Fox’s version of ‘Christmas Story’ fails to excite television viewers

NEW YORK — To judge by the collective shrug that viewers greeted Fox’s performance of “A Christmas Story Live!,” the fascination with live theater on television may have run its course.

The Nielsen company said that Fox’s telecast was seen by 4.52 million viewers on Sunday night. That’s lower than any of the live plays that have been shown on broadcast television since NBC kicked off the trend in 2013 with “The Sound of Music.”

That 2013 performance was such an unexpected smash, with 18.6 million viewers, that it sent TV networks looking for other plays or musicals to adapt for the small screen. Since then, there have been adaptations of “Peter Pan,” ”The Wiz,” ”Hairspray” and “Grease.”

“A Christmas Story Live!” was crushed in the ratings by NBC’s airing of an NFL game between Dallas and Oakland, Nielsen said. But it also proved less popular than anything on CBS’ Sunday night lineup, and a rerun of the 1965 movies for “The Sound of Music” that aired on ABC.

Fox notes that the show still did better than its typical Sunday night fare. The network is moving ahead with its plans to air a version of “Rent” in 2019. This was the first time since 2013 that NBC did not show a live theater performance during the holidays, as production of “Bye Bye Birdie” starring Jennifer Lopez was delayed. NBC is also making “Jesus Christ Superstar” for next spring, and on Tuesday announced that singer John Legend will play the title role.

Last week was a big one for CBS late-night star Stephen Colbert, who recorded his best weekly ratings since his show’s debut week in 2015, Nielsen said. Friday’s show with Jodie Foster had a bigger audience than any other Colbert show on a Friday night. Colbert averaged 3.38 million viewers last week, compared to Jimmy Fallon’s 2.56 million on NBC and Jimmy Kimmel’s 2.12 million on ABC, Nielsen said.

For the third straight week since the firing of Matt Lauer and his temporary replacement by Hoda Kotb as anchor, NBC’s “Today” show won in the morning ratings. It’s the first time that “Today” has had a three-week winning streak since the Rio Olympics.

CBS won the week in prime-time, averaging 7.9 million viewers. NBC had 7.8 million, ABC had 3.5 million, Fox had 3.3 million, Univision had 1.4 million, ION Television had 1.3 million, while Telemundo and the CW were tied with 1.1 million.