Comcast Corp.'s NBC is delaying the return of three of its most popular shows until March so that it can air only new episodes for the remainder of the season.
"Revolution" and "The Voice" return March 25 and "Grimm" restarts on March 8, allowing the series to avoid repeats, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said today at a TV critics conference in Pasadena, California.
NBC is the only broadcast television network to increase its audience in the first half of the season that began in September. Those viewership gains, provided by "Sunday Night Football," "The Voice" and "Revolution," will be a challenge to continue through the second half of the TV season that kicks off this week and NBC's strategy is to provide producers more time to better develop the programs, Greenblatt said.
"The audience will find those shows," Greenblatt said. "You can run them in a row without repeats. It's a better long- term play for us."
Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, fell less than 0.1 percent to $38.07 on Jan. 4 in New York trading. The stock climbed 58 percent in 2012, out-pacing the 13 percent rise in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
This is the second time Greenblatt, a former entertainment chief at CBS Corp.'s Showtime, departed from traditional network TV scheduling since joining NBC in November 2010. Networks traditionally announce schedules in May to advertisers, air new episodes in September and bring back their biggest shows in January.
Greenblatt aired new shows in August, sometimes commercial- free, to expose the programs to large audiences tuning in for NBC's Olympics coverage. The strategy worked, Greenblatt said, citing the success of "Revolution," a dystopian drama from "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams, and the Matthew Perry comedy "Go On." The network ordered full seasons of those shows and "The New Normal," a comedy about a gay couple that becomes friends with the surrogate mother of their child and her grandmother.
"I was enormously relieved," Abrams said at the conference today. "It's really the best way for the audience to enjoy the show."
NBC's prime-time lineup is averaging the most viewers ages 18 to 49, a group advertisers target, according to Nielsen data. The network is drawing 3.9 million viewers in that demographic, a 20 percent gain from a year ago, according to Nielsen.
In total viewers, only CBS Corp.'s network is averaging a bigger audience. NBC is drawing 8.8 million this TV season, 17 percent more than a year ago, according to Nielsen data.
The second season of the Broadway musical drama "Smash" starts Feb. 5, according to the network's website. This month NBC will air the new comedy "1600 Penn" and the dramas "Deception" and "Do No Harm." The returning comedies "Go On" and "The New Normal" start Jan. 9.
Jay Leno will continue drawing the biggest late night audience after ABC moves Jimmy Kimmel to the same time slot on Jan. 8, Greenblatt said.
"We're not that concerned," Greenblatt said. "Jay has a legacy of being No. 1."