But a celeb emcee doesn't guarantee strong ratings

The selection of Sean Hayes to host the 2010 Tony Awards reps an attempt by the ceremony’s producers to drum up ratings with a high-profile performer — a concept that seemed to work last year.

The 2009 ceremony emceed by Neil Patrick Harris — like Hayes, a famous face from TV — pulled in the program’s highest numbers in three years, posting viewership of about 7.4 million.

But it’s a strategy that doesn’t always attract eyeballs to the traditionally ratings-challenged kudocast. In 2008, Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, a TV regular on “The View,” hosted a ceremony that played to an at-home crowd of 6.2 million viewers — about on par with low score of the 2007 edition.

And unlike Harris, whose stint in sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” is ongoing, Hayes’ best-known tube work, appearing as Jack on “Will and Grace,” ended with that show in 2006.

But the performer, currently toplining the Main Stem revival of tuner “Promises, Promises” (and nommed for a lead actor Tony), has nonetheless found himself in the pop culture spotlight recently after he was among the thesps singled out in the now-notorious Newsweek blog post in which writer Ramin Setoodeh posited that openly gay actors can’t convincingly play straight.

The hullabaloo caused by that article included an online response from Hayes’ “Promises” co-star Kristin Chenoweth and a very public repudiation from the creator of hot TV property “Glee” .

Of course, whether any of that will convince more people than usual to tune in to the Tonys remains to be seen.

Like last year, exec producers of the ceremony Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss seem likely to continue to boost the number of performance segments in an effort to step up the show’s entertainment quotient beyond the borders of Broadway’s home town. In the 2009 outing, a handful of numbers were included from productions that didn’t open during the season, but which were in the midst of cultivating a national profile in concurrent road incarnations.

The specific performance lineup of the 2010 edition of the Tonys remains to be nailed down. Airing live on CBS, ceremony is set for June 13 at Radio City Music Hall.

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