Fox Doesn’t Pay Rent; NBC Pulls Hair

 

It’s Maria Von Trapp, Y’all. Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music (NBC)

Back in 2013, the executives at NBC decided to hark back to an earlier time in the network’s history and stage a live musical. While the post-show reviews were mixed, The Sound of Music did well, pulling in 18.6M viewers.

Much of the viewership was driven by its lead, country music star Carrie Underwood. Much of the criticism was driven by its star, country music star Carrie Underwood, who had little acting experience and big shoes to fill. Still, all of the broadcast networks except CBS decided to board the musical train.

The problem is the train seems to be losing steam. The most recent attempt was Fox’s version of Rent Live! which turned into Rent Taped! after one of the performers, Brennin Hunt managed to break his foot during the final dress rehearsal the night before air.

That probably had little effect on the ratings, though. The play, inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème, updated and set “amid poverty, homelessness, spunky gay life, drag queens and punk” in the East Village of New York, was a hit on Broadway but not so much west of the Hudson. A 2005 film made by Columbia Pictures only recouped $31M of its $40M budget. Could Fox executives really be surprised at the dismal 1.4 Nielsen rating?

Almost immediately NBC announced it was shelving its next planned event, a staging of 1967’s Hair. (Its 1979 filming returned a modest $4M.) Somehow, even in a time when all of television seems to be obliged to take political or cultural swipes at traditional values, a play featuring nudity and a song called “Sodomy” seems a bit of a stretch and an unneeded risk.

Source: The Nielsen Corporation

For its part, ABC bailed on a planned adaptation of parent-company Disney’s The Little Mermaid. With the right casting that could have rivaled The Sound of Music in the top spot, but Disney decided to take its cartoon-cum-Broadway hit back to the big screen instead.

In a press release, NBC executives Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks were quoted as saying, “Live musicals are a part of this network’s DNA and we are committed to continuing that tradition with the right show at the right time.” They would probably be advised to return to their original plan, family-friendly classics with stars that appeal outside of the boardrooms of New York and Los Angeles. But everything needs to “make a statement” in today’s woke culture. The culture may be woke, but a lot a people are sleeping through the televised version of it.

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  1. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Hamilton seems like a natural and a ratings grabber.  Too new and too expensive? Perhaps they’re still milking the touring companies.

    • #1
  2. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Hoyacon: Hamilton seems like a natural and a ratings grabber. Too new and too expensive?

    Most definitely on both counts. That show was shot on HD video and may be released to theaters after the touring productions are exhausted.

    • #2
  3. DonG Coolidge
    DonG
    @DonG

    it is really hard to get people to watch TV at a scheduled time and with commercials.  Only sports can do it and we are saturated with sports.

    • #3
  4. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Saw the movie Rent on home video  some years ago.  Truly awful.  Characters were all so unlikable I was actually happy they were “suffering” poverty and disease.  The music alternated between unmemorable and bad.

    The one thing I think remember about it was that one of the main characters spent the entire movie obsessing/working on his film “documentary”, which they showed over the closing credits and appeared to consist entirely of people waving at the camera.

     

    I watched the live Sound of Music when it was on.  Carrie Underwood was adequate, but couldn’t deliver at all on some of the laugh lines 

    • #4
  5. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Miffed White Male: The music alternated between unmemorable and bad.

    The show has an interesting history, not the least of which is that it’s composer dropped dead just before the show moved from workshop to off Broadway. Jonathan Larson was just 35 when he suffered a misdiagnosed aortic dissection caused by undiagnosed Marian Syndrome.

    • #5
  6. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    EJHill: They would probably be advised to return to their original plan, family-friendly classics with stars that appeal outside of the board rooms of New York and Los Angeles.

    Doesn’t PBS’ Great Performances already do that?

    In 2017 they broadcast a live performance of Holiday Inn.  Heck, they even broadcast their own live performance of The Sound Of Music in 2018.

    • #6
  7. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    Doesn’t PBS’ Great Performances already do that?

    In 2017 they broadcast a live performance of Holiday Inn.

    Did they include the Blackface number?

     

    • #7
  8. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    PBS gets other people to pay the bills and they’re not so ratings-centric, so I’m not sure that counts.

