Comcast Declares 'La Brea' a 'Breakout Hit'; Now Everyone Can Forget About that Whole 'Manifest' Disaster

Zyra Gorecki (l.) and Natalie Zea in NBC's 'La Brea.'
It looked like Comcast and NBCU were running away from the sinkhole that was 'Manifest,' but they were headed to a more popular sci-fi hit, one that they actually own, all along. (Image credit: Sarah Enticknap/NBC)

While Comcast and NBCUniversal fell into a kind of sinkhole with their last sci-fi drama, Manifest, the performance of the conglomerate's latest primetime out-there offering, La Brea, was good enough for Comcast to tout during its third-quarter earnings call Thursday. 

"We have a new breakout hit with La Brea, which has been a contributor to NBC's overall audience lead this prime-time season, as well as the best performing new show on Peacock," Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told TMT equity analysts. 

A week earlier, NBCU sent out a ratings release, noting how through subsequent on-demand viewing on streaming service Peacock, the hourlong La Brea had seen its Sept. 28 broadcast premiere audience of 6.4 million viewers more than double to 15.6 million. 

Meanwhile, the premiere episode more than tripled in the key 18-49 demo, from a 0.77 Nielsen rating to a 2.72. 

It's unclear as to whether Comcast/NBCU is counting Hulu views in La Brea's on demand milieu. 

Produced by Universal Television, and starring Natalie Zea, Jack Martin, Eoin Macken and Chiké Okonkwo in a disaster-themed story about a sink hole that takes a group of unwitting Mid-City Los Angeles commuters back to a pre-historic time, where the La Brea Tar Pits are actually a hot, bubbling thing you can call into, La Brea has been amply promoted in prominent places such as NBC's Summer Olympics and NFL game coverage. 

Also read: How NBCU Badly Misplayed Its Hand with 'Manifest'

For Comcast, and more directly, NBC content chairwoman Susan Rovner and her team, the cross-platform success of La Brea is timely, given the poor optics that occurred over the summer in regard to Warner Bros.-produced sci-fi series Manifest

NBC announced that it was ending the series about a missing jet liner, that mysteriously reappears safely and inexplicably, with all its passengers in crew in good health, in mid-June, amid broadcast ratings that were in terminal flight pattern. 

In the old paradigm of broadcast television, that was a clearly logical decision, with Manifest averaging less than half the number of viewers in Season 3 than it did in Season 1.

As bad luck (for NBC) would have it, repeats of the series absolutely took off on Netflix at almost exactly the moment the cancellation press release was blasted out, with the first two seasons of Manifest averaging the biggest year-to-date subscription streaming audiences on the top SVOD platform. 

Subsequently, Netflix made a deal with Warner Bros. to acquire the third season of the show and produce a fourth one. 

At the time, Rovner and Co. received a bit of scrutiny: Why couldn't have NBCU acquired SVOD rights of Manifest for Peacock? Didn't they have an inkling of the show's SVOD potential via its run on Hulu? Does NBCU understand the cross-platform future of broadcast TV shows?

And how did NBCU let a show like Manifest get away, after spending so much on-air promotional time on it over the course of three years?

Maybe, just maybe, they had a plan all along. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!