Network TV’s Live Musical Boom Hits Sour Note

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After Fox's "Rent" underperforms, NBC scraps a staging of "Hair" because the format loses luster over excessive prices (as much as $20 million) & low rerun worth.

Fox's Jan. 27 rendition of Rent lapped up consideration for its injured star, however broken-footed Brennin Hunt might heal sooner than the dwell musical format. Every week after Rent turned the style's lowest-rated entry, NBC — the community that kick-started the pattern in 2013 with The Sound of Music Live watched by almost 20 million viewers — deserted plans for a May staging of Hair.

The musical, which explores medicine, race and sexual id, was alleged to take the place of NBC's twice-delayed Bye Bye Birdie, which now sits in live-event purgatory alongside a deliberate manufacturing of Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men. Over at ABC, there'd been an try and mount The Little Mermaid Live, however that, too, was shortly deserted.

So what occurred to one among TV's hottest genres? Many stress how key a title may be, noting that not each one will translate. Take the AIDS-themed Rent, which, like Hair, appeared to lack the broader, family-friendly attraction of predecessors like NBC's Peter Pan or Fox's Emmy winner Grease.

In reality, after Rent drew fewer than four million viewers, insiders say NBC execs had second ideas about Hair (with its well-known nude scene) as the suitable follow-up to 2018's Jesus Christ Superstar. The resolution got here as casting already was underway, with Hailee Steinfeld having handed on a starring function. Ultimately, says a supply near the manufacturing, "It wasn't a title advertisers knew."

Fox, for its half, has no instant plans for a Rent follow-up. Not solely is the community's go-to producer Marc Platt (GreaseRent) tied up in a deal at 20th TV, which suggests his affiliation quickly shall be with Disney moderately than Fox, but in addition the community's new chief, Charlie Collier, has acknowledged the format's limitations. "We love musicals," he stated not too long ago, "nevertheless it's a really powerful enterprise."

Tough and dear. Multiple sources estimate that earlier NBC productions have value as a lot as $20 million, although one other supply insists they fell within the $10 million to $14 million vary. Hair, which was greenlighted beneath former NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt (who was to have exec produced), is alleged to have been earmarked with a extra conservative $10 million price range.

Over at Fox, dwell entries have run as a lot as $15 million, with sources noting that Rent and A Christmas Story got here in decrease as a result of they lacked main stars. Still, all these productions value significantly greater than a standard hour of scripted TV and traditionally have provided little by means of ancillary worth (few, as an example, have bought internationally) or repeatability. Add to that the challenges of casting, together with the months-long dedication, probably low visibility and danger of being "hate-watched" (see The Sound of Music).

None of that is to say the style goes away completely. "Absolutely not," stresses a supply within the area. "In the identical approach comedy or drama has been 'lifeless' prior to now, you're solely pretty much as good as your subsequent try."

Indeed, with the appropriate title and execution, dwell musicals can nonetheless show a serious awards draw. Moreover, advertisers traditionally have been keen to pay a premium for them (at one level, NBC was reportedly in search of as a lot as $350,000), and associates are usually excessive on reveals that drive dwell viewership. As one exec places it: "Live is taken into account significant for associates, and broadcast networks are affiliate-dependent. Sometimes you want significant, dwell occasions — sports activities, awards reveals, musicals — that illustrate broadcast remains to be related."

Looking forward, NBC is in talks for 3 titles — although it's unlikely to air any in 2019. And whereas Fox is taking a wait-and-see strategy and CBS continues to indicate no real interest in the style, ABC is contemplating recent takes. In reality, because of the success that big-screen musicals like Mary Poppins Returns have delivered to its sister movie studio, ABC's new chief, Karey Burke, reveals to THR that she's discussing a potential authentic manufacturing.

"I'm not swayed by the cooling-off," Burke says. "Any time there's a style that explodes, issues can begin to really feel much less particular."

This article initially appeared on THR.com.