The clock hasn't run out yet on NBC's late summer live game show experiment Million Second Quiz. Beyond some early technical hiccups and mild ratings, Peacock network execs remain enthusiastic for the show.
Paul Telegdy, NBC Entertainment president of alternative and late night programming, admits to TV Guide Magazine that the show's ratings have so far been softer than he would have liked, but that he still is banking on audience growth by the end of the show's 10-day run.
"When I saw the dip in night two, I was disappointed," he says. "Because we are competitive. But there was a marked difference in night two: The show's audience built over hour rather than declined. We're starting to get a sense of what the audience likes about the show. We get the minute-by-minute ratings and we're tweaking the cadences of the show."
Telegdy says that means more game play on the live broadcast. Viewers "love the way the game is played when it's played," he says. "The game is incredibly simple but it seems complex. Because it's like a sports event. You learn the rules as you're watching it." But he also believes that audiences will tune in later in the week, as there's suddenly more money at stake. The Million Second Quiz features a "Winners' Row" of four top contestants who are battling to increase their pot and stay in the game. So far, the top winners have all accumulated over $100,000 each.
"The amount of money is increasing every day," Telegdy says. "By the end of the week there will be people with very large money totals in front of them who have an incentive to stay a part of the action."
Those top players can battle back into the show's main "Money Chair" to attempt to earn more cash (but risk being eliminated) or force a rival player into the same scenario (and attempt to get them out of the game). "The soap opera starts now," Telegdy says. "What hasn't yet come into play are the politics of 'Winners' Row,' the strategy and the endurance aspect of it all."
It's all leading up to the second hour of the final episode, airing Thursday, Sept. 19 at 8/7c, when the top five players get to keep all the money in their running total. Then, they will compete for an additional $2 million jackpot.
Meanwhile, Million Second Quiz was also hurt in night one when the show's app — which allows viewers to play along and potentially win a spot to compete on the show — crashed halfway through the premiere. Host Ryan Seacrest apologized on air the next night.
"Our guys are mortified," Telegdy says. "They scaled for simultaneous play amongst a number of people that initially worked fine. If you look at the first half hour there were almost no operational issues at all. With every minute of the show that passed, the downloads and then the joining of play overwhelmed the system. Overnight they galvanized. Somewhere on the planet a few more air conditioned rooms had buttons pushed in them. And we increased the server capacity by 1200 percent."
Although there have been other reports of problems, Telegdy says those issues may be caused by users' wi-fi connectivity or "some human error. The app is synced to the audio track of the TV show. So if you're covering your iPad's microphone with your hand or if you don't have a clean audio track or there's a lot of background noise, there are some operational errors. We think that 95 percent of people that played along [Tuesday] played without any issues whatsoever."
The live outdoor show has also faced some unpredictable weather elements: A windy evening for Monday night's premiere, and a scorching hot 90-degree heat on Wednesday night. "We are in the heart of the city, if you start hearing sirens and train horns," Telegdy says. "Our contestant processing looks like TSA at the airport. So the infrastructure is pretty formidable. The challenge of being live every night with something of this complexity, I wish I could say I lost 20 pounds to it. But unfortunately ever-present craft services means I haven't lost it."
The decision on whether NBC plans to bring back another cycle of Million Second Quiz won't be made until later, and perhaps hinges on the next few days' ratings. But Telegdy says he believes the show has at the very least brought a few more eyeballs to NBC in the crucial weeks before fall launch. (The show has also served to market multipe NBC Universal properties, as well as local NBC affiliates, as players are plucked from across the country.)
"Of course we want the ratings and we're chasing that," he says. "We were up from the week before. This was meant to augment our circulation this time of year. And it's doing that. Part of the plan was increased marketing for our promos. We are not pounding our chest about the rating. What we're doing is chasing it, going after it and making it grow."