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LONDON – Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s new musical reality show Superstar debuted on U.K. commercial network ITV1 with a soft average viewership of 3.2 million Saturday night.
That amounted to a 16 percent share of people watching TV at the time. At its peak, the show, which kicked off at 7:25pm, drew 3.5 million viewers, or a share of 17 percent.
That was below past Lloyd Webber musical reality shows in the U.K. and meant that Harrison Ford was the biggest draw for British audiences on Saturday night. A BBC airing of the Indiana Jones installment Raiders of the Lost Ark, which drew an average of 4.5 million, got the biggest audience of the night in the 6:30-10:20pm slot.
While some observers took that as a sign of weak interest in Superstar, ITV said the fact that there wasn’t a high volume of TV viewing for the whole night left room for upside.
Superstar, which sees Lloyd Webber search for the lead in his new arena tour production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, is the musical impresario’s first show on commercial TV in Britain. He had four similar shows that searched for talent of stage shows on public broadcaster BBC before jumping ship to ITV.
Reports at the time said that the BBC feared the latest show could be too controversial given the musical’s religious references. Webber himself has said he was persuaded to move to ITV by director of television Peter Fincham, who in his former role at the BBC first convinced him to try moving into TV.
The BBC slot, in which Lloyd Webber’s shows used to air, this season was filled with The Voice U.K.
Just before the launch of Superstar, Lloyd Webber took a swing at The Voice U.K., which this year debuted on the BBC to strong ratings only to lose a big part of its audience. “Everyone was out of tune all the time,” he told Radio Times. “I just couldn’t watch it.”
Lloyd Webber recently also raised eyebrows when he said that racism plays a role in the Eurovision Song Contest, for which he wrote a song a few years ago.
The final Lloyd Webber show on the BBC was 2010’s Over the Rainbow, a search for an undiscovered performer to play the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Its audience ranged from 4.30 million to 6.95 million, with the finale drawing the biggest rating.
One of Lloyd Webber’s past BBC shows, which focused on musical Oliver, typically reached 5.5 million-6 million average viewers. The final episode of a show that searched for a lead for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” peaked with 8.5 million viewers. And show focused on a production of The Sound of Music drew between 4.4 million and 7.7 million viewers.
Observers said Superstar wasn’t expected to hit in the ratings big leagues of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, which will return to ITV late this summer, or The Voice. BGT drew an average of 11.4 million viewers with its finale in May, compared with The Voice U.K.‘s 5.6 million, which had hit a high of 11.3 million earlier in the season.
Singers Jason Donovan and former Spice Girl Mel C serve as judges on Superstar along with British theater and TV casting director David Grindrod. Amanda Holden, a judge on Britain’s Got Talent, hosts the show.
Some of the first reviews of Superstar criticized a lack of new ideas, with the series sticking to established format conventions. Some reviewers also felt there wasn’t enough of a Lloyd Webber presence in the first episode since the musical guru mostly was shown lurking behind the scenes and following the action from a distance.
But most reviewers lauded the quality of the singing talent. As Donovan put it in one comment to an auditioning hopeful: “You need to be focused. Jesus was hopeful.”
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