    • #8
  9. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I have seen only one video presentation of a stage production (Oklahoma!), and I didn’t care for the mixing of storytelling forms. Many of the camera actions they did to keep the video interesting (providing close-up views of some of the actors, camera views from inside the acting company, overhead views of dance numbers, etc.) detracted from the magic experience I would have had were I in the live audience. And as I was watching it on a video screen, my mind kept expecting the story to be told as I am used to movie or television stories being told (which is rather different from how a story is told on stage before a live audience, at least for a musical). 

    [This is just my opinion. I assume others do not share my grumpiness on the subject.]

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Saw the movie Rent on home video some years ago. Truly awful. Characters were all so unlikable I was actually happy they were “suffering” poverty and disease. The music alternated between unmemorable and bad.

    When I visited New York City I went to two Broadway shows: Cabaret and Rent.   Considering how similar they are thematically, the contrast between them when it came to the stories, the music, and the characters couldn’t be more stark.  The plot of Rent was so predictable, the music was forgettably saccharine, and the characters were 2-dimensional and dull.  There aren’t any consequences to the characters own actions.  Everything that happens to them is portrayed as somebody else’s fault.  Cabaret, by contrast, is much more nuanced.  Firstly, the plot twists weren’t predictable (well, I didn’t see them coming).  Secondly, it’s very much up for debate just how much of the characters’ circumstances can be blamed on their own choices vs. forces they cannot control.  Heck, they can’t even blame the Nazis for their problems, since the Nazis don’t take over until the very end.

    (It was a complete coincidence that we chose shows that were thematically similar.  The tickets to Rent were discounted.  This was January 2002. There were lots of discounts for tourists in NYC at that time, for obvious reasons.)

    • #10
  11. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I have seen only one video presentation of a stage production (Oklahoma!), and I didn’t care for the mixing of storytelling forms. Many of the camera actions they did to keep the video interesting (providing close-up views of some of the actors, camera views from inside the acting company, overhead views of dance numbers, etc.) detracted from the magic experience I would have had were I in the live audience. And as I was watching it on a video screen, my mind kept expecting the story to be told as I am used to movie or television stories being told (which is rather different from how a story is told on stage before a live audience, at least for a musical).

    [This is just my opinion. I assume others do not share my grumpiness on the subject.]

    Indeed, a stage musical works because you’re there in the audience and it’s immediate and visceral.  A movie musical works because they can take advantage of locations, camera angles, editing, special effects, etc.  A broadcast of a stage production is the worst of both worlds.

    • #11
  12. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    EJHill: They would probably be advised to return to their original plan, family-friendly classics with stars that appeal outside of the board rooms of New York and Los Angeles. But everything needs to “make a statement” in today’s woke culture. The culture may be woke, but a lot a people are sleeping through the televised version of it.

    The fact that we must state this oh so obvious truth is really depressing.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I caught “Jesus Christ Superstar” when it was on. It was rather good.

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    EJHill: They would probably be advised to return to their original plan, family-friendly classics with stars that appeal outside of the board rooms of New York and Los Angeles. But everything needs to “make a statement” in today’s woke culture. The culture may be woke, but a lot a people are sleeping through the televised version of it.

    The fact that we must state this oh so obvious truth is really depressing.

    NBC is owned by a multimedia conglomerate whose biggest divisions are in cable tv and feature films.  It’s possible that they simply can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to what works in the broadcast medium.

    Compare them to CBS, whose parent corporation is CBS Corporation.  Broadcast television is the company’s core competency.  They know their audience and offer products that are laser-targeted at that audience.

    NBC, by contrast, seems to throw things at the wall to see what sticks.

    Wait, I hear some of you saying, what about ABC?  Their parent company is also a multimedia conglomerate!

    Yabbut, ABC’s parent company has a way stronger catalog of licenses and properties to draw upon than NBC’s parent company does.  Also, ABC’s parent company is way more hands-on when it comes to developing successful properties.  NBC’s parent company seems to be run by accountants, not creators.

    • #14
  15. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Misthiocracy secretly: NBC is owned by a multimedia conglomerate whose biggest divisions are in cable tv and feature films.

    That doesn’t always play into it as the rights are limited in their scope according to performance type. The movie rights, stage rights and broadcast rights of all the materials are separate issues, especially on anything that predates the mega merger era. As you point out Disney is in the strongest position possible with their 90s catalogue of animated musicals that found a second life on the stage and it doesn’t seem to do ABC any good.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Hoyacon: Hamilton seems like a natural and a ratings grabber. Too new and too expensive?

