'Million Second' Misfire: NBC Spins Quiz Show's Ratings Debacle

Million Second Quiz - H 2013

Million Second Quiz - H 2013

Reality chief Paul Telegdy touts 1.3 million app downloads, but the show has lost more than half its audience. "We're tracking all sorts of other metrics beyond the ratings."

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

The fall season has yet to begin, and already NBC is trying to spin a ratings disaster. On Sept. 16, sources say the network's reality chief Paul Telegdy urged his department to look past the first week of increasingly bad ratings for his pricey game show The Million Second Quiz and focus on its digital innovation.

According to multiple insiders, Telegdy suggested he and his NBCUniversal bosses had no regrets about the show, which debuted to 6.5 million viewers Sept. 9 but had lost more than half its audience by Sept. 14, and were proud of the 1.3 million installations of the series' play-at-home app. "This is a show that is viral," Telegdy told THR after the show's premiere disappointed. "So we're tracking all sorts of other metrics beyond the ratings."

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Still, there's no debate that the 10-night quiz show has failed to create a new reality franchise or provide a launchpad for the new season. Despite NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert's public declaration that the series would rise on night two without football competition, MSQ dropped double digits in the 18-to-49 demo. Host Ryan Seacrest has tried to steer the series away from disaster with aggressive tweets to his 11 million followers and appearances on NBC's Today. Several nights of app malfunctions and a rainstorm that forced the production from its New York rooftop to a basement studio didn't help.

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A format many viewers find confusing has at least one NBC executive claiming, "I work here, and I don't even get how it works." Meanwhile, MSQ placed third in its slot Sept. 13 behind reruns of Undercover Boss and sitcom Last Man Standing before bottoming out with a 0.7 adults rating the next night. The series rebounded on Sept. 16, but just barely, averaging a 1.0 adults rating and placing behind all Big Four efforts for the night -- excluding NBC neighbor Siberia. Says a source: "I don't know how much worse it can get."