Exhausted and exhilirated — that’s how “Sound of Music Live” exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron feel this morning on the heels of pulling off NBC’s three-hour live telecast of the beloved tuner.
The pair have a deep resume of producing everything from stage tuners to TV series and telepics to feature films to this year’s Oscar telecast (and next year’s too), but “The Sound of Music Live” was still a particular challenge. And yes the big turnout across the country for the three-hour telecast has them already cogitating on what’s next.
“It was one of the most profoundly complicated, amazing experiences we’ve ever had,” Zadan said.
Meron added that the ratings were a gratifying sign that America still loves a good musical.
“Musicals are always maligned for being popular,” Meron says. “The most gratifying thing about this whole experience is to deliver it live and have that impact in the heart of the country for people who can’t get to New York but really want to see these things.”
Zadan and Meron heaped appreciation on the project’s co-directors, Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy-Miller, for pulling off the tricky tango of working together on translating the musical to the small screen. Ashford “got the musical production on its feet,” Meron said, while McCarthy-Miller brought the vision of how to deliver it to America’s living rooms.
“Both of them worked very much in concert as a team to pull this off,” Meron said. “It’s quite a unique thing. It goes beyond what one person could actually do.”
The production was staged out of Grumman Studios in Bethpage, Long Island, a former airplane hangar converted to soundstage facilities. As Zadan, Meron and NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt sat together in a production truck Thursday night, they all noticed plenty of things that went awry, lines flubbed, sound problems from pesky microphones and lighting elements that didn’t quite come off.
“We saw a million things that went wrong with it. We were sitting there having a heart attack … but we finally said, ‘It’s live and you just have to accept that it as part of the excitement of doing it live.’ We just said ‘It is going to be what it is, it’s never going to be perfect,’ ” Zadan said.
The pair could not say enough about the support from Greenblatt (“nobody on the planet would have attempted this but Bob Greenblatt,” Zadan enthused) and the hard work of star Carrie Underwood.
“Her talent and bravery and passion to expand as an artist is what made this such a success,” Meron said.
Audra McDonald’s performance as the Rev. Mother belting out “Climb Every Mountain” drew instant praise online as the telecast unfolded. Zadan and Meron moved plenty of mountains to land her for the role, even though she had booked a concert tour that conflicted with rehearsals. The pair have worked with the stage vet several times in the past and knew she would help set the tone for the production. “She’s our good luck charm,” Meron said.
And even before the telecast was completed, buzz began to build for Ariane Rinehart, who shined in her role as Liesl (“That girl is such a star,” Meron assured).
After the telecast, cast and crew toasted their accomplishment at an afterparty on the studio lot. The thesps who played the nuns wrote a special song to salute Underwood’s perf, underscoring how close the actors came during the rehearsal process.
As the Nielsen numbers rolled in Friday morning, Zadan and Meron got a second wind to starting thinking seriously about the what’s next question — of course, they also have the March 2 Oscarcast with Ellen DeGeneres to produce first.
“We were sitting in the truck with Bob during the telecast last night and as each act went on we thought ‘Oh my god, it’s going well’ and we kept saying to him, ‘What’s next, what’s next year?’ He said ‘Calm down, wait til the ratings come out.’ This morning he emailed and said, ‘Get ready to get back to work.’ “