NBC Gambles on Live Television Content

The Wiz Live!
This entire autumn TV season, NBC has been boldly attempting to attract viewers with several different iterations of live programming.

Variety show “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris,” sitcom “Undateable” and special musical event “The Wiz Live!” were all created with a specific audience in mind.

“I’m a live junkie,” stated NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt at the Television Critics Association press tour in August.

“I think it’s one of the tools that we have available to us to try to compel the audience to watch something when we program it, which, of course, is the great challenge we all have now, because you can time-shift and watch shows whenever you want them,” Greenblatt continued. “Our business really depends on people watching in a certain time period. So live can be a real aid to that.”

Here’s how the network is exploring live TV.


Currently in its third season, “Undateable” executive producer Bill Lawrence and creator Adam Sztykiel decided to take the show from pre-taped to live last spring, making it the first show to be produced in this way in over two decades.

The show revolves around friends and coworkers at a Detroit bar who routinely experience difficulties with romance.

Stand-up comedians make up the principal cast members – Chris D’Elia, Ron Funches, Rick Glassman and Brent Morin – and it was determined that their knack for ad libbing could be beneficial.

“In front of a live audience, they go off and improv and roll with it to an extent that we could never really capture once we went through the editing process and streamlined the show,” Lawrence told the Wall Street Journal.

Lawrence went on to discuss the format’s appeal.

“I really enjoy two things about it — the live experience and the feeling that it’s dangerous and anything can go wrong,” Lawrence said. “If I could have tweeted or Instagrammed or Periscoped or talked to my favorite actors and actresses and showrunners when I was a kid, I would have never left my room.”

An added benefit is that the show’s characters can discuss events and situations that recently appeared in the news.

“Part of the value of being live is that you know what happened that day before you shoot it,” Sztykiel told Vulture. “It reminds you that you’re watching something that’s happening at that exact moment in time.”

Additionally, the live aspect provides opportunities for actors to break or flub their lines.

“My favorite thing is when I see someone start to laugh and lose their mind,” said Lawrence. “We always try to turn someone. I like to get Bianca [Kajlich, ‘Leslie’] laughing because it makes me laugh that when she starts laughing, she can’t stop.”

And on October 23, the show elected to do an additional live episode for the west coast, instead of re-airing the east coast antics.

“There’s an unspoken definition around here between the two shows,” says Glassman, who portrays Adam Burski. “The East Coast feed is the show and the West Coast feed is for us. It’s play time. It’s like after the East Coast feed we got into college, and now it’s just time to party.”

Best Time Ever

From mid-September through early November, NBC aired an eight-episode season of “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris.” The live variety show featured a celebrity guest announcer, pranks on audience members, musical performances, a trivia contest and more.

“For me, experiential entertainment is where it’s at,” Harris explained. “When you’re watching something as it’s happening and you’re overwhelmed by it, you can legitimately leave troubles 
behind and have community with people experiencing the same thing. I love all that.”
Best Time Ever

When asked if “Best Time Ever” would work in a non-live format, Harris demurred.

“I’ve only considered it an option as being live,” Harris said. “That’s why you want to watch it, because you’re never sure how it’s going to go. If that was pre-taped, you’d just assume that there has been a lot of editing… I don’t know that NBC feels the same way I do, because they understandably want to make sure it’s very view-able television.”

At present, NBC has not yet announced whether or not it will renew the show.

The Wiz Live!

Tonight, at 8 p.m. EST, “The Wiz Live!” premieres on NBC. The special will be an adaptation of the 1975 Broadway musical, featuring Shanice Williams (Dorothy), Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow), Ne-Yo (Tin Man) and David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion), amongst others.

The event continues a recent network practice of developing live musicals during the winter time; previously “The Sound of Music Live!” and “Peter Pan Live!” were produced.

“The Sound of Music” drew in 18.6 million viewers in 2013, but 2014’s “Peter Pan” had only 9.21 million, and thus the intensity is being felt by executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan.

"We love the tradition of a live holiday musical every year," Meron told the AP, "and the only way that's going to continue is if the numbers are up this year. So the pressure is on for this show."

Provided the numbers are strong, Zadan claims “we're assured that NBC will want to do it again next year.”

Dan Lovinger, EVP, entertainment advertising sales for NBCUniversal informed Adweek that live 
programming is considered important to their clients.

"We know based on research that live television programming boosts brand recall, message recall and ad likability,” Lovinger said. “So from a pure sale-ability perspective, these live shows are things that our advertisers really, really crave.”

Considering the excitement surrounding “The Wiz,” NBC is seemingly hoping for a successful broadcast.

Author: Brian Cameron


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