Gabby Douglas, Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin were the stars of prime-time TV last week, helping to deliver record Olympics ratings to NBC — an average of 32 million viewers.
But what NBC really needs is a breakout hit starring Crystal the Monkey or Matthew Perry. To that end, NBC will launch new series featuring those stars during its Olympics coverage this week.
Shortly after coverage of Wednesday’s Games wraps about 11 p.m., NBC will run the complete first episode of its new comedy “Go On,” in which “Friends” alum Matthew “Nobody Does Droll Better” Perry plays a grieving widower/radio sportscaster who’s attending mandated group therapy.
On Sunday, after the Olympics Closing Ceremony — which is scheduled to wrap about 10:40 p.m. — NBC will air the first episode of its Manhattan animal clinic comedy. In “Animal Practice,” Justin Kirk plays a hot-shot NYC veterinarian who is upstaged in nearly every scene by Crystal, the capuchin who wowed film audiences in “Night at the Museum” and “The Hangover Part II” and who already upstaged no less than Sarah Palin at a recent NBC party.
The stunt is part of NBC’s big push to broaden its comedy audience — which, lately, has included loads of TV critics and their editors but not nearly so many actual viewers as NBC comedies enjoyed during its “Must See TV” glory days of “Friends,” “Cheers” and “Seinfeld.”
“I don’t think NBC has ever run full pilots inside the Olympics before, which hopefully will drive a lot of attention” to the two new series, NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said. “If we have 30 million viewers or 25 million viewers pouring into one of these previews, we’d be thrilled.”
Alas, we may never know how thrilled NBC is. Both broadcasts will air without ads, which means Nielsen will not send out ratings — unless NBC orders them and decides to share.
NBC ran a 21 / 2 minute tease of its new J.J. Abrams drama series, “Revolution” — a chilling, apocalyptic look at the dangers of gun control and kudzu — after Games coverage Monday. (It was originally announced as a six-minute tease that would air after Saturday’s Games broadcast, but that was changed at the last minute.)
At the just-concluded Summer TV Press Tour 2012 — as in the days since — NBC execs have touted the stunting as a new strategy for the network. No doubt they’ve forgotten (and who can blame them?) the 2010 Winter Olympics, in which NBC interrupted the Closing Ceremony to air the first episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s reality series “The Marriage Ref,” which clocked an impressive 14.5 million viewers.
But ratings plunged after that glorious opening night, and by the end of its first season, ”The Marriage Ref” was attracting only 4.5 million. It was brought back as a summer series and canceled soon thereafter. Because one of the great truths of the TV industry is that the best way to kill a bad show is to get a lot of people to see it.
Still, NBC has nothing to lose and everything to gain with its “Go On” and “Animal Practice” stunt premieres during Olympics broadcasts.
As Greenblatt noted when he met this month with The Reporters Who Cover Television, NBC needs to “transition” its comedy strategy from programs that critics love to programs that larger swaths of the public actually want to watch.
“Those Thursday comedies, which the critics love and we love, tend to be a bit more narrow than we’d ultimately like as we go forward,” he said diplomatically.
“Given what’s happened at the network over the last four or five years, in terms of just the general decline across the whole week, and the loss of circulation . . . we just can’t get the biggest audience for those shows,” he continued to tiptoe gingerly, adding that NBC’s recent comedies “tend to be . . . little bit more sophisticated than I think you might want for a real broad audience.”
And then he concluded: “I hope these new shows that we’ve got for the fall and the spring are also clever and also smart and that you critics like them but can also broaden the size of the audience.”
Premiering their new comedies during the Games, in fact, might be NBC execs’ only hope because it doesn’t look as though the shows are going to get much love from TV critics. Here’s how one TV critic described “Go On,” “Animal Practice” and another new NBC comedy (from Jimmy Fallon, about stay-at-home dads) in a question put to Greenblatt — the guy who developed and greenlit them — at the conference:
“One of them has animals all over the place, and one of them has babies all over the place, and [the ‘Go On’ premiere] ends up with [group therapy members brandishing] swords and chasing cars. . . . Is that one of the parts of ‘broadening something out?’ ”
To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/