Fall TV shows: How did NBC win premiere week? (hint: thanks, Cee Lo)

Cee Lo Green is one of the judges on "The Voice," which is helping revive NBC's fortunes.
(Matthias Clamer)

NBC has been in the ratings doghouse for years. So how is it that the long-suffering network is en route to win the first week of the new TV season?

We’ve got two words for you: “The Voice.”

The singing contest returned for its fifth cycle this week, fresh off its first Emmy win in the reality-competition category Sunday, and with judges Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera returning to their big red swivel chairs. And what a return -- Monday’s season premiere shot up 17% compared with last year in the crucial adults 18 to 49 demographic and scored 15 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.

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That encouraging result was enough to rouse TV reporters into pecking out “NBC is back!” stories. And network executives do have reason to be proud: Singing shows are a tapped-out format these days. Just look at ratings for “American Idol” and “The X Factor” for proof. For “Voice” to score a double-digit increase is remarkable.

But that’s pretty much where NBC’s amazing comeback ends (well, there’s also the Sunday NFL game, but that’s in a sports category by itself and a program that NBC has been airing for years).

The rest of the week looked a lot rockier for the peacock network. Sure, “Blacklist,” the new crime thriller starring James Spader, won its 10 p.m. Monday time slot. But the competition included CBS’ weakly reviewed “Hostages” and ABC’s older-skewing “Castle.” “Blacklist” kept only 74% of the “Voice’s” young adult audience.

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On Wednesday, the Season 2 rollout of the sci-fi drama “Revolution” was a disaster, with the show losing more than half of its young adult audience compared with last year’s series premiere. “Law & Order: SVU” rocketed nearly 30% in its season premiere compared with last year, but that’s mainly because the premiere was marketed as a special two-hour event. That’s not something NBC can do every week.

Thursday night fared even worse. NBC shelled out huge sums of promotion money on a one-hour rollout of “The Michael J. Fox Show,” only to watch the sitcom starring the former “Family Ties” star fizzle to the worst-ever opening for a new fall Thursday comedy on the network.

NBC just announced it is renewing the contract of Bob Greenblatt, who oversees entertainment programming for the network. Some stories have suggested that this was a prescient move on the part of Comcast, the cable giant that owns the network.

But while “The Voice” and NFL games are indeed zooming along nicely, Greenblatt didn’t put those shows on the air. He’s still looking to claim his first big hit.


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