    Most definitely on both counts. That show was shot on HD video and may be released to theaters after the touring productions are exhausted.

    Given that people are laying down $500 per seat in Chicago and $1,000 on Broadway, not yet.

    • #16
  17. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I have seen only one video presentation of a stage production (Oklahoma!), and I didn’t care for the mixing of storytelling forms. Many of the camera actions they did to keep the video interesting (providing close-up views of some of the actors, camera views from inside the acting company, overhead views of dance numbers, etc.) detracted from the magic experience I would have had were I in the live audience. And as I was watching it on a video screen, my mind kept expecting the story to be told as I am used to movie or television stories being told (which is rather different from how a story is told on stage before a live audience, at least for a musical).

    [This is just my opinion. I assume others do not share my grumpiness on the subject.]

    Indeed, a stage musical works because you’re there in the audience and it’s immediate and visceral. A movie musical works because they can take advantage of locations, camera angles, editing, special effects, etc. A broadcast of a stage production is the worst of both worlds.

    I would agree on that as a general principle, but you can end up in a situation where the stage actors and direction are so much better than the film version that even the strange artificiality of the taped stage performance makes for a better experience. e.g. Into the Woods. The stage cast beats the film cast hands down (Meryl Streep is no Bernadette Peters), all the “realistic” special effects, sets, and lighting don’t add much, and the film butchers the plot. Because today’s PG-13 fairy tale audiences can have a female protagonist drugged and mutilated by a man (Maleficent) but not be seduced by one.

    • #17
  18. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Never saw Rent, but I did enjoy the musical it was obviously based on, Leased:

    • #18
  19. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):
    Never saw Rent, but I did enjoy the musical it was obviously based on, Leased:

    “Something Rotten” also noted it with its “Some musicals are very serious” line in the song “A Musical”

    • #19
  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    @amyschley I’ve seen that show twice – during its first run on Broadway and one with a touring company. “I’ve got tickets to see Shakespeare in the park!”

    • #20
  21. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    EJHill (View Comment):

    @amyschley I’ve seen that show twice – during its first run on Broadway and one with a touring company. “I’ve got tickets to see Shakespeare in the park!”

    It’s one of the few shows that have come out recently I actually want to see.

    • #21
  22. Virtuous Heathen Inactive
    Virtuous Heathen
    @heathen

    Family-Friendly Classics with broad appeal outside NY/LA would certainly improve ratings, but I believe the moment for live productions has come and gone. There may never again be a market for a 40 million dollar event show–regardless the subject.

    When Sound of Music aired in 2013, broadcast television was responding to diminishing eyeball share by, well, broadcasting. It worked for a moment. It was newish, differentand an event. Meanwhile, streaming was still finding its foothold–buying up old properties to fill catalogs.

    In 2019 however, the atmosphere is very different. People are cord cutting at a rate that has Broadcast is moving to Streaming (CBS All Access). And the vast majority of new content is either exclusive to streaming platforms or readily available on them. And it’s not just about the quantity of content, either. Netflix, Amazon, & Hulu all have series or features whose availability is an event all on its own.

    That is, Christmas Chronicles was the new wholesome family holiday flick that everyone was talking about. Also, have you tried to avoid Stranger Things spoilers for a whole day? Netflix even saw fit to run a Super Bowl ad for a nature documentary–a nature doc, alongside ads for Avengers 4, Toy Story 4, and a Fast & Furious spinoff. 

    In short, 5 years ago entertainment producers and consumers were in a transitional period and the Sound of Music was able to take advantage of that. But a conventional movie musical can be made for 10-20 million–what does another $20mil to broadcast it live actually get you? Everyone is just going to wait 2 hours to stream On Demand.

    • #22
  23. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Virtuous Heathen: There may never again be a market for a 40 million dollar event show–regardless the subject.

    You’re off by a factor of x4. The Sound of Music came in at around $9M for NBC. Part of the allure is the live factor, just to see if they can pull it off seamlessly.

    But as our fearless leader is want to say, the numbers will never be what they once were. Except for event television. Everyone was all ga-ga over the Super Bowl numbers on Sunday. “Lowest Ratings in 10 Years!” screamed the headlines. Yeah, it was horrible. A bloodbath. CBS only did a 44.9 rating and a 68 share. Only.

    That translated to 98M on TV and and another 3M on streams.

