Live! It’s Television!

 

A glimpse inside the production truck during Fox’s presentation of Grease.

America seems to have a new fascination with live television. NBC has found ratings success by presenting Broadway musicals such as The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz.

This has spawned others to get into the game. Tonight Fox presented Grease and ABC has announced its entry into the game with Dirty Dancing.

The artistic ratings haven’t exactly matched the Nielsen numbers. Because they lack a live audience, laugh lines fall flat and musical numbers end without reaction.

Periodically, regularly scheduled series have opted to go the live route in order to boost interest in their shows. ER did it in 1997 and sitcoms Will & Grace and The Drew Carey Show did it multiple times over their runs.

So, why the allure? Is it just a disaster watch? Is it audiences just wanting to be there when an actor flubs his lines or a camera goes down?

Surely, it’s not nostalgia for television before video tape (or even kinescopes, for that matter). That was, bluntly put, mostly bad TV.

I find it all rather amusing myself, since I’ve logged thousands of hours working live television. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of mistakes and made more than my share of them. But then, working in sports, none of my telecasts have been scripted and rehearsed for months on end.

And if it happens, it happens. We have a saying, “Hey, it’s not brain surgery and nobody dies.”

There are 32 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I don’t know if I’ve ever caught the live TV productions. I watched the first 45 minutes of Grease tonight and then turned off the TV. I like Julianne Hough; she has a sweet voice and was doing her part well, but I’d never seen Grease and it wasn’t my cup of tea. Funny–I wasn’t looking for goofs; just thought there might be a positive energy from live TV. Oh well.

    • #1
  2. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    This comment was typed in front of a live Ricochet Audience.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I don’t care. As long as it isn’t a rerun of The Great Race of the Real Housewives of Dancing with the Stars, there’s a chance I’ll watch.

    It’s the dead time of the year.  Nowhere near enough hockey on TV.

    Pitchers and catchers report: 17 days, 2 hours.

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Jimmy Carter: This comment was typed in front of a live Ricochet Audience.

    I could tell by the extra energy present in the punctuation.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Yes, there sure is something special about live television. When Edward R. Murrow did a split screen of the east and west coasts in 1951, it was electrifying in a way that’s hard to capture today.

    We argue about the content of television and media. Here’s a fine post from Ricochet’s best authority on the miracle of TV itself, something that we often take for granted.

    Dramatic productions, like George Clooney’s version of “Fail Safe” do have an element of audience voyeurism (“will they screw up?”) but not, I think, much differently than the way we perceive all live theater.  That’s the classier side of live; the feeling that you’re in on the real thing, whether it’s a space launch, an election, or a premiere. People used to dress up to invite friends over for television.

    The American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY (just across the bridge from Manhattan) has an exhibit that gives us a glimpse into EJ’s world. It’s a mockup of a broadcast control room set up for a baseball game; about fourteen video inputs to choose from–cameras, remote feeds, the blimp camera, interviews with players, the network feed–plus a confusing, ever-changing array of graphics to be selected on the fly–and the central large screen shows what the director of this one particular game was choosing, second by second. You hear the game sound and also the intercom talk coming in and out of the control room.

    Even if you know the technology backwards and forwards, keeping track of what’s going on feels like an almost impossible thing to do at the high decision speeds that are required.

    • #5
  6. Tobermory Inactive
    Tobermory
    @Tobermory

    I don’t know that it’s nostalgia for pre-video style productions so much as it is nostalgia for television which numerous age groups can sit down and watch together, even if it’s not particularly good. Also, all of these productions have been musicals to which a lot of people have sentimental connections. I tuned in to The Sound of Music when it was on simply because years ago I played first clarinet in my high school’s production of it, and I like to hear the songs and dialogue which didn’t make it into the movie. It wasn’t the greatest performance ever, but then neither was my high school’s.

    • #6
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Susan Quinn touched on something that may not augur well for this new and interesting fad: the source material, like “Grease”, may have a well known brand name, but it’s coarser than people remember. It’s not a genuine classic by virtue of, well, virtue. It was the Seventies enjoying a cheap, mildly dirty joke at the expense of the square Fifties.

    “Dirty Dancing” may or may not run into that. It’s a story that single women of a certain age thought utterly adorable, a quarter century ago. But when you come down to it, it’s a simple story of a hot guy and a virginal girl, played against a background that’s supposedly so repressive and oppressive. The early live revivals were actual, genuine family productions.

    • #7
  8. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    EJHill:

    Jimmy Carter: This comment was typed in front of a live Ricochet Audience.

    I could tell by the extra energy present in the punctuation.

    Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Gary McVey: Even if you know the technology backwards and forwards, keeping track of what’s going on feels like an almost impossible thing to do at the high decision speeds that are required.

    I have been fortunate to work with the finest, especially Fox’s Bill Webb, who missed this October’s World Series for the first time in 18 years because of a stage three cancer. He is a first class wise ass and a better director. The stories the COC prevents me telling…

    Every sport has its own rhythms, ebbs and flows and possibilities. And a good crew can drag the greenest of production personal across the finish line. Put a seasoned producer and director with the right crew and it really is a thing of beauty.

