NBC climbs ratings mountain with live 'Sound of Music' special


LOS ANGELES, Dec 6 (Reuters) - U.S. network NBC's livetelecast of the musical "The Sound of Music" played to the tuneof 18.5 million viewers, the Comcast Corp-owned broadcaster said on Friday, helping NBC inject some momentuminto its entertainment division.

The three-hour production on Thursday starring countrysinger Carrie Underwood as Maria, the would-be nun who falls inlove with an anti-Nazi Austrian captain, was NBC's bestnon-sports draw in the 18 to 49 age group most coveted byadvertisers since the finale of hospital drama "ER" in 2009.

"The Sound of Music" telecast, which was based on the 1959stage version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show rather thanthe Oscar-winning 1965 film starring Julie Andrews, was the topoverall draw on U.S. prime-time TV on Thursday, according toNielsen figures.

NBC has languished at the bottom or near it in overallviewers in recent years, dragged down by poorly ratedentertainment offerings compared with rivals CBS, Fox and ABC.

But for the TV season that started in September, NBC rankssecond among overall viewers and first among 18-to-49-year olds,according to Nielsen data through Dec. 1. Its ratings hitsinclude "Sunday Night Football" and singing competition "TheVoice."

Although critics commended NBC for taking a risk on anexpensive production, which reportedly cost $9 million andrequired several sets and lavish costumes, they sounded a sourtone on the performances, particularly Underwood.

"As her multiple Grammys and her legion of country musicfans will attest, the quality of Underwood's singing voice isnot the problem," USA Today's Robert Bianco wrote. "It's thatshe doesn't know how to use that voice to sing in character, orwhat to do with her face when she's trying."

The 30-year-old singer, who has become one of biggestcountry stars since winning the singing contest "American Idol"in 2005, has little experience acting compared to her co-star,"True Blood" actor Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp.

Veteran Broadway stars Audra McDonald (Mother Abbess), LauraBenanti (Elsa Schrader) and Christian Borle (Max Detweiler)rounded out the cast of the musical famous for hit songs "MyFavorite Things" and "Edelweiss."

"Underwood nails the look of a virginal almost-nun, but goesno deeper than that. Blank stares and placid smiles," wrote MarcBernardin of trade magazine the Hollywood Reporter.

Critics' opinions also echoed the live reaction on Twitterfrom viewers, who were mixed on Underwood's performance.

NBC's "The Sound of Music" harked back to the early days ofU.S. television when live musicals were often shown.

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