    The streamers are emerging but still their strategy is still unproven. Netflix is a staggering $10B in debt and reaches less than 60% of the country. Their rivals are in better shape financially (Hulu is co-owned by three of the four broadcast nets and will be majority owned by Disney after the closing of the Fox Studios deal) but with less than half the audience.

    Honestly, I’ve been in the television business for 35 years and if anyone tells me they know exactly where the business is headed I’ll tell them they’re crazy. At this point no one simply knows. ATSC 3.0 has the capacity to completely tilt the field back to the broadcaster. Or it may not. But it’s gonna be an interesting ride.

    Addendum: Leading up to the sale it was reported Hulu is losing $1.5B per year.

    • #23
  24. Misthiocracy secretly Member
    Misthiocracy secretly
    @Misthiocracy

    Nobody doesn’t like Cats.

    • #24
  25. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Misthiocracy secretly: Nobody doesn’t like Cats.

    See, people. Legalize weed in Canada and this is the kind of comments you get.

    • #25
  26. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy secretly: Nobody doesn’t like Cats.

    See, people. Legalize weed in Canada and this is the kind of comments you get.

    Like a flower as the dawn is breaking

    the memory is fading.

    • #26
  27. lowtech redneck Coolidge
    lowtech redneck
    @lowtech redneck

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    Nobody doesn’t like Cats.

    Except for The Critic:

    • #27
  28. Virtuous Heathen Inactive
    Virtuous Heathen
    @heathen

    EJHill (View Comment):

    You’re off by a factor of x4. The Sound of Music came in at around $9M for NBC. Part of the allure is the live factor, just to see if they can pull it off seamlessly.

    Ok. Sure. I’m bad at math. But I stand by the remainder of my statement. I don’t believe “live” is or ever was an issue of seeing if its possible. Maybe for some. But live performances have literally been done for centuries. Television was predominantly live until videotape was invented in the late 50s. 

    If “can they do it” is the primary interest in live productions, consumers will quickly learn the answer is “yes, for decades” and the future of television is in even worse shape than I give it credit for.

    Promotions regarding live events are about a Fear Of Missing Out. Everyone is going to watch this one thing at this one time. And if you don’t see it at that time–you’re not part of the experience or you’re late to the discussion. Like watching a football game already lost. This is what live tv thrives on–News, Sports, SNL. Anyone can watch the gaffs or the highlight reels later. Watching live was about The Event. My point was simply that streaming has proven they can eventize a production without needing it to be live. And because its not live, who needs to be worried about FOMO?

    The streamers are emerging but still their strategy is still unproven. Netflix is a staggering $10B in debt and reaches less than 60% of the country. Their rivals are in better shape financially . . .

    There isn’t enough market space for every streaming service that currently exists plus those on the horizon and certainly the individual business models are yet to be proven. However, the future is streaming on demand. Netflix reported 57 million US subscribers. Thats more than cable contracts, which are in the 54 million range–and they did it much faster. Whether that looks more like bundled/multi-source content like Hulu or stand alone services like Netflix and HBO remains to be seen. But concerns that they are in debt or losing money are concerns for the individual companies, not the industry/technology as a whole. The industry is in a period of growth. The revenues are incredible. The loses come come investments–and they are investments. Converting capital into IP. Like any other industry, the companies that invest well will thrive and continue to exist. The one’s investing poorly will not. 

    • #28
  29. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD
    @DonTillman

    Percival (View Comment):

    I caught “Jesus Christ Superstar” when it was on. It was rather good.

    Oh yes, I agree, Jesus Christ Superstar was wonderful. 

    Especially Alice Cooper as King Herod.  It doesn’t get better than that.

    https://youtu.be/mk9JZYSmmdw

    Alice shares his insights here:

    • #29
  30. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Virtuous Heathen: Ok. Sure. I’m bad at math.

    Well, I’ll give you that. I have no idea where you got the number that Netflix has more subscribers than cable/satellite subs. Just last quarter Kagan Research Group put that number at 91M.

    As for Netflix acquiring IP, that remains to be seen as well. They are, indeed, seeking an ownership stake in the shows they commission but that is surely going to pique the interest in regulators worldwide, especially in areas where they are now in competition with government owned media. It most definitely violates the spirit of US v Paramount (334 U.S. 131 (1948)) here in the States. At least Disney can point to the fact that all of their theatrical releases are screened by independent movie chains, that their Disney Channel product is distributed by their direct competitors and that 60% of their ABC affiliates are not owned and operated.

     

    • #30

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