The reviews are in for NBC’s ”The ’70s,” which begins its two-night run Sunday (9 p.m., NBC), and they’re less than groovy. (EW’s Ken Tucker gives the show a dismal D+.) But it’s profits not praise that NBC is chasing with this May sweeps miniseries that depicts four characters whose lives intersect with the decade’s key events and trends (Kent State, Watergate, discogate). And here’s why — critics be damned — we’ll be seeing a lot more projects like it in the coming months:
History Sells Product Not only did ”’70s”’ predecessor ”The ’60s” pull in more than 15 million viewers last season, NBC earned major ancillary profits with sales of the accompanying video (35,000 units moved in the first week alone) and the soundtrack, which climbed the Billboard album chart. ”TV movies are getting closer to being marketed the way theatrical movies are marketed,” explains Steve White, NBC’s executive VP of miniseries, movies, and special events. ”If people like the movie, they want to continue the experience by buying the CD and video.”
Music Means Moolah The success of ”The ’60s”’ soundtrack (featuring classics from the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, and others) was good news for the music industry, which is looking for ways to boost declining catalog sales of artists who are no longer performing. For the ”’70s” soundtrack, reps from Island Records and NBC are hoping to maximize sales (they will split the profits) by choosing songs based on current consumer trends. ”We know that ‘Pure Funk’ collections sell a lot [of units], but soft rock collections don’t,” says Kim Niemi, VP of business development/music for NBC Enterprises. That’s why the CD features some of ”the most danceable” ’70s’ staples, including Donna Summer’s ”Hot Stuff” and Blondie’s ”Heart of Glass.”
And you can expect more musical moneymakers from NBC in the coming months. This week the network announced plans for a biopic of singer Natalie Cole. And miniseries based on the ’80s and the ’90s are likely to follow, even if ”The ’70s” tanks. ”It’s an NBC franchise,” says White, ”so we’re inclined to stick with it.” And critical gripes that these decade-spanners flashdance over historical complexities don’t bother White a bit. ”A lot of people don’t want to get their history from the History Channel,” he says. Hey, we’re old enough to remember when people got their history from books.