The Hairspray Live! cast declared "You Can't Stop the Beat" during last night's live musical, but the audience didn't necessarily agree. The ratings for the telecast were down from last year's The Wiz Live! numbers, and they lagged behind Fox's Grease: Live earlier this year.
While final ratings will be out later today, in the overnights, Hairspray Live! earned a 2.3 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, and was watched by 8.9 million viewers overall. Because the telecast ended at 10:54 and those early numbers include those six additional minutes, they could be adjusted upward in the final ratings. But for now, Hairspray Live! is NBC's lowest-rated modern live musical, with numbers even lower than Peter Pan Live! two years ago.
Update: In the "fast official" Nielsen ratings, Hairspray Live! maintained its 2.3 demo rating, though its total audience average rose to 9.0 million. Still, those numbers solidify its position as NBC's least-watched live musical.
This year's ratings falloff is bad news for the sponsors who signed up for live and branded content spots during the show. Oreo Cookies enlisted Hairspray: Live Derek Hough—in character as Corny Collins—for a live spot immediately following one of Corny's biggest numbers in the show. Reddi-wip, which partnered with NBC for The Wiz Live!, returned with a taped branded content spot in which a milkman hung out backstage and interacted with the Hairspray ensemble. And Toyota ran a live spot for the 2017 Corolla patterned in the style of a '60s car advertisement.
NBCUniversal also used picture-in-picture during two commercial breaks, running spots from brands like Capital One, Verizon Wireless, Geico and Royal Caribbean while live, behind-the-scenes content featuring the Hairspray cast and crew played simultaneously in a smaller window.
Still, NBC said the ratings represented its highest-rated in-season Wednesday night demo rating in two years. But when measured against the ratings for NBC and Fox's recent live musicals, NBC doesn't have much to be happy about. The numbers are well below Fox's first live musical, Grease: Live, which drew 12.2 million viewers and a 4.3 rating in the 18-49 demo in January.
Those Grease ratings topped the 11.5 million viewers and 3.4 demo ratings for NBC's The Wiz Live! last December, which was a big rebound from NBC's lowest-rated live musical, 2014's Peter Pan Live!, with 9.21 million viewers and a 2.4 demo rating.
But none of these live musicals has come close to NBC's inaugural and most successful effort, 2013's The Sound of Music Live!, which had 18.6 million total viewers and a 4.6 rating in the demo.
While NBC's previous live musicals had been restricted to New York sound stages, this year it took a page from Fox's technically ambitious, sprawling staging of Grease: Live, shifting production to the Universal Studios backlot in L.A. While the production hired the same director that worked on Grease: Live (Alex Rudizinski), it was beset by many more sound, lighting and camera miscues than Grease had.
One big scheduling change that could have dented the ratings: While NBC's previous musicals aired on a Thursday night, Hairspray Live! was forced to shift to Wednesday this year after NBC landed a portion of the NFL's Thursday Night Football package this season and next.
The lower ratings won't put an end to NBC's live musicals as Peter Pan Live! almost did two years ago. NBC has already locked in Jennifer Lopez to star in Bye Bye Birdie Live! next December, and ran a promo for that show last night during Hairspray Live! Separately, the network has announced plans to air a live version of Aaron Sorkin's Broadway play, A Few Good Men.