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NBC's 'The Voice' is strong but 'Smash' not living up to hype

February 15, 2012 | 12:36 pm

NBC's 'Smash' the musical

NBC has found a voice -- but hasn't yet nailed its dance steps.

The broadcast network used its Super Bowl platform to successfully launch "The Voice," a remake of a Dutch singing competition starring Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.

"The Voice" kicked off its second season immediately after the Feb. 5th game before moving to its regular Monday night time slot. This week, the show continued to belt out high notes attracting more than 16 million viewers -- approaching the audience of Fox's aspirational juggernaut "American Idol." 

"The Voice" was so strong that it muffled the ratings of CBS' Monday comedy block, which includes "Two and a Half Men." This month represented the first time in more than four years that NBC beat CBS in key ratings on a Monday night.

But NBC's highly anticipated drama "Smash" is proving less spectacular.

At the end of Comcast Corp.'s earnings call Wednesday, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke conceded to his colleagues that while "The Voice" should remain strong, "Smash is more problematic." Burke apparently didn't realize that his microphone was still live.

The expensive, highly promoted program attracted 8 million viewers Monday night, a respectable turnout particularly for a network that has struggled this season to launch new shows. A pet project of NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, the critically acclaimed series has produced some of the best ratings for NBC in the time period in nearly three years.

However, NBC made an enormous investment on "Smash" despite concerns that a show about the making of a Broadway musical, and the cut-throat competition of New York's theater world, might lack broad appeal among most Americans. 

The pilot cost more than $7 million and production of subsequent episodes runs about $4 million. The network has spent at least another $10 million to promote the series, which has an all-star producing team, including Steven Spielberg, Theresa Rebeck as well as Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the team behind "Hairspray" and "Chicago."

Late last week, NBCUniversal marshaled its firepower to bolster "Smash," headlined by Katharine McPhee, Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston and Megan Hilty. 

A number of the company's cable networks, including USA, Bravo and even video game culture channel G4 and the bilingual channel mun2, replayed the pilot of "Smash" in an effort to drum up new viewers. 

The company's so-called cable road block exposed the program to an additional 1 million viewers. But, the ratings for the second episode of "Smash" on NBC Monday night dropped 26% in key audience demographics compared with its Feb. 6 premiere. 

As troubling for NBC and Burke, the show steadily lost viewers throughout its hourlong telecast Monday night.

Comcast Corp. Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis warned Wall Street analysts Wednesday that managing programming costs would be one of the biggest challenges that Comcast faces this year. That is particularly true for Burke, who is charged with deciding how best to allocate the company's considerable programming budget. 


NBC bets on "Smash" to start a turnaround

NBC's Bob Greenblatt adjusts to a bigger stage

Paul Telegdy finds his voice as a television programmer

-- Meg James   

Photo: The cast of NBC's "Smash." Credit:  NBC