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Grease Live Draws 12.2 Million Viewers, Making Fox's First Live Musical a Hit

Beats NBC's The Wiz in audience and ratings

Grease Live drew 23 percent more teens than The Sound of Music. Kevin Estrada/FOX

Fox has chills, and they're multiplying. That's because Grease Live, the network's first foray into the live musical genre that NBC has owned since 2013, was a huge success for the network Sunday night.

Grease Live attracted 12.2 million viewers and a 4.3 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, according to preliminary Nielsen numbers. That tops the 11.5 million viewers and 3.4 demo rating for NBC's The Wiz Live in December and comes close to the numbers for NBC's biggest live musical: 2013's The Sound of Music Live, which drew 18.6 million total viewers and a 4.6 rating in the demo.

The show was particularly strong among younger viewers, with a 3.7 rating in adults 18-34 and teens. The teen rating was 23 percent higher than Sound of Music's numbers, Fox noted. (While the network has stopped reporting live-plus-same-day ratings, it makes exceptions for live events like Grease.)

The ratings are also good news for Coca-Cola, which sponsored Grease Live with period-appropriate integrations and also ran three spots during the show.

Grease Live's success is one last win for former Fox chief Kevin Reilly, who green-lit the musical in April 2014, less than two months before he stepped down. "The truth is, Grease was ordered before we came to the network. We were thrilled with it and embraced it," Gary Newman, co-CEO and co-chairman of Fox Television Studios, told Adweek last month.

While there were plenty of questions leading up to last night's musical—How would the rainstorm pelting Los Angeles impact the show, part of which was set on the Warner Bros. backlot? Would Vanessa Hudgens, who played Rizzo, be able to carry on after the tragic death of her father a day earlier?—audiences were most dazzled by the technical wizardry of director Thomas Kail, who also helmed the Broadway sensation Hamilton.

The show had 1.2 million tweets, with the most-tweeted minute occurring at 8:31 p.m. ET, after Boyz II Men sang "Beauty School Dropout." The most TiVo'd moment came at 9:26 p.m. when Sandy (played by Julianne Hough) stands up for Rizzo, who sings "There Are Worse Things I Could Do."

In addition to Kail's euphoric camera work, the show was given an energy boost by the inclusion of a live audience, which have not been a part of NBC's musicals. "It's just one of the ideas we are doing to sort of burst open the genre of a live television musical," said executive producer Marc Platt. The production took over two soundstages and half of the Warner Bros. backlot where the finale's carnival scene took place.

To make the show more palatable for broadcast audiences and advertisers, Grease Live toned down some, but not all, of the show's racier lyrics. "It's going to be a very family friendly show but with the appropriate edge that it needs to have," Platt said last month. Several lines in "Greased Lightnin'" were changed, though the "Did she put up a fight?" lyric in "Summer Nights," which seems to allude to date rape, was unchanged.
 

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