What drew viewers to the deceptively simple show 'This is Us'?

'Us' features no superheroes or explosions. Yet the trailer for the NBC TV show 'Us,' which premiered on Sept. 20 and depicts everyday people with relatable problems, became a huge success. What about the clip appealed to viewers and will the trailer's success translate to viewership numbers?

Ron Batzdorff/NBC/AP
'This Is Us' stars Susan Kelechi Watson (l.) and Sterling K. Brown (r.).

The new NBC program “This Is Us,” which centers on seemingly ordinary people facing everyday problems, debuted on Sept. 20 after winning over many potential viewers with a trailer that may have lacked big names and had a quiet premise but still found a huge fan base online.

“Us” stars Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, and Sterling K. Brown, among others, and includes the stories of a husband (Mr. Ventimiglia) and wife (Ms. Moore) who are expecting triplets; an actor (Justin Hartley) who is frustrated with his career; his sister (Chrissy Metz), who is attempting to lose weight; and a man (Mr. Brown) who meets his birth father for the first time. Most appear to be linked by sharing the same birthday. 

(Spoilers for the premiere follow…) 

At the end of the series premiere, it is revealed that the story of the married couple who are about to have children is, in fact, taking place decades before, and the actor, Kevin, and his sister, Kate, are the children of Ventimiglia’s character, Jack, and Moore’s character, Rebecca. Brown’s character, Randall, was adopted by Jack and Rebecca. 

But before “Us” got attention during the fall TV season for its premiere twist, the show was already winning over potential viewers with a trailer. The trailer’s success surprised many industry watchers. 

In reporting the numbers for the “Us” trailer, Deadline writer Nellie Andreeva noted that the almost 70 million views for the clip through YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms as of late May “are staggering totals that not only dwarf any new series trailer, they put the low-key ensemble dramedy with no famous title, mega stars or special effects into blockbuster movie territory.” 

What drew viewers to this clip and so perhaps to the recent premiere?

Creator Dan Fogelman said he wanted to make a show that was positive and inspiring in an entertainment business that often has tougher themes. 

“The world has grown more cynical," Mr. Fogelman said during this past summer’s Television Critics Association press tour. "I watch movie screeners at the end of every year and it's become a slog for me sometimes. It's all so dark and cynical … maybe it's the right time for a show with hope and optimism that will make you cry and make you feel good. I didn't get into this business to make something that makes people feel worse.” 

And Los Angeles Times writer Mary McNamara called the series’ first episode “a lovely and lyrical premiere, studded with everyday detail … If creator Dan Fogelman …  seems addicted to turning-point sentiment, the performances and the pacing keep each story from getting stuck in the stickiness … ‘This Is Us’ appears to be full of appealing characters.”

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