You can’t stop the beat, but if you’re NBC, you also can’t get younger viewers to watch Hairspray Live! in massive numbers. The Peacock network’s nearly three-hour TV adaptation of the movie turned musical turned movie was Wednesday night’s most-watched broadcast, with a respectable tune-in of roughly 9 million viewers, per preliminary Nielsen data. But the very heavily promoted 8 to 11 p.m. event notched a disappointing, if still respectable, 2.3 rating among adult viewers under 50, NBC’s target demographic. That’s sharply lower than last year’s The Wiz Live! (11.5 million/3.4 rating) and nowhere near the numbers achieved by either the network’s first modern holiday musical, The Sound of Music Live! (18.6 million/4.6 rating) or rival Fox’s January adaptation of Grease (12.2 million/4.2 rating). Instead, Hairspray’s performance looks a lot more like that of 2014’s Peter Pan Live!, which was seen by 9.2 million viewers and averaged a 2.4 demo rating.
It’s worth noting this is the first of the NBC musicals to air on Wednesday rather than Thursday, a move which meant going up against Fox’s faded but still strong Empire (7 million/2.5 rating) as well as ABC’s family-friendly sitcom block. Same-day ratings for just about everything on TV have also taken a big hit over the past few years. Still, NBC’s second Dolly Parton Christmas movie — which cost a lot less to make and received far less promotional love from NBC — drew a much more impressive 11.5 million viewers last week, while doing a respectable 1.7 demo rating. NBC’s commitment to big event programming, particular of the family-friendly variety, remains admirable. But the numbers for Hairspray suggest going forward with the strategy is hardly a no-brainer.