Analysis: NBC caught between rising "Voice", crashing "Smash"

Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:24pm EST
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By Peter Lauria

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Since their debut four weeks ago, NBC's two most-talked about TV shows have been on opposite trajectories: "The Voice" has soared in the ratings, while viewership for "Smash" has crashed.

Monday's episode of "The Voice," which pits teams of singers selected by music stars Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine from the band Maroon 5 against each other, garnered 14.9 million viewers, up 49 percent from the same episode in the previous season. That put "The Voice" in a dead heat with long-reining "American Idol" for the title of television's most-watched singing competition.

By contrast, "Smash," a lavishly produced and heavily promoted musical drama about a Broadway show, scored just 6.6 million viewers. While that is a 3 percent increase over the prior week, "Smash" is still down 4.9 million viewers since it debuted on February 6.

The ratings juxtaposition of the two shows illustrates just how difficult it is for Comcast Corp, which bought majority control of NBC Universal from General Electric Co a year ago, to turn around NBC after years of cutbacks. The business environment is also tough, with viewers migrating to cable or increasingly watching shows on demand and via online video services such as Netflix, and Google Inc's YouTube.

In his first interview since the debut of "Smash," NBC's president of programming, Bob Greenblatt, said he was "not at all disappointed in its performance."

"The expectations were never that 'Smash' would be the biggest hit on television," Greenblatt said by telephone. "But two years ago NBC wasn't even programming dramas at 10 p.m. To go from that to a 2.3 rating is a complete success." (A 2.3 rating equates to 6.6 million viewers)

Not everyone agrees with that rosy view, however. Critics note that NBC has already canceled scripted dramas "The Playboy Club," "Free Agents," "The Firm," and "Prime Suspect" this season after weak ratings. Only three new shows developed by the network have survived this season so far: sitcoms "Whitney" and "Up All Night," and drama "Grimm."

"They liked where things started, but they don't like where things are going," an NBC Universal executive, who requested anonymity, said of Comcast's current view of the network.   Continued...

Adam Levine in an episode of "The Voice". 

REUTERS/Lewis Jacobs/NBC