Reality TV explores backstage drama
Now that “The Glee Project” has wrapped its latest season and NBC skein “Smash” is holding off on its return till 2013, where’s a legit-minded tube-watcher to turn?They can try PBS, where the reality series “Broadway or Bust” is the latest mark of TV’s increasing interest in exploring the backstage drama of theater. There’s also a basic cable series in development that is on the lookout for theater troupes that will compete for the resources to stage a New York production. In its three-episode run, which launches Sept. 9, “Broadway or Bust” follows the 60 kids from around the country who competed this year for the National High School Musical Theater Awards — otherwise known as the Jimmy Awards, named after venerable Main Stem theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander — in Gotham. Laurie Donnelly, the exec producer of lifestyle programming at WGBH Boston, which produces the show with Lance K. Shultz, initially cottoned to the idea when she attended the final competition performance of the Jimmys in a prior year. “I was moved to tears,” she says. “I thought, this has the makings of a powerful TV series.” The skein, mostly filmed over a week in June during which the student performers prepped for the program’s final showcase, aims to offer a look at the wide array of voices and talents in the running for the awards, with backstories including one student thesp who had once been homeless and another whose bully-magnet life was transformed when he transferred to an arts school. While “Broadway or Bust” only runs three episodes this fall, that might not be the end of it. Donnelly notes that PBS has gotten behind the show, adding, “I feel the potential is there to make this an ongoing series.” Meanwhile, casting director Vinnie Potestivo of VPE is at work on finding potential stars for a series set to air on a to-be-announced basic cable net, called “Make My Musical.” Potestivo finds himself faced with the unorthodox challenge of seeking out pre-existing theater troupes of between five and eight people of all age ranges. Although some competition elements will be present, the TV show will ultimately follow one company as it puts together a production in New York with the help of Rialto talent and experts. “The perspective of the series is really centered on the process of putting on a show,” Potestivo says. “There’s a way to let audiences in on the creative process that’s not as cutthroat as the first 10 episodes of ‘American Idol.’ And there’s a really interesting stamina element, in that these actors will be balancing paying the bills and honing their craft, going over lines on a lunch break in the back room of the Gap.” Although a lot of specifics for the series remain to be ironed out, the timeline, according to Potestivo, would see the show go into production in November. Both “Broadway or Bust” and “Make My Musical” follow the lead of shows like “Smash” and “The Glee Project,” mining backstage pressures for onscreen drama. “A bad dress rehearsal makes for a great show for us,” Potestivo says.