How do you solve a problem like NBC's Thursday night schedule? Air a live broadcast of the "The Sound of Music."
The peacock network's remake of the classic, staring Carrie Underwood, was the most-watched program on TV last night, besting even CBS' "The Big Bang Theory." Initial ratings indicate the musical averaged 18.5 million total viewers and scored a 4.6 rating in adults 18-to-49.
NBC said the special gave the network its best Thursday for 18-to-49-year-olds, excluding sports, since the "E.R." finale in April 2009. It was the network's best non-sports Thursday for total viewers since 2004.
That made "The Sound of Music Live!" a welcome relief for NBC, as its Thursday night schedule has been struggling. New comedies "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "Sean Saves the World" have failed to find an audience, while "Parks and Recreation" and "Parenthood" are barely scraping by. On Nov. 21, all four either hit or matched their all-time series lows.
But NBC is still No. 1 network in the all-important 18-to-49 demo season-to-date, largely due to the strength of "The Voice," "Sunday Night Football" and freshman drama "The Blacklist."
The special's success will likely incite NBC to ramp up its production of live events, a strategy that already had the network's growing attention. In September, the broadcaster delivered "Million Second Quiz," a live, 24/7 game show that encouraged the audience to play along and watch digitally, even when the show wasn't on TV. But "Million Second Quiz" failed to deliver mass eyeballs, with the finale attracting just 5.4 million viewers.
TV networks have been desperate to find ways to get viewers to tune in to programming while it airs. While networks have been proudly touting playback numbers, both networks and advertisers would prefer if everyone was watching live.
To this end, the industry has seen an influx in new awards shows and event specials that are more DVR-resistant.
On Friday, CBS will air a live show announcing nominees for the 56th Grammy Awards, and the network's live broadcast of a Garth Brooks special last Friday was also a win for the channel, averaging 8.7 million total viewers.
Marketers tried to capitalize during "The Sound of Music Live!" on Thursday, with Walmart commercials during the broadcast pegged to songs that had just been sung and DiGiorno live-tweeting the show:
DOUGH a crust an unbaked crust RAY, a guy that likes pizza ME a pizza liked by a guy named ray FAH no idea what fah is SO so LA a city T tee— DiGiorno Pizza (@DiGiornoPizza) December 6, 2013
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN, FORD EVERY STREAM, FOLLOW EVERY RAINBOW, UNTIL YOU FIND A SUPREME (PIZZA FROM DIGIORNOOOOOO) #TheSoundOfMusicLive— DiGiorno Pizza (@DiGiornoPizza) December 6, 2013