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Will the Olympics Help ‘About a Boy’ and ‘Growing up Fisher’?

By Brett Gold - Feb 22, 2014 at 4:56PM

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While it may seem like a sure thing that the Olympics would give NBC's new series a ratings boost, the past indicates something very different.

This weekend NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (CMCSA -2.73%)) will use its coverage of the Winter Games to give two of its new comedies added exposure ahead of the show's official debuts. While both About a Boy and Growing up Fisher will pull in viewers, experience has shown the previews often fail to make an impact, leading many to wonder if it ultimately helps or hurts the network.

(Credit: NBC)

Downhill ratings

You can't blame NBC for trying to capitalize on its larger than usual ratings during the Olympics. But whether it's the quality of the shows featured or the lack of long-term interest in the premises, the numbers speak for themselves.

NBC has had the Olympics for a long time and its history of using them as a springboard has been checkered at best. Some of the Peacock network's top projects have gotten the spotlight and withered under it. In 2004, CGI comedy Father of the Pride and location dramas LAX Hawaii got the bump, and all three failed to run beyond 13 episodes (Hawaii was pulled after just seven). In 2008, Knight Rider and Kath & Kim were among the shows promoted and both flopped. Jerry Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref was even given the post-closing ceremonies slot in 2010 and it too failed to catch on. The list goes on and on.

Recent crop

(Credit: NBC)

The most recent slate in 2012 created more controversy than anything else as NBC actually cut 30 minutes of the closing ceremonies to launch Animal Practice. The much-maligned comedy was already a target and didn't need the added negative press. Fellow freshman laughers Go On and The New Normal would eventually also miss the mark and soon find themselves axed alongside Practice.

That's not to say that the shows didn't get a significant boost from the Olympics. Go On's early preview snagged 16.1 million viewers and a 5.6 in the demo, while Animal Practice's post-closing ceremonies debut saw 12.8 million viewers and a 4.1 in the demo, which were both strong. It's just that all those viewers didn't particularly care for what they saw.

Keep those numbers in mind when you see how About a Boy does with its launch tonight and Growing up Fisher does following Sunday's Olympic wrap-up. But also keep in mind that, as history shows, those numbers are ultimately meaningless if the shows don't resonate with their audience, and they don't carry over in some way to the shows' full-time timeslots.


(Credit: NBC)

To be fair, it hasn't all been gloom and doom for shows that enjoyed the Olympic bump. The 2000 Sydney games helped foster a hit in Tom Cavanagh's Ed. True, it was never a ratings giant, but it was critically acclaimed and ran for four years.

NBC also had success in 2012 with a special preview of Revolution. Instead of airing the entire pilot, the network aired an extended trailer, which resonated very well with audiences. The show went on to have a fantastic premiere, before NBC inexplicably shot itself in the foot with the show's scheduling (but that's a story for another day).

The Summer Olympics are usually the ones with the most riding on them because it serves as a more direct lead in to the fall season. Unfortunately for NBC, according to a 2012 article in The New York Times, the network had just a 27% success rate from 1996 to 2008 for successfully launching new shows that make it past a season when given an Summer Olympics boost. 

Still this practice isn't going away. NBC spends a fortune on these games for the advertising revenue and added PR value it gets from being the American network home. The network is putting its Olympics muscle behind movie adaptation About a Boy and Growing up Fisher, below.

But as we've seen over the years, it doesn't ultimately matter how many people watch that special preview if it's not something they want to watch.

Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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