The New Trend: Live Musicals on Television

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The idea of a Live Television Musicals actually started a long time ago!  In 1953, The Ford Motor Company broadcast an impressive all-star television special to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The highlight of this special was Ethel Merman and Mary Martin performing together live from Broadway’s Center Theater. This special was jointly broadcast by CBS and NBC and attracted 60 million viewers, receiving nationwide critical acclaim. The networks of course saw the potential in this situation and started broadcasting revues and variety specials of their own. One of the most memorable was in 1954 when General Foods did a tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein on all four network stations of the time, featuring an all-star cast.

During this time, many musicals were adapted for the television. In 1955, Mary Martin flew into the hearts of Americans as Peter Pan when NBC broadcast the musical live. This broadcast drew in millions of viewers and started the way for other musicals to do the same. PBS has brought live performances to the TV screen in the recent past as well, but in the past 5 years we have seen a surge of live musical performances. Why is that, you may ask?

The answer is simple. We live in a time where people don’t sit down and watch television in the evenings on a schedule anymore. Viewers can watch their TV shows whenever they want “on demand.” Because of this, network ratings have been dropping, which means their ad-department isn’t doing well either. Live musical broadcasts are designed to get the ratings up at a time when ratings are hard to come by.

If social media is any indicator of how many people are watching, and these days, let’s face it, it is, ratings have not been a problem on the nights of live musical performances over the past few years. The night that “The Wiz” aired live on NBC back in December, the network saw a digital audience rating increase of 40% on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube. This far exceeds the regular TV programing on NBC!   The head of broadcast partnerships at Twitter, Cait Hood, says that live musicals are the ultimate event because we have grown up loving these stories in shows that we can relate to. Of course, part of the excitement of a “live” show is the negative side. Are they going to be able to pull it off? Will there be technical glitches? Will someone freeze on live TV? Some only tune in to find out if something bad will happen.

What is next for these live musical performances? ABC has a plan in the works to bring a musical to live television. There is no word on what the show is going to be as of yet, but they say it will “speak to the heart of who we are at ABC as part of the Disney family.” What would the public like to see performed? Just some musicals high on peoples’ lists for a live performance are The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line, and Ragtime. All we can do is wait and tune it to see what it will be!

If you are interested in learning more about musical theater, check out our class at the Omaha School of Music and Dance!  Go to our website and get registered today!


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