Over the past few months, almost every major network as announced plans for a live musical broadcast. ABC will air The Little Mermaid in October, A Christmas Story can be seen on Fox in December, followed by Rent, which was just recently announced. Also in December, NBC will broadcast Bye, Bye, Birdie!, followed by Jesus Christ Superstar next Easter. So what launched this popularity of the live musical and how long will it last?
Well, it all began in 2013 with the airing of NBC’s The Sound of Music starring country superstar, Carrie Underwood. The broadcast pulled in nearly 22 million viewers, which was a Thursday network high since the Friends finale in 2004 (over 54 million viewers). While the other four live musicals haven’t rated quite as high, they still pull in a substantial audience. So what makes these programs different from regularly broadcasted television?
Well for one, it is live. So many shows can now be streamed on demand and therefore, networks are seeing a drop in ratings. But just like the live finale of a favorite reality show, the musical broadcasts draw in an audience at the time of the event. Viewers are interested in seeing what happens without the luxury of retakes and recorded audio. And who wants to open Facebook or Twitter to undoubtedly read spoilers from five hundred of their closest friends?
For fans of musical theatre, these live broadcasts are a close second to seeing the real thing. Not everyone can shell out 150+ dollars for a theatre ticket starring some of their favorite singers. Now they can watch a professional production from the comfort of their living room. And what a great way to introduce musical theatre to those who are not normally exposed to the art. Not only that, these networks and creative teams are providing 2-3 hours of free family entertainment, a welcomed timeout from our busy schedules.
How long will it last? Hard to say. But from this musical theatre performer and fan, I hope to see many more of these productions. My only suggestion is to somehow add a live audience to these performances. While Grease Live and Hairspray Live did have an interactive audience at certain points, many of the lines and jokes are written to play off the reactions of the viewers. Either way, I look forward to the upcoming “season” of the live musical.