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NBC spends millions on the buildup to “Smash”

NEW YORK » Some people in the United States may not know that a show named "Smash" is having its premiere on NBC Monday night. After all, there are still a few homes in the nation that don’t have television sets.

Virtually everyone else, however, will probably have been unable to escape the ubiquity of "Smash," the new drama set in the world of Broadway, which arrives Monday at 10 p.m., riding a wave of favorable reviews and pulling behind it the hopes of a beleaguered network.

NBC, hitless for what seems a generation, has gone all in on "Smash" — in the poker sense. The network’s entertainment chief, Robert Greenblatt, promised a "full-court press" for the show, one he compared to the all-out marketing efforts that cable networks are known to make.

Estimated expenditures for outside media on "Smash" have reached as high as $25 million. That includes things like billboards, print ads, taxicab spots and the lavish, laminated, 40-page Broadway-style program book that NBC sent to the press.

It does not include the value of all the promotional mentions that have appeared elsewhere — between shows, in the middle of shows, on the bottom of the screen during shows — on NBC and its sister channels (USA, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, etc.) over the last month.

Executives at competing networks said the total promotional cost of "Smash" could most likely be a record, though one noted that Fox spent extravagantly this past summer to build up its new singing competition, "The X Factor." That resulted in a show that achieved much better-than-average ratings, but which was considered a disappointment to some — including apparently Fox and the show’s executive producer, Simon Cowell, who decided last week to fire a majority of the cast.

While NBC would welcome much better-than-average ratings, the network has made efforts to tamp down expectations. Greenblatt, who is closely associated with "Smash," having brought the project with him from his previous job at Showtime, said in January that it could take more than just one hit, perhaps four or five, to turn the network around.

NBC, though, is in critical need of a standout this season. "They have to get people to come back to NBC," said Shari Anne Brill, a longtime advertising executive and an independent analyst of the business. While the network found success with last year’s singing competition "The Voice," when it comes to scripted shows, "they haven’t had anything of real distinction in so long," she said.

The network is using "The Voice" to provide what it hopes will be a sizable lead-in audience to "Smash" on Monday. Some observers, however, including those among NBC’s competitors, say the usual anemic ratings for the Tony Awards would cast doubt on whether a Broadway-style show could hold wide national appeal. Every show that plays at 10 p.m. also carries a significant handicap now. That hour is dominated by the playback of shows recorded earlier in the evening.

Indeed, the highest rating that any 10 p.m. show has achieved this season, among the 18- to 49-year-old audience that most advertisers prefer, is a 3.4 (once each by the CBS dramas "Hawaii Five-0" and "CSI"). That may mean "Smash" will not have to soar to prove its value. A 3.5 rating would be the best of any network show at 10 p.m. this year. And "Smash" will not have to go far to beat NBC’s average on Mondays at 10 — a woeful 1.0.

Some current and former television program executives predicted a respectable result for "Smash" Monday of about 3.5. But the show will be closely watched to see how much of the "Voice" audience it retains, how many people stop watching the show at the half-hour point, and especially how many return for a second episode next week.

In an email to the staff last week, Greenblatt said, "While I feel that success is certainly important and of course we want to win, what’s more important is knowing that we did everything in our power to succeed. If that doesn’t happen, I will still be thrilled that we simply put on some truly great television." He added that NBC had "worked every possible avenue to entice people to come."

Brill said it is almost surely too much to ask "Smash" to be the show NBC builds a comeback around, but she said, "it may be an opportunity to put a little shine back in the network."

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