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It’s been a rough couple of years for NBC on Thursday nights. The network that once dominated with the must-see Thursday comedy block that included such juggernauts as Friends, Seinfeld, and Will and Grace hasn’t done too well in trying to recapture the magic. Fortunately, recent numbers indicate that NBC may have quietly landed on a new strategy to set itself apart on Thursday nights.
NBC has made a massive Thursday night ratings comeback over the past few weeks. The NFL matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving brought in 27.8 million total viewers. The Wiz Live! on the following Thursday dominated with 11.1 million viewers, and this past Thursday’s Dolly Parton-inspired TV movie Coat of Many Colors had 12.84 million viewers glued to their couches for the night.
This is a big change from the last couple of seasons, when the network took comedy off of the roster for Thursday nights for the first time in 35 years and instead went with dramas The Blacklist, The Slap and Allegiance. The Slap didn't do well and Allegiance was cancelled after only five episodes, but NBC stuck with dramas for the fall of 2015. Blacklist continues to do well in its Thursday slot, but The Player doesn’t look like it will be playing much longer and Heroes Reborn hasn’t done as well as hoped. Making the switch from comedy to drama on Thursdays really didn’t change all that much for NBC. However, when looking over The Wrap's recent ratings summary, the switch from ongoing series to big event specials in recent weeks may have changed everything.
There’s no saying at this point if the numbers can possibly remain consistent for NBC event specials, but three weeks of ratings success may well change how NBC handles its Thursday nights from now on. Anything that can be advertised as airing for the first time ever or for one night only has automatic appeal for watching live, and a single special flopping wouldn’t necessarily translate to viewers jumping ship to another network on subsequent Thursdays.
Besides, there aren’t too many casual viewers who are going to want to start from the beginning for a show that has already been running since September or October and have to catch up. The Wiz Live! didn’t force viewers to hit up Wikipedia to understand what was happening, Coat of Many Colors didn’t require a thorough knowledge of everything that Dolly Parton has ever been a part of, and football fans are always going to watch football. NBC’s special events on Thursday nights are unlike anything the other networks have on the air right now (although Fox has Grease Live! coming up), and the ratings have reflected a recipe for success in drawing huge audiences to a competitive night of television. If NBC continues a strategy of special events, the network may well secure itself a place back at the top on Thursday nights.