NBC gives Olympic boost to 2 new comedies
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Matthew Perry and Crystal the monkey are standing on the shoulders of Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and other Olympic champions.
NBC has vigorously promoted its fall schedule during the network's exclusive Summer Games broadcasts. But it's awarded a preview opportunity to just two comedies: "Go On," starring Perry, and "Animal Hospital," featuring the simian Crystal and assorted humans.
"Go On," with the former "Friends" star as a newly bereaved sports radio host, will air Wednesday following the approximately 11 p.m. EDT and PDT end of the night's Olympic coverage.
"Animal Practice," starring Justin Kirk of "Weeds" and set in a veterinary hospital, will air after the Olympics closing ceremonies on Sunday, set to wrap about 10:30 p.m. EDT and PDT.
"The strategy really is about getting as much sampling for the shows as possible," said Vernon Sanders, NBC Entertainment executive vice president. He called it a reflection of a "real philosophical shift about how to premiere shows."
That includes a more aggressive effort to give freshman series a jump start on the fall season, which officially begins in mid-September, by posting them online early, holding screenings — or, when an Olympic Games is handy, "putting them in the biggest launch pad possible," Sanders said.
This Olympics, with higher-than-expected ratings that Sanders said have "thrilled" the network, have exceeded 30 million nightly viewers for a majority of its prime-time telecasts and bested the ratings of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
Using a gold-plated platform to sell its fall schedule is a temptation NBC shouldn't resist, said analyst Brad Adgate of media-buyer Horizon Media.
"They're going to have 200 million viewers watching across 17 days, and it's a wonderful promotional showcase for the new lineup," Adgate said.
But it's not a surefire one. Case in point is Jerry Seinfeld's "Marriage Ref," which received a splashy debut during the 2010 Winter Games. NBC even interrupted the closing ceremony, inviting viewers to return for the final minutes of the Olympics after sampling "Marriage Ref."
The move was derided by at least one observer as spectacularly wrongheaded, but "Marriage Ref" was sampled by an impressive 14.5 million viewers. A few weeks later, however, the audience had dwindled to fewer than 4 million.
"It's one thing to get viewers to watch the premiere of a show. It's another to get them to watch in the ensuing weeks," Adgate said.
A former cast mate of Perry, Matt LeBlanc, can attest to the uncertain outcome of Olympic-sized promotion. "Joey," LeBlanc's spinoff from "Friends," was heavily trumpeted during the 2004 Games but struggled through an unimpressive two-season run.
Another also-ran was "Father of the Pride," a much-anticipated DreamWorks animated comedy that debuted after the `04 Olympics to an audience of 12.4 million, went on to average a lackluster 7 million weekly viewers and lasted one season.
There's a potential attention gap facing "Go On" and "Animal Practice," which won't return until next month to claim their regular slots. "Go On" will begin airing 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 11, with "Animal Practice" starting 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Sept. 26.
But don't expect NBC to ease off on its marketing efforts when the Olympics are over.
The new drama "Revolution," for example, which received a roughly two-minute sneak peek Monday night (after a previously announced six-minute preview that was scheduled for last Saturday fell through), won't be in hiding until its debut at 10 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 17.
The trailer was posted online, and NBC's Sanders said the network is "having conversations" about an online preview for the pilot episode of "Revolution," a post-apocalyptic drama from producer-director J.J. Abrams of "Lost," "Fringe," and big-screen fame (including "Star Trek").
EDITOR'S NOTE — Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org.
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