NEW YORK — During NBC's slow slide to near-irrelevancy in prime time over the past decade, a succession of entertainment executives sat in boardrooms plotting comeback moves that didn't work.
It's still early, but NBC seems to have hit upon a plan that is moving things in the right direction.
New entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt's baby steps strategy of using the successful competition “The Voice” as its centerpiece has helped NBC stand as the only one of the four big broadcasters to have a larger prime-time audience than it had last fall.
In the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that NBC targets, the network has made a startling move from fourth place to first, winning the first four weeks of the season for the first time since 2002. Among all viewers, it ranks third behind CBS and ABC.
Greenblatt, who came to NBC after running Showtime, said he understands the temptation of thinking all of a network's problems can be solved at once. Since that almost never happens, he brought a lesson he learned from cable.
He decided to set one or two priorities and put all of the network's attention on achieving them. In this case, the plan was to build out from NBC's most successful franchise, the Sunday night football game, and improve the nights right after it.
NBC launched its first-ever fall version of “The Voice” and stretched it to two nights a week — Monday and Tuesday. Greenblatt didn't want to compete directly with Fox's “The X Factor” later in the week, and believed ABC's competing “Dancing With the Stars” was an aging franchise.
“The Voice” has rewarded his confidence and, just as importantly, served as a launching pad for new shows that followed it on the schedule, the drama “Revolution” on Monday and Matthew Perry comedy “Go On” on Tuesday.
Through four weeks, “The Voice” has averaged 14.1 million viewers on Monday night, more than double what “The Sing Off” had in the time slot last year, according to the Nielsen company.
“Revolution” has averaged 11.9 million viewers, numbers that include some DVR playback. “The Playboy Club” was a high-profile bust at the same time last year, getting 3.5 million viewers for its third and final episode.
NBC's average in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic on Tuesdays is up 42 percent from 2011, Nielsen said.