'Sound of Music Live!' a ratings hit for NBC, but critics not so kind

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NEW YORK - Right now Bob Greenblatt is adding "live TV musicals" to his list of favorite things (right after brown paper packages tied up with string).

"Sound of Music Live!", the first live musical on network television in more than 50 years and a pet project of the NBC Entertainment chairman, proved to be a worthwhile gamble on Thursday night. The three-hour event, based on the 1959 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical and starring Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer, reeled in a whopping 18.5 million viewers overall and delivered a 4.6 rating with viewers younger than 50. Translated from Nielsen-speak, that means more than 5.5 million people in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic tuned in. That was enough to tie CBS' top-rated "The Big Bang Theory" in the demo at 8 p.m. EST.

The broadcast delivered the Peacock Network its best Thursday-night performance with younger viewers since the finale of "ER" in 2009. Audiences also mostly stayed put throughout the broadcast, which peaked at 8:30 p.m. EST with 19.7 million viewers and wrapped up with 17 million. The success of "The Sound of Music Live!" proves that in an era of time-delayed viewing, networks can still create DVR-proof programming (and probably should).

Conveniently, the live format also made the show immune to critics, who were unable to issue their verdicts until after "The Sound of Music Live!" had aired. That was probably a good thing for NBC, given that reviews were largely unfavorable, with many critics praising the network for taking a big gamble while singling out Underwood's performance as the production's most obvious liability.

Wrote Los Angeles Times critic Robert Lloyd, "As a stage actress, there was no way to regard her as anything but an amateur - good enough, certainly, to convey the meaning of her lines, and sometimes better than that, but lacking weight and substance and the shadings she can bring to a song."

Reviews aside, it's probably a safe bet that NBC will try another ambitious live show in the near future. "The Sound of Music Live!" producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have said they would like to bring a live musical to television every year.

"Wicked" starring Kelly Clarkson, anyone?