Will NBC's 'Million Second Quiz' Be The Start Of Something Big?

Will “The Million Second Quiz” make NBC once again as proud as a peacock? Or will it be a big-budget bust that compromises the network just as the 2013-14 television season officially gets underway? Will it prove more popular online than on TV? These and other questions will be answered as the show plays out over the next two weeks, making what are usually the dog days of broadcast’s summer season much more interesting than usual.

After tonight’s two-hour premiere, “Quiz” will be broadcast for one hour every night (with the exception of Sunday, Sept. 15) until its two-hour finale on Sept. 19. The online version of the game will run 24 hours a day and feed new players into the television show (or people can just show up at the midtown Manhattan location from which “Quiz” will be televised and ask to play). In a big leap for cross-media interactivity, producers will identify extraordinary players online and whisk them off to New York City to compete on the next night’s telecast. Any one of them could walk away with a multimillion-dollar prize. 



If “Quiz” makes for great TV, it will surely generate a tsunami of positive press for NBC, the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the premiere two years ago of “The Voice.” But if it turns out to be a great big bore -- a show with an intriguing concept that nevertheless doesn’t translate into a riveting television experience -- it’s likely to dampen whatever excitement NBC has generated heading into the new season.

Certainly, the idea of a compelling live competition series telecast nightly from a rooftop in New York City is tantalizing as far as series television is concerned. It’s more inherently interesting than many of the new programs set to debut on the broadcast networks in the weeks to come. And the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest is a very capable if somewhat overplayed host, although NBC must be troubled by the fact that he was booed just last Thursday when introduced at the NFL season opener at the Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field. With all due respect, who thinks there is bottomless interest in this guy?

“Quiz” could be a late-summer phenomenon reminiscent of the Regis Philbin-hosted “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” on ABC back in August 1999. If it is a “Millionaire”-like marvel, NBC would be wise not to act as egregiously greedy as ABC did and rush a second cycle of “Quiz” onto its schedule in time for the November sweep! If the network has a new hit on its hands, then it ought to go for the long haul and make it an annual late-summer event.

Indeed, “Quiz” could emerge as a high-profile promotional platform on which to give NBC’s forthcoming freshmen series (and its returning shows) one last big push before the start of the new television season on Sept. 23. If this happens, why wouldn’t the network want to bring it back every year at this time?

Still, I have to wonder about the true value of such big events in calling attention to new programs. NBC’s presentations of the Winter and Summer Olympic Games are often regarded as the biggest and best promotional platforms of all, but that doesn’t seem to stop most of the new shows that enjoy such enormous exposure during the Games from failing upon arrival or shortly thereafter. (This was also true when the Olympics were telecast on other networks.) What good is a great big audience at the start if the show itself is a stinker? Big events are valuable in other ways -- as showcases for commercials and network branding and for reinforcing a network’s strengths -- but the excitement about their significance as launching pads seems overstated.

Besides, NBC (and every other broadcast network) has been tirelessly promoting its new fall shows since last May. Is there anyone who doesn’t already know that Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes are returning to the network in “The Michael J. Fox Show” and “Sean Saves the World,” respectively, or that James Spader has scored a terrific new role in “The Blacklist,” or that Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green are back on “The Voice?”



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