Commentary

Harris Gives It His All, But 'Best Time Ever' Ratings Are Elusive

What does a guy have to do to get a rating around here?

You can imagine Neil Patrick Harris issuing this exasperated lament out of camera or microphone range on the set of his live NBC variety show “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris.” He could be excused for being out of breath while saying it too, since he seems to be making every possible physical effort to put this show across.

Among other things, Harris has cavorted with Blue Man Group, participated in a fire-eating performance (that’s him on the right in the picture accompanying this blog), danced, sung, played elaborate pranks, performed magic tricks, donned umpteen costumes and heaven knows what else. And yet despite his plethora of talents, the show has mediocre ratings and no one’s really talking about it.

The show was highly touted at NBC’s Upfront at Radio City Music Hall last May, and in the ensuing excitement was widely heralded as having the potential to ignite a revival of variety-style entertainment on prime-time TV. And there was the “live” element too. In the aftermath of the Upfront, the show was billed as an innovative, even brave effort on NBC’s part to produce a live “event” TV show that would be so compelling, viewers wouldn’t wait to watch it later by recording it or streaming it, but instead would make an effort to watch it in its time period.

So have viewers found this Neil Patrick Harris show to be their “best time ever”? Well, not exactly. Going into tonight’s sixth episode at 8 p.m. Eastern, the ratings seem to have settled in at around 4.5 million viewers per show. Specifically, viewership was 4.45 million on Tuesday, Oct. 6, for the show’s fourth episode -- the last one to be aired at 10 p.m. Eastern. The following week on Oct. 13, the show began airing at 8 p.m. and drew about the same audience -- 4.48 million, to be exact. In the demo (18-49), the show scored a 1.3 on Oct. 6 and a 1.2 on Oct. 13.

To put these numbers in perspective, the show’s premiere on Sept. 15 drew 6.6 million viewers and an 18-49 rating of 1.8. In its second week on Sept. 22, viewership dropped to 5.91 million, but the demo rating went up to 2.1. And now its audience is in the mid-4 millions. Alas.

It’s doubtful that anyone at NBC is popping champagne corks over these results. At the same time, however, this show was always billed as an experiment -- and one that is scheduled to run for only eight episodes anyway (ending on Nov. 3).

So why hasn’t it caught on? That’s hard to say. One general explanation might be that audiences aren’t looking for lollapalooza-style entertainment on prime-time TV, no matter how loudly this show clamors for their attention. Maybe they simply prefer scripted shows. As everyone knows, scripted dramas with compelling stories are the only TV shows anyone seems to talk about these days.

One weakness might be the show’s choice of guest celebrities who participate in various bits and performances with Harris. Certainly, there have been appearances by such stars as Gloria Estefan, Cee Lo Green and Britney Spears. But then there have been appearances by the likes of Zachary Levi, Seth Meyers, Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie -- all booked obviously because they are NBC personalities. Levi is in “Heroes Reborn” this season on NBC, in case you didn’t know.

One show even featured Bravo’s Andy Cohen and reality-TV trainwreck Bethenny Frankel, two people who are not exactly a challenge to book on a TV show. Nor are they likely to drive viewership either.

What’s the bottom line? Probably this: A new era in TV variety is not likely to be jumpstarted based on the results for “Best Time Ever.” But NBC should be credited for trying this. As for Neil Patrick Harris, his showmanship remains beyond reproach, except for one thing -- his multiple talents didn’t bring in the crowds. What’s a guy have to do to get a rating? That’s still a mystery.

5 comments about "Harris Gives It His All, But 'Best Time Ever' Ratings Are Elusive ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 20, 2015 at 12:36 p.m.

    There's a reason variety shows are dead. It's like trying to bring back Westerns. Yes, they were big, but now they're not. Quit trying. It's like CPR. Do it for 30-45 minutes. Then call it.

  2. Stan Valinski from Multi-Media Solutions Group, October 20, 2015 at 1:11 p.m.

    Nice piece Adam. I agree it was a noble effort on the part of NBC/UNI. However I don't agree with Douglas that the genre is dead...or westerns for that matter. I'll concede they are on life support. The problem here was choice of host. You need a strong comedic presence to pull off the concept, someone to entertain and keep the audience's rapt attention during the transitions  and setups. We all know Harris can sing and dance and can see him in other content....we don't need it ad nauseum. That's the vibe this show gave out and thus did not generate any new buzz. If needed a Seinfeld, Larry David, or someone else posessing wit and charisma of the late Joan Rivers . Then the concept might have a chance. For Westerns give one to Spielberg and cast Clooney, DiCaprio, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 20, 2015 at 5:42 p.m.

    The main reason why primetime variety shows are no more is not so much their outdated formats---after all we had some rather contemporary shows in the past like "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour", "Laugh-In", The Carol Burnett Show" and "Sonny and Cher"---- but in the main, most TV varieties played to older, hence "worthless", audiences, so they had to go.

    Since the rating fragmented networks must find cheaper to produce fare and there are only so many reality shows and newsmags that the public can stomach, it's interesting to see one of them experimenting with a modestly budgeted variety format. I expect to see more experiments along these lines and, eventually, someone may come up with a successful prototype that partially sheds the variety genre's stigma---that it appeals only to old folks. That may not be true and anyway, what's so bad about people over 45 anyway? I hear that a lot of them---and there are many of them----buy products too.

  4. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 20, 2015 at 7:03 p.m.

    Dear Adam,

    You need a new compass.

    I appreciate your "ER"-like efforts to resuscitate NBC's identity and image.

    However, they deserve none of your positive consideration and sympathetic kindness.

    NBC had all the chances CBS had and more, but sold its soul to the devil more than once.
    How is that possible?  Demonic possession is beyond me,
    but they have had 2 corporate souls since 1987: GE & Comcast.  
    Hardly, the virtuous artistic brigade.  They are coarse and coarser.

    NBC has been a progressive-regressive disaster for the past 15 years.

    The overwhelming majority of NBC Reader-Employees should ignore my criticism, 
    because they are not to blame.  They are victims like viewers.
    Alas, viewers have alternatives which they clearly exercise.  
    Gotta love those CBS & PBS Program Lineups.  Who would have thought
    that the Must-See-TV Company could squandering their brand equity.
    Alas, NBC employees are too often trapped like other innocent working souls.

    Adam, you can wag and point your finger at the Pathetic Peacock, more Vulture,
    all you want. NBC deserves all the heckering you can heap.

    Save your sympathy & encouragement for betrayed employees and befuddled viewers.

    Onwards & upwards!

    NPS

    PS What's wrong?  Your review is the first I have heard of "Best Time Ever."
    It is impossible for the BEST to come from WORST.  Simply unnatural.  Cheers!

  5. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 20, 2015 at 7:34 p.m.

    Dear Comment Readers,

    I feel compelled to observe, in fairness, that the comments of Stan Valinski and Ed Papazian are, in their professional and controlled manner, better than mine.  However, I do you have a unique perspective that powers my electronic pen.

    I am also compelled to observe that the COMMENTS of "Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston" ... [Is it a real college? Does he have an official relationship to the College, other than intellectualis confusioni]... are typically vapid and vituperative.  Remember, I am talking about the comments of Douglas and not Douglas himself.  He can't be for real.  I think there must a cranky random word generator that produces pointless comments through AI. And I do mean A!

    Onwards & upwards!

    NPS

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