Monday, June 23, 2008

More Tony talk, Part II

Ok, I know it's been a week already and we need to move on, but I didn't want to let this article in Saturday's New York Times pass by without comment.

Theatre critic Charles Isherwood decries the state of this year's Tony Awards, which he calls "an infomercial for the generic Broadway brand." He particularly hates the idea of using the show as a platform for Broadway producers such as Disney to - horrors - sell tickets!

Apparently, Isherwood didn't much enjoy a performance by the cast of The Lion King. "The decision to kick off the telecast with the by now familiar opening number from The Lion King sent the viewing audience a message that the best Broadway had to offer this year was a decade-old Disney musical."

(Well, as someone who saw that "decade-old Disney musical" for the first time last month, let me tell you, the opening number is pretty thrilling, and I loved being able to see it again on tv.)

He writes that the pleasure of the Tonys is a chance to see the theatre actors that he admires rewarded for their work. He wants to "see them acting joyous, excited, flustered, grateful, maybe a little foolish — in short, human, divorced from the stage personality." And he ponders whether it would be such a bad thing if they moved from CBS to PBS.

Ok, I guess he wants fewer performances by 10-year-old musicals and more acceptance speeches. I can understand that - they're examples of real human emotion, unrehearsed except perhaps in front of a mirror. It's a chance for viewers to see their favorite performers out of character for once.

But personally, I'd like to see the show stay on a commercial broadcast network. That's the best way to make sure the Tonys are available to as wide a swath of viewers as possible. And theatre needs more exposure, not less.

I understand the point that the pro-PBS group makes: the only people who watch the show are people who already love Broadway, so what's the point of waging a ratings battle that you're never going to win? It's always going to be a niche audience, so why not just give up trying to be commercial and go to a place where it doesn't matter how many viewers you have. That way, you wouldn't have to try and attract viewers who aren't already interested.

I'm not sure how this works exactly, and I could be wrong, but I think PBS stations have a certain amount of latitude about when, or even if, they air a show. So if they were to move to PBS, there's no guarantee that the Tonys would be available to everyone on the same night. Some stations might opt to not show them at all.

Broadway producer and blogger Ken Davenport writes that it can cost a musical $200,000 to $300,000 to put on a performance at the Tonys, when you count up salaries, sets, transportation, stagehands, recording sessions. According to Davenport, cast members get a week's salary! Davenport also makes the point that while the ratings are small, CBS can charge a bundle for advertisers to reach the desirable demographic group that watches the Tony awards each year.

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I just don't know whether Broadway producers would pony up that kind of money for an awards show that airs on PBS. And even if they did, would the content change all that much? Wouldn't it still be pretty much an infomercial for Broadway? And is there anything wrong with that?


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

You're right on the money. I could not agree more.

Even if the Tonys are only seen by 6 million people, that's a lot of potential ticketbuyers they're not likely to get from airing this on PBS.

Roxie said...

It's never time to move on from the Tonys!! We won't have anything new to talk about until next year... :)

Esther said...

Thanks Steve!

And even if people aren't coming to New York right away, the Tonys give a lot of exposure to shows that will be touring within a couple of years. I remember seeing a performance from "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" a couple of years ago and I thought it was great. And I ended up seeing it on tour last fall.

Esther said...

Thanks Roxie!

I figured people were tired of talking about them already. It has been a week. And I know that this question of PBS vs. CBS comes up every year. But it's good to know there's still some interest and I'm not just beating a dead horse or singing the same old song. ;-)

Vance said...

Personally, they could perform EVERY musical on Broadway on the Tonys and make it a 5 hour event and I would be happy.

Esther said...

Yeah, I agree Vance, that would be fun. I'd still like to hear the acceptance speeches, and maybe a short scene from each play!

Roxie said...

Whaaaat?! Plays? They do those on Broadway too???


Esther said...

Yeah, every now and then they do a play. Just to mix things up a bit, I guess! It's like life - sometimes you feel like singing and sometimes you don't. ;-)