U.S. network NBC to return to live musicals with 'Peter Pan'

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. TV network NBC will air another live performance of a Broadway musical, "Peter Pan," on December 4, hoping to repeat the ratings success of last year's broadcast of "The Sound of Music Live."

The musicals are part of the Comcast-owned network's strategy to draw audiences to live events, a defense against later viewing on digital video recorders which is less valuable to advertisers.

NBC also will air a new miniseries called "The Slap," another effort to create events that encourage audiences to watch live, NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said on Sunday at a Television Critics Association meeting. The eight-episode drama tells the story of the slapping of a child at a barbecue that evolves into a court case.

"The Sound of Music Live" attracted 19 million viewers on December 5. When DVR playback was added, the show beat NBC's highly rated "Sunday Night Football" that week, Greenblatt said. The cast for "Peter Pan," about a boy who can fly, was not announced.

Other events including the Golden Globes broadcast and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade have helped lift NBC's ratings this season, along with dramas "The Blacklist" and "Chicago Fire," Greenblatt said.

After struggling in the broadcast ratings basement for years, NBC leads the four major networks this season in 18- to 49-year-olds, the group most prized by advertisers. Ratings were boosted by "Sunday Night Football," which ended in December.

Through January 12, NBC attracted an average of 3.8 million primetime viewers in that group, a 0.5 percent gain from a year earlier, according to ratings data from Nielsen. The network's audience has jumped 10 percent in total viewers, to 9.6 million on average.

"We have some real momentum," Greenblatt said, adding the network was starting year three of a three- to five-year turnaround effort.

NBC's ratings are expected to climb with its broadcast of the Winter Olympics starting February 6. Another of NBC's strongest performers, singing contest "The Voice," will return on February 24.

Greenblatt acknowledged low ratings for a Thursday night comedy lineup including the "The Michael J. Fox Show."

"Thursday night is a real challenge for us," he said. "Creatively we think they are good shows. We are really unhappy we can't find an audience for them in those time periods."

One Thursday comedy, Amy Poehler's "Parks and Recreation," will return for a seventh season, Greenblatt said. He declined to say if the other Thursday comedies would be renewed.

Comcast-owned Universal Television also announced a three-year production deal to develop new shows with Poehler.

Last season, NBC finished last among the four big broadcasters in total viewers, and third in viewers 18 to 49.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Chris Reese)

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