NBC, ‘Smash’ Struggle to Find Their Voice

Despite flagging ratings—and a diss from the boss—show still holds promise for the third-place contender

While it wasn’t a rave review, Steve Burke’s assessment of NBC’s musical drama Smash hardly constituted a death knell for the new series.

Moments after Comcast concluded its Feb. 15 earnings call, Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, allowed that while The Voice was likely to retain its early momentum, “Smash is more problematic.” Unbeknownst to Burke, his microphone was still live when he made the comment.

There was nothing particularly startling about Burke’s characterization. After a triumphant debut in which the show served up 11.4 million total viewers and a 3.8 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, Smash fell to earth in its second outing, delivering 8.06 million viewers and a 2.8.

All told, 26 percent of the show’s dollar demo evaporated. And while the loss is vexing, it hardly came as a big surprise. The Feb. 6 premiere began losing viewers at a rapid clip after the first 15 minutes, plummeting from 14.1 million viewers and a 4.9 rating from 10 p.m.-10:15 p.m. to 10.1 million and a 3.4 in the final quarter hour.

Having invested as much as $25 million to market the premiere, NBC clearly believes it can find an audience to match Smash’s ambitions. If deliveries level out, the series almost certainly will be renewed. As it stands, it already constitutes a vast improvement over prior occupants of the time slot, The Playboy Club and Rock Center With Brian Williams, which combined for a paltry 1.0 in the demo. “Monday was such a disaster, anything above a 1.5 will move the needle for them,” said Brad Adgate, Horizon Media’s svp, director of research. “It sounds pathetic, but that’s the reality of where NBC is right now.”

In head-to-head competition with CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and ABC’s Castle, Smash offers a favorable audience profile. According to Nielsen, the show’s median age is a relatively apple-cheeked 49 years old; Hawaii Five-0 skews a bit grayer (54), while the Castle crowd is nearly a decade senior (58). And whereas 57 percent of Hawaii Five-0’s audience is female, the Smash fan base is more than two-thirds female (68 percent). Castle hits a similar target (67 percent).

“We like the audience mix, and the post-Voice spot is really attractive,” said one TV buyer. “This was maybe the buzziest show coming out of the upfront…and clients have been very responsive.”

Adgate notes that factors such as income and education are often overlooked in the rush to scour the overnights. “You have to look at the quality of the viewers they’re getting,” he said. “Like The West Wing, this is the type of prestige show that may not get huge numbers, but will draw people who are very attractive [to advertisers].”

As much as NBC needs a hit, this is a network playing for third place. Per Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker, should NBC hold off ABC in the demo (thanks to the Super Bowl, the Peacock is up by three-tenths of a ratings point), that could mean nearly $545 million in additional revenue.

Publish date: February 19, 2012 https://stage.adweek.com/tv-video/nbc-smash-struggle-find-their-voice-138407/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT