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Monday, June 05, 2006


Sunday, June 11, CBS will air the 60th Annual Tony Awards celebrating excellence in the world of Broadway Theatre. The Tony Awards never do great numbers (ratings wise) and after the conclusion of each awards show, I often wonder if it will return the following year. According to Nielsen, the show was up 2% last year which is good considering the ratings have been on the decline for the last 3 or so years.

Unfortunately, awards shows are usually long, boring and drawn out and sadly, the Tonys is not exempt from these symptoms. After all, its an award show, something we see all too often these days. What will make the Tonys stand out this year, how does the network and the American Theatre Wing together improve the show and gain new viewers and patrons to Broadway?

How not to do it? Well, I've been reading articles lately panning the show's format this year (no host), the fact that the lifetime achievement award recipient is missing the ceremony (more on that in an upcoming post) and it makes me wonder just where the future of the Tony Awards is headed. A lot needs to be changed, but Boris Kachka's "fix-it" manual on how to overhaul the Tony Awards to drive viewership pretty much hits the nail on the head.

In short, his bullet points are:
  1. Play To Your Strengths
  2. Get a Host
  3. Change the Venue Already
  4. Less Show, More Preshow
  5. Kick off With a Showstopper
  6. Movie Stars Must Present
This day in age, there's an awards show for just about everything (and by everything I mean EVERYTHING). What makes an awards show like the Tonys stand out from a show like The 1st Annual VH-1 CelebReality Viewers Choice Blockbuster Academy for Children, Dogs & the Elderly Awards presented by Donald Trump? For one, theatre & the Tonys isn't entirely a mainstream kind of television awards show special, so producers should do something to make it stand out from the crowd -- do something to draw in unlikely viewers while playing up to the needs and expectations of theatre fans. As an awards show, the Tonys drags along while presenting only the big awards during the 2 hour telecast while attempting to entertain (but failing) in exactly the same type of format as the Emmys, Oscars & Grammys. B-O-R-I- N-G. Television, film, music & theatre are very different genres and presenting them in the same way (award show style) is almost insulting to each of the art forms as it is to viewers. What makes the Tony Awards stand out (for better or for worse) is the difference between theatre from other forms of entertainment these days.

While entertainment award shows honor the best folks in the genre it is celebrating, it is also one huge advertisement of sorts. For the Grammys, it is about music and who and what makes good, entertaining music that stands out from the rest. Television & film entertains in a different way, but for the most part it seems to be more about being big & dramatic -- big cash prizes, big explosive scenes, big love scenes & dramatic endings. The difference with theatre is that for the most part it is intimate and simple; the entertainment comes from the heart-felt monologue or the jazzy musical number, it is about an energy the performer emanates that can be felt from every person sitting in the theatre -- it's about energy as much as it is about the subject of the show.

It is hard to capture energy and passion on tape and somehow transfer that emotion on a television screen (a la the Tonys). Broadway shows employ some of the most talented entertainers who perform around 8 shows a week. These people have to have some kind of a passion for their craft to be able to sing, dance (and even on occasion strip) day after day and find fulfillment from it. Who would know this unless they have been exposed to theatre -- it's not as easy a thing to do as introducing someone to Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine. Unfortunately, catching a Broadway show isn't as easily accessible as the newest blockbuster action flick from the cineplex.

There were many years when my life lacked theatre. Why? Theatre is expensive and it isn't the most accessible form of entertainment. I could only see what came through town, and there really wasn't a lot. The Tony Awards though, gave me an opportunity to see what was going on in the theatrical world by way of Broadway. My favorite part of the Tonys every year were/are the musical numbers. Sometimes my only exposure to a new musical is how it is staged on the Tony Awards. Though it's not the same as seeing a show live, it manages to capture some of the excitement and much of the passion from it's performers. So why not include more musical or live performances to show someone like Sally from Podunk Town, Montana (no offense to those living in Montana) what Broadway is really like (as much as one can from watching it on television). A killer showstopping number will help draw in an audience of theatre lovers as well as pique the interest of a couch potato only looking to be entertained.

I don't deny my somewhat obsessive behavior in watching old Tony Awards telecasts that I have saved. I watch the show (particularly the musical numbers) for inspiration, because I love musical theatre and because it's entertaining. I wish I had saved older telecasts because it's a great collection of live theatrical history. The Tonys give me a peek into shows I've yet to see and remind me of ones I've loved. I watch the Tony Awards because I love to see Broadway at it's finest. I'm not alone. Look at DVDs like Broadway's Lost Treasures: The Best of the Tony Awards that celebrate the priceless performances of Broadway actors? These things were compiled and lovingly and painstakingly created because there is an interest and demand for them.

So I will say as I say every year, watch the Tony Awards, support's a great form of entertainment.


Mitch Glaser said...

My mother grew up in Podunk Town, Montana, you heartless wench!

While the "Tony Awards" seem interesting, this Sunday I plan to watch "The 1st Annual VH-1 CelebReality Viewers Choice Blockbuster Academy for Children, Dogs & the Elderly Awards presented by Donald Trump." Sorry.

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