NBC's Rio Olympics opening ceremony coverage upset some fans who complained about the heavy ad load and tape delay, but that uproar was nothing compared to the backlash the network endured four years ago when it aired Animal Practice in the middle of its coverage of London's closing ceremony.
"That pissed everybody off," recalled Jeff Bader, president of program planning, strategy and research for NBC Entertainment. "We're not doing that again."
This time around, NBC will wait until its Olympics coverage has concluded before giving audiences a look at two of its prime-time shows. On Friday, the network will air an Olympics-themed episode of its comedy Superstore. Then on Sunday, after the closing ceremony, NBC will screen a half-hour version of The Voice's blind auditions from the show's 11th cycle, which features new coaches Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys joining Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.
It's a shift from the strategy NBC employed in 2012, when it debuted two new shows during the Olympics: Animal Practice and Go On, with Matthew Perry (which aired at the end of one night's coverage). Neither series made it to Season 2.
"When we saw what our fall schedule was this year, we said, 'We're not going to preview dramas,'" in part because of their length, said Bader. "We have two [new] dramas and a comedy, and we decided the better idea for [comedy The Good Place] was to do the hour after The Voice premiere because of its recency and our regular viewing audience."
Premiering The Good Place early also would have been difficult given NBC's post-Olympics scheduling commitments on Thursday. "The Olympics end, then we have a Thursday, then we have a Thursday [night] football game, so it's everything gets interrupted," said Bader, adding that debuting a show early would mean the network would run out of new episodes during November sweeps and later in the season.
It's a problem NBC has run into in prior games, when it rolled out its fall schedule early after the Olympics to mixed results. Instead, they'll premiere a month later when the 2016-17 season officially kicks off. "The Olympics is a little bit of a borrowed audience. It's huge, but there would be a four-week lag. We decided we weren't going to launch a show out of the Olympics and just let it run, for a variety of reasons," said Bader, citing audience fatigue and reduced HUT (homes using television) viewing levels at the end of the games.
Superstore, however, was a more attractive choice "because it's a show that's percolating," said Bader, pointing to NBC's research that the shows after four months of viewing, the sitcom's premiere episode had a 18-49 audience close to that of The Voice's premiere. "People are asking, 'Why that show?' First of all, we're hearing people talk about it. There's something going on there. And it's a show that the [producers] could do an episode to air during the Olympics and it won't mess up their fall run. And they can theme it appropriately. We just thought it was a fun idea."
Another reason to pick a sophomore show over launching something completely new: "If you look at shows that air after the Super Bowl, the bigger [rating] bumps [occur] when you take a sophomore show than a new show," Bader said.
While Superstore's Olympics inclusion was set earlier in the year, discussions about adding a half-hour of The Voice didn't come until later. "We were only going to do one thing during the Olympics, and then they said, after the closing ceremony we could do something," Bader said. "So we talked about what that could be, and The Voice, the first four weeks is all blind auditions. And we said, 'We can start it, and let them see some of the blinds right after the Olympics.'"
After their Olympics previews, Superstore will have its Season 2 premiere on Sept. 22—the Olympics episode technically takes place prior to the show's Season 1 finale—while The Voice has its official season premiere on Sept. 19.