    In a scripted world like these musical productions, the unsung hero is the assistant director who helps keep the shots coming and gets the director and cameramen where they need to be. They are full and equal members of the DGA and a good one is worth their weight in gold.

    • #9
  10. Paula Lynn Johnson Inactive
    Paula Lynn Johnson
    @PaulaLynnJohnson

    I watched all three hours of Grease because if you know Broadway, you know Aaron Tveit is awesome. He did not disappoint.

    Talented and energetic cast, but the real stars of the night were the camera crew.  I was really impressed with the variety of shots (swooping, that long tracking shot for the intro). Whereas the NBC productions definitely had the feeling of a staged performance, this production did not feel static at all (except for the drag race. That was cheesy).

    Plus, Fox was smart to include a live audience of young people in creative ways (such as sitting in the gym bleachers).  Their cheers and clapping prevented it from getting stale.

    Grease is definitely coarse, but I’m still fond of it.  For my generation it was huge.  I enjoyed seeing it performed with younger actors instead of the 35-year-olds pretending to be teens in the movie.

    • #10
  11. Drusus Inactive
    Drusus
    @Drusus

    Why not have a live audience? I don’t understand why the network wouldn’t.

    In other news, why is “Grease” still so popular when its core value is antithetical to contemporary liberal values? Essentially, “change everything about yourself for love and acceptance.” Oh, wait…now that I say it out loud….. ;)

    • #11
  12. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Percival:I don’t care. As long as it isn’t a rerun of The Great Race of the Real Housewives of Dancing with the Stars, there’s a chance I’ll watch.

    It’s the dead time of the year. Nowhere near enough hockey on TV.

    That depends on the meaning of the word hockey. I’d say there’s a lot of hockey on TV.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Carey J.:

    Percival:I don’t care. As long as it isn’t a rerun of The Great Race of the Real Housewives of Dancing with the Stars, there’s a chance I’ll watch.

    It’s the dead time of the year. Nowhere near enough hockey on TV.

    That depends on the meaning of the word hockey. I’d say there’s a lot of hockey on TV.

    Right now where I am we get a game every three or four days.  With my cable company in Iowa, it was closer to every other day.

    • #13
  14. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Percival:

    Carey J.:

    Percival:I don’t care. As long as it isn’t a rerun of The Great Race of the Real Housewives of Dancing with the Stars, there’s a chance I’ll watch.

    It’s the dead time of the year. Nowhere near enough hockey on TV.

    That depends on the meaning of the word hockey. I’d say there’s a lot of hockey on TV.

    Right now where I am we get a game every three or four days. With my cable company in Iowa, it was closer to every other day.

    The hockey on TV that I was referring to has nothing to do with ice.

    • #14
  15. Liz Member
    Liz
    @Liz

    Some of the old live productions, such as “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, and “The Colgate Comedy Hour” with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were brilliant, incomparably funny successes.

    • #15
  16. John Peabody Inactive
    John Peabody
    @JohnAPeabody

    I can’t explain the allure to younger viewers…but to older ones, they might remember the special productions of “Peter Pan”, “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, and “Cinderella”. All of these shows were produced live at least twice. Owning a VHS of the last Mary Martin Peter Pan was outstanding, you can see camera movement that is never done anymore (so much TV is done with remote-operated motorized cameras). I’m romantic enough to feel the impact of the human moving that camera while keeping it framed and in focus.  As far as flubs, sure, they are part of the fun.

    Sometimes, the fun is when the flub is avoided: The youngest kid singing “Tender Shepherd” by himself slows, nearly stops the beat…then Wendy comes in, stronger than necessary, bringing back the tempo. Her professionalism helps the professionalism of the live conductor and orchestra members (!), and disaster is averted. As a musician with many performances with live singers under my belt, it’s a case of “been there…done that”.

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Gary McVey: Susan Quinn touched on something that may not augur well for this new and interesting fad: the source material, like “Grease”, may have a well known brand name, but it’s coarser than people remember.

    It wasn’t the coarseness that bothered me; I was just bored. Maybe ya had ta be there.

    • #17
  18. John Peabody Inactive
    John Peabody
    @JohnAPeabody

    Gary McVey:it’s coarser than people remember.

    I did not see last night’s production- but it should be clear that most people remember the movie, not the much-raunchier stage production. Films have always tamed down the light sex talk that was featured in the original New York-staged plays.

    • #18
  19. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    I only had time to see about a half hour of Grease last night, but the production seemed excellent. I would have watched it all the way through if I’d had time, although Grease is one of my least favorite musicals.

    The difference between live theater and a movie is where you as the audience can focus your attention. When you attend a live play you can look over the whole panoramic scene in front of you – spotlights might try to bend your attention on the lead couple speaking, but if you choose to, you can look at the pair pantomiming a lovers spat in the background or the guy far stage left pushing a broom in time to the music.  Movie directors show you only what they want you to see – and today’s directors seem to be stuck on manic editing in dance scenes. It’s the director’s choice if you get a wide shot of a dozen kids dancing in unison – for a split second – or a zoom-in of somebody’s crotch.

