'Jesus Christ Superstar' ratings are a little shy of miraculous

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Credit: NBC via Youtube

NBC's Easter Sunday presentation of "Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert" put up big numbers for a spring primetime broadcast, but when the dust clears, the network's staging of the 1971 Broadway sensation will prove to be its lowest-rated musical yet.

According to preliminary Nielsen data, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour spectacle averaged 9.34 million viewers and a 1.7 in NBC's target demo, which works out to around 2.2 million adults 18 to 49. And while that marks a significant improvement compared to the 0.8 demo NBC draws over the course of a typical post-NFL Sunday night, the "Superstar" deliveries paled in comparison to the network's previous live musical events.

NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt revived the long-dormant format back in December 2013, when the Peacock's broadcast of "The Sound of Music Live!" earned its stripes as the first live TV musical in 56 years. Starring Carrie Underwood as Maria von Trapp, the $10 million production was a smash success, drawing 18.6 million viewers and a 4.6 in the demo.

Subsequent NBC musicals put up lesser ratings, with the 2014 "Peter Pan Live!" drawing 9.21 million viewers and a 2.4 rating among the 18-to-49 set, while the following year saw "The Wiz Live!" rebound with 11.5 million viewers and a 3.4 in the demo. Prior to Sunday night's event, the 2016 staging of "Hairspray Live!" had the dubious distinction of being NBC's least-watched, lowest-rated musical of the series, averaging 9.05 million viewers and a 2.3 rating.

The production that had been planned for December 2017, a revival of the 58-year-old "Bye Bye Birdie," has been pushed back twice because of scheduling issues with lead actress Jennifer Lopez. A live TV adaptation of "Birdie" won't see the light of day until at least 2019.

If the preliminary ratings for "Superstar" were well below NBC's previous results, it's worth noting that the number of people watching TV in early April is generally 12 to 15 percent lower than the viewing rate for early December. While PUT levels (industry lingo for "people using television") can't explain away all ratings deficiencies, Fox saw somewhat similar results in 2016. Two months after its first foray into live musical production ("Grease: Live" averaged 12.2 million viewers and a 4.3 in the demo), Fox's Easter-themed musical "The Passion" drew 6.65 million viewers and a 1.6 rating.

Live-plus-same-day data will be available by Tuesday morning; some adjustments related to the show's odd running time may result in an uptick in the final numbers. (With the curtain having come down on "Superstar" at 10:23 p.m. EDT, Nielsen must weed out seven minutes of "Dateline" data before issuing the official ratings.)

Among the more visible advertisers that bought time in NBC's revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera were McDonald's, T-Mobile, Jeep, Progressive, Google, KFC and Microsoft. NBC rather sagely chose not to integrate any sponsor messaging within the show itself, though a few spots were at least contextually relevant to the production. John Legend, who played the titular role, appeared alongside his wife Chrissy Teigen in a 30-second Google ad, while his collaborator on the "Selma" soundtrack, the hip-hop artist Common, turned up in pair of Microsoft commercials.

NBC took advantage of the size of its holiday audience by carving out two minutes of airtime for in-house promos. According to iSpot.tv data, NBC ran eight spots altogether for its primetime series "The Voice," "Rise," "Good Girls," "Timeless" and "Dateline," as well as for the "Today" show and its upcoming "2018 Billboard Music Awards."

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