mad Men” on AMC.
In fact, whether we’re talking about movie ticket sales or television ratings, family-friendly content consistently outperforms more “adult” content.
But even in the face of such stark and revealing ratings data, we continue to see fewer and fewer family-friendly viewing options being offered by the networks year after year.
A new analysis by the Parents Television Council found that there were 11.5 fewer hours of TV-PG primetime broadcast programming during the November Sweeps — when the networks pull out all the stops in order to attract the most viewers so they can maximize their ad rates — in 2014 than in 2011, representing an almost 20 percent decrease.
So yes, NBC followed the yellow brick road towards ratings success with “The Wiz Live!” this December, and we offer our congratulations to all involved in making it a program that families could watch together. Unfortunately, the broadcast networks don’t program enough for families the rest of the year.
Programming for families shouldn’t just be a once-a-year endeavor. After all, it’s a winning solution for the networks, the advertisers, and the audience.
Hollywood, are you listening?
Melissa Henson is the director of grassroots education and advocacy for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.ParentsTV.org)