    Grease‘s ‘live-editing’ – camera placement & the switching between them – seemed to bridge this well.  It was physically impossible to have cameras on the set at every angle like a movie would, so there were a lot more wide shots & longer takes. The story moved more in real time, because it was live. Aesthetically, I think it gives you a more ‘human’ experience than a standard movie.

    • #19
  20. Liz Member
    Liz
    @Liz

    I can’t seem to embed it, but this Colgate Comedy Hour is particularly hilarious. The ads are almost as funny Lewis and Martin.

    • #20
  21. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    The preliminary numbers are in and it looks like Fox is going to be on par with NBC’s most recent effort, The Wiz, better than Peter Pan but still much worse than The Sound of Music.

    Music‘s ratings will be hard to beat since, judging it from the reviews, that show consisted of a Country music star taking a blackjack and beating then 78-year-old Dame Julie Andrews upon the face and head for three hours.

    This would suggest two things: 1) There is definitely an audience for these kinds of live musicals and 2) it seems that if there is a base then there is also a ceiling for them.

    • #21
  22. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    EJHill: I have been fortunate to work with the finest, especially Fox’s Bill Webb … a first class wise ass and a better director.

    Yes. 35 years ago I ran the Mets’ first video scoreboard, met Bill, and heard him in my headphones for 81 home games. Amazing orchestration, speed, quickness, and command. Kept his crew on high alert throughout a 98 loss season. I hope Bill recovers, and gets to see all of baseball’s current top prospects complete long careers.

    As we’ll be reminded again this Sunday, live sports is television’s most advertiser-friendly content. Small wonder that with viewing of commercial breaks now being closely metered, networks are looking for new forms of DVR-resistant content.

    • #22
  23. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    EJHill: Music‘s ratings will be hard to beat since, judging it from the reviews, that show consisted of a Country music star taking a blackjack and beating then 78-year-old Dame Julie Andrews upon the face and head for three hours.

    I don’t understand what you mean – were the reviews good? I thought its high ratings were solely the result of its being the first of its kind (in many many years) and Sound of Music‘s iconic place in American film.

    • #23
  24. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Pencilvania: I don’t understand what you mean – were the reviews good?

    The reviews were brutal. Carrie Underwood has a great voice and was hired to bring in her extensive fan base but her acting experience was very limited and therefore limiting.

    Unfortunately for her everyone insisted on judging her by the standard Andrews put on film, which is a very different medium with its stop and go single camera technique and the prerecorded musical performance tracks.

    I’m not sure it would have even been fair to compare her to the original Maria, Mary Martin, whose Tony Award Winning performance is lost to the ages except for the original cast album.

    • #24
  25. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Live is nice, but why are we not just seeing video’s of the greats?  With modern technology we could pay per view everything.  Broadway and opera performers would make bundles as their performances could seen world wide.   The economies of scale become nearly infinite and will not cut into live performance audiences.   The government must be inhibiting it in some form.  Anybody know why?

    • #25
  26. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I Walton: With modern technology we could pay per view everything.

    You can. But I think there’s some baseball mentality involved. Before Ted Turner proved otherwise, baseball owners never wanted home games televised for fear that it would hurt the gate receipts.

    The difference, of course, is that not many people are interested in re-watching a sporting event once the outcome is known. With a Broadway play, once that thing is on tape, the bootleg potential is unlimited and unknown.

    Addendum: Specifically I am referring to Broadway’s aftermarket, the touring company. Would people still want to attend live theater with less-known talent if the original were available on video?

    • #26
  27. John Peabody Inactive
    John Peabody
    @JohnAPeabody

    I Walton: Broadway and opera performers would make bundles as their performances could seen world wide.

    The Metropolitan Opera allows you to watch previously-recorded shows through an app. But for the excitement of live opera, they have streamed live performances to movie theaters for several years:  http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/

    • #27
  28. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    Paula Lynn Johnson:I watched all three hours of Grease because if you know Broadway, you know Aaron Tveit is awesome. He did not disappoint.

    Tveit was featured in one of the funnier closing credit sequences I’ve seen in a long time- the 2011 film Girl Walks Into a Bar. It’s a not half bad movie, but this always makes me laugh, because Tveit is the only of the the three stars that can dance.

    p.s. Best tweet of last night (can’t remember who). “Grease is a musical written in 1971 about 1959. Thats like doing a throwback musical today about 2004.”

    • #28
  29. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    FightinInPhilly:[…..]p.s. Best tweet of last night (can’t remember who). “Grease is a musical written in 1971 about 1959. Thats like doing a throwback musical today about 2004.”

    It is interesting to think of it that way. Although I’ll guess that life in 1959 was so different from life in 1971 in ways that 2004 vs 2016 can’t even approach.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    EJHill: You can. But I think there’s some baseball mentality involved. Before Ted Turner proved otherwise, baseball owners never wanted home games televised for fear that it would hurt the gate receipts.

    Phil Wrigley didn’t mind. And when the Cubs came up on the market, WGN (the broadcasting arm of the Chicago Tribune) couldn’t get their checkbook out fast enough.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.