“Little Big Shots,” the year’s first insta-hit, landed a second season renewal from NBC late Monday just a day after the first season had begun. A surprise this is not: “Little Big Shots,” a kid’s talent show hosted by Steve Harvey, was seen by 12.8 million viewers in its March 8 “preview.” That figure rose to 14.8 million for the March 13 premiere.
Of note: The Sunday rating is a so-called “live plus-same-day” figure which means the network didn’t pad the number with so-called “streaming views” in the day (or days) after. A viewership number pushing 15 million is almost unheard on television now and is usually the province of sports or major awards telecast.
In the renewal release, the network said this was “NBC’s most-watched Sunday regularly-scheduled entertainment program (excluding post-Super Bowl shows) since March 2005.”
Perhaps hitting on exactly why this has worked so well and so quickly, Ellen DeGeneres -- one of the executive producers along with Harvey -- said in a statement, “It’s such a great family show, and when it’s over you won’t have to explain what happens in the ‘fantasy suite.’”
In his statement, Mike Darnell, chief of unscripted shows for Warner Bros., and who once -- notoriously, at times, successfully, at others -- made Fox a powerhouse in reality series, said: “It’s nice to see that the right alternative concept at the right time can still attract a huge audience.”
In fact, Darnell and DeGeneres -- both students of TV history -- have revived one of the oldest and sturdiest formats on television, dating back even to an era when there was no TV, and to showmen like Ted Mack and Art Linkletter, the latter one of the most successful personalities on both media. Linkletter’s “House Party” began on radio just five months before the end of World War II, and lasted until 1969; the CBS daytime version aired from 1952 on. “House Party” was a variety show in the purest sense of the word “variety” -- a little bit of this (audience participation quizzes) and that (guest interviews). But the enduring bit over a nearly three-decade stretch was a segment called “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” in which Linkletter debriefed children. Bill Cosby revived the segment as a series which aired two seasons on CBS, but as a cultural and TV fixture -- kids saying the darndest things -- it has cropped up in dozens of shows before and since.
Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour” offered much of the same over its years on various networks, famously showcasing Gladys Knight as a child performer, and Pat Boone.
“Little Big Shots” is nothing more than an expansion of the concepts, starring Harvey who mugs and does double-takes, and banters with both children and audience. As always, he’s fast on the uptake and good with the children -- who this past Sunday included a toddler who had just learned to play the piano and another who “hypnotizes” animals.
NBC has -- as they say in the trade -- a show with legs, and these particular legs h ave already done a lot of walking.