Now that “The Sound of Music Live!” has scaled the Nielsen mountaintop, it seems inevitable we’re going to be seeing more live musicals, just as the 1990s version of “Cinderella” starring Brandy spawned copycats.
But before network programmers start digging through their drawers, there are several factors to consider that might both help replicate NBC’s success and make future productions a little more fully realized than “Sound of Music” could manage, its success notwithstanding:
1. Being kid-friendly is a good idea. Not only did “Sound of Music” bring in a family audience, but it doubtless played better with those who had nothing with which to compare it. And if you’re going to undertake these sort of gambles, providing the widest possible target makes sense — and as a bonus, can introduce kids to the concept of musical theatre that isn’t animated.
2. Stunt casting really isn’t necessary. Stars always help, particularly from a promotional standpoint, and there’s no doubt people watched in part to see how Carrie Underwood handled the role. But with the right projects — “Peter Pan” comes to mind — the producers needn’t pander with “American Idol”-type choices in order to garner attention.
3. Expect diminishing returns. They call them “events” for a reason; they’re rare. And since nobody had tried something like this for a while, it felt special. If two or three more pop up in relatively short order, the laws of gravity suggest they won’t all yield boffo ratings.
4. Think outside the box. Sure, everyone will be looking at the classics, but there are plenty of other options — including, if I’m Disney/ABC, one of the studio’s stage musicals.
5. Scheduling matters. NBC wisely scheduled “The Sound of Music” for early December, offering holiday marketing opportunities while fostering an “If this works, great; if not, no harm done” mentality. The temptation might be to throw the next one on in a more highly trafficked viewing period, which reduces the chances of scoring another breakout number.
6. Live means “live.” NBC got away with it, but airing the program live on the East Coast and delayed on the West Coast seems like a mistake. In this day and age — where social media has eradicated timezones, and award shows are carried live simultaneously — it seems like everyone should have a chance to share in the live experience. If someone throws up on stage, I want to see it, not read about it on Twitter.
7. Don’t forget pay cable. While family-friendly fare might work best for broadcasters, premium outlets can look at narrower and darker productions. The modern version of “Cabaret” for HBO? “Rent” for Showtime? Plus, a premium environment would offer a true theatrical experience, without those five-minute commercial-pod breaks.
8. Think shelf life. Yes, the telecast is live, but as all those “Buy the DVD” promos made clear, ancillary sales are a big part of financing these sort of endeavors. So think about something that people might actually want to watch — and a soundtrack they might want to buy — 15 minutes after it’s over.
9. No, they don’t have to sing, but…. There have been other live productions — including CBS’ fine telecast of “Fail Safe,” featuring George Clooney, in 2000 — and the chance to do live theatre in a TV setting should be a draw to talent. That said, the musical format does offer additional opportunities, and let’s face it, since that’s what just worked, it’s what executives are most likely to copy in the short term.
10. Whatever you do, do not bring back “Smash.”