On Thursday, December 5th, 2013 NBC delivered to its audience something which has not been done in decades. The network aired a live theatrical production of The Sound of Music starring country singer Carrie Underwood as Maria von Trapp. This undertaking carried a great deal of risks for the network and for the star. Ms. Underwood is a singer, not an actress and although live television broadcasts take place pretty regularly, networks have not aired live theatrical performances in decades. Additionally, The Sound of Music is one of the most iconic movie musicals ever made. How could NBC and Ms. Underwood compete with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and the REAL Austrian Alps?
The moment the first chords of music started, so did the social media response. Twitter and Facebook were abuzz all night with reactions to the performance. Before the ratings were released on Friday morning, all NBC had to do was to look at the response from social media to tell it had struck gold. According to Media Bistro, a leading media website, The Sound of Music Live was the most Tweeted television show airing that night. Not to be outdone, Facebook was also alive with the sound of status updates commenting on the production. Throughout the evening, as the show progressed, millions of people were live Tweeting the event and commenting on the production as it played out. Though there were a great deal of negative comments, the simple fact remains is this; the event drew in a huge audience. NBC drew its largest audience on a Thursday night since it aired the finale or ER in 2009. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the special delivered over 18 million viewers to the network. This is a huge turnaround for NBC, as it has been languishing on the bottom of the ratings for years.
In a posting earlier this year, NBC: Nothing But Chaos, I wrote about the troubles the famed network has been having with ratings and other controversies and discussed some ways in which the network could start to climb back from the bottom of the barrel. The broadcast of The Sound of Music was definitely a step in the right direction. This event has been a gold mine of positive publicity for the network, even as some of its new fall shows have shown lack-luster ratings and it still struggles to find an audience. With the exception of its Olympics broadcasts and Sunday Night Football, the network struggles to have any of its shows in the top ten.
With the success of The Sound of Music Live, the network has already decided to air another musical next December. It is small steps such as this which can help to bring this network back. It won’t happen over night, but original programming and innovations, such as live events, will aid the network in reclaiming some of its past glory. In addition, the network has to stick with shows which show promise and not cancel them after only a year or two. With the Olympic Games approaching in Sochi at the beginning of 2014, this is another chance for NBC to showcase itself and have a positive impact on the television and cultural landscape.