After just 8 episodes the Neil Patrick Harris hosted Best Time Ever has been canceled, though NBC was quick to add, speaking to Variety, that they’ll remain in business with the multi-talented actor/singer/dancer/host. The news is a surprise since Harris tends to have somewhat of a Midas effect on nearly everything he touches, but also reasonable for a show that never had a strong identity.
Conceived from the template of a British variety show, BTE was a bit of Frankenstein’s monster. Sometimes audience members participated in games for prizes or money (think The Price is Right), sometimes celebrities were pranked (think Punk’d), there was celebrity karaoke, celebrity game shows, and celebrity guest hosts (think late-night talk shows). It was a whole lot of something but hard to pin down what. In it’s preview, Harris calls it “seven shows happening simultaneously.”
The original trailer:
The format made it easy for viewers to tune in and out which, in its early-season time slot following The Voice, was good and bad. Good for viewers who were antsy from watching live performances and wanted to go tuck in the kids before sitting down to watch TV again. Bad for building viewing consistency; ratings fell off by the third week to just over 4 million viewers, slightly less than half the audience of the next show on NBC’s Tuesday lineup, Chicago Fire. Still, NBC said they discussed revamping the format and bringing the show back, but their desires for the show made it expensive and difficult to produce.
Prime time variety shows – particularly those featuring celebrities – have always been popular around the world but have waned in the US since their heyday in the 1970s. Prior to then, prime-time special events centered on singing, comedy, and skits showed up regularly, and shows like The Carol Burnett Show, Laugh-In, and Sonny & Cher were long-run series.
Since that era there have been attempts to modernize the variety series like Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s Variety Hour, and Rosie O’Donnell’s Rosie Live. They’ve bombed, and often been canceled after a single episode. Edgy skit comedy shows like In Living Color and even Saturday Night Live have also struggled, but had marginally more success than music-based shows.
Best Time Ever did hit on one of the things that has made daytime talk shows so popular: making people feel special and great about themselves for a moment in time. Here, Harris shows some kids how cool their dad can be:
Perhaps the change in our enjoyment of prime-time variety is an offshoot of the way we’ve interacted with celebrities – and even watched TV – since the advent of MTV and cable. Overseas, many stars still live more reserved or shielded lives while in the US we feed of celebrity news on a 24 hour cycle. And specialty networks have created a subculture of celebrities in everything from cooking to fitness to hunting, but also fractured viewing audiences. That means that while there are more celebs than ever to book, it’s harder and more expensive to book the really big ones that will draw prime-time network audiences.
Still, Neil Patrick Harris and his team reeled in some big names, including Alec Baldwin, Jack Black, Shaquille O’Neal, The Backstreet Boys, and Gloria Gaynor. But we seem to be a national mood that would rather watch them doing what they do best – acting, dunking, singing – than playing games with audiences.