The Playgoer: Tony Reax

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tony Reax

First for the quantitative:

The annual celebration of the Broadway theatre drew 7 million viewers and a 1.2 preliminary rating among adults 18-49, according to The rating is down eight percent from last year's broadcast.[...] says ABC won the ratings race for the evening with a total of 12.827 million viewers, followed by CBS with 7.470 million viewers, NBC with 3.590 million viewers and Fox with 3.390 million viewers.
Last season's awards ceremony was viewed by 7.45 million people, a 19 percent increase from the previous season.
(NB: Playbill qualifies all of the above as preliminary "fast affiliate ratings.")

For the record, ABC had the NBA finals.  But, yes, we did beat NBC!  At least for part of the night, according to the TVbythenumbers folks...
The 64th Annual Tony Awards managed to beat a repeat of Losing It With Jillian during the 9pm hour. It could only tie a repeat of Last Comic Standing at 10.
There's a "losing it" joke somewhere in there, but I'll leave it to you...

And check out the fluctuations, which clearly demonstrate dwindling interest over time and/or better viewing alternatives emerging later in the evening: 

The half-hour by half-hour ratings of the Tonys follow: 8-8:30 PM (1.2/4 rating with 7.590 million viewers), 8:30-9 PM (1.1/3 with 7.337 million viewers), 9-9:30 PM (1.1/3 rating with 7.193 million viewers), 9:30-10 PM (1.1/3 rating with 7.007 million viewers), 10- 10:30 PM (1.3/3 rating with 6.820 million viewers) and 10:30-11 PM (1.1/3 rating with 6.077 million viewers).
Maybe folks tune in for the opening number more than anything?

(The internal stats show the other main competitor aside from basketball was a 9:00 rerun of "Family Guy" on Fox.)

So, yes, the headline is: ratings are down.  Not that anyone expects the Tony broadcast to ever reach Oscar levels...but just in case you're curious, this year's Oscars drew 41.3 million viewers.  (The Grammys? A mere 26 mil.) Just a point of comparison...
But one has to wonder whether--as with all live televised events--how much are people today are watching on their Nielsen-wired cathode ray tubes and how many on their handhelds.  Or how many aren't "watching" at all but following updates on twitter and such.  (And, hm, perhaps some blogs...)  If ever an event were made for "narrowcasting" it was the Tonys.

Now onto substance.

No surprises, of course, in the actual winners.  And that in itself casts new light on the main question going into the event--would the elimination of critics and other press voters skew the awards more commercially.  I guess maybe "Fela!" would have beaten "Memphis" if critics voted (in the tradition of "Avenue Q" and "Spring Awakening" beating out bigger cash cows in the past).  But I'm not so sure.  Overall, I personally didn't sense an overwhelming shift in tone among the awarded.  The classy stars (Denzel, Zeta-Jones) won as always.  Local favorites like Katie Finneran still got their due.

Maybe the "critics bloc" was always a small one.  After all, what chance would they have stood against the phalanx of "Memphis" producers who mounted the stage for their award at the end of the night.  That must have been a good slice of the vote right there!

Some interesting critic reactions from David Cote, addressing Guardian readers across the pond on the ol' subject of that ol' transatlantic rivalry:
This time, it was the British who schooled Broadway. London's Menier Chocolate Factory and Donmar Warehouse loomed large over the night's festivities, netting 10 of 26 possible awards: six for the Donmar's Red; one for A Little Night Music (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and three for La Cage aux Folles, both of which originated at the Menier. Most of those were in the major categories: two for directors, two for leading actor and actress, and one each for best play and best revival of a musical.
But what do we really mean when we talk about British versus American work? Is Zeta-Jones's win for A Little Night Music a feather in the UK's cap? The film siren belongs as much to Hollywood as to Swansea. Hodge is a delight in La Cage, but surely its success has something to do with the local actors – including TV star Kelsey Grammer – who occupy the other dressing rooms? American producers become attached to English productions and then groom them for the Great White Way; that collaboration surely alters the chemistry.
Charles McNulty in the LA Times finds little to herald:
This year, let me reverse course and congratulate Tony voters for their dogged consistency. In a world that has become violently unpredictable, "Broadway's biggest night" never fails to live up to its staid reputation — so what if it poisons the creative well for the next decade.

Now it might seem commendable that the best musical Tony went to the winner for both best book and best original score (a category in which, depressingly, only two musicals were eligible this season, neither of them any good). But if these building blocks are so dear to the hearts of Tony traditionalists, you'd think the pooh-bahs among them would find a way to include these categories on the CBS telecast instead of relegating them to the "creative arts award" ghetto seen only on the Web.

Fat chance for a show that's so desperate to prevent viewers from clicking away that it fires a blitzkrieg of name-brand talent in the first 20 minutes, parachuting Green Day into a lineup of musical acts that went by like some kind of "Saturday Night Live" parody.[...] What demographic target Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and tightly preserved pin-up Raquel Welch were supposed to lure remains a mystery, but it looks like the publicity machine of Broadway doesn't yet know its indiscriminate strength.
Indeed I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering if the announced introduction of a "New York Jet" onto the stage was some West Side Story reference.

At least LA Times TV critic Robert Lloyd condescends to appreciate the freakshow for what it is:
Oh, Tony Awards, for the 64th time you have come and gone, still the least celebrated but always the most rewarding of the big awards shows — the liveliest, the classiest, the best-dressed, the least prone to embarrassing moments and long dull patches devoted to some Big Idea that doesn't work at all. (You are not glitch-free, especially when it comes to microphones, but that is quite in the spirit of your real-time art.) [...]

Oh, Broadway, with your dramas and your comedies and musical-comedies and musical dramas, though you are, to no small degree, a theme park operating in the vicinity of Times Square, you are also, in the public mind and in the words of the people who work there, a "community" where Hollywood is an industry, and I feel that through your Tony Awards.

Indeed, it is only through this annual broadcast of the Tony Awards, that some of us will ever know you, but that is part of the service you perform. (Winner Katie Finneran, movingly: "I want to talk to the kids at home watching. I was a kid and I watched this show and it seemed so far away from me…. With the world being so fast, I want to remind you to focus on what you love, because it is the greatest passport, it is the greatest road map to an extraordinarily blissful life.")

That I have seen none of your Tony-nominated productions does not impede my enjoyment of the television show that celebrates them. Possibly, it makes it more enjoyable, because I can take it as a series of discrete emotional moments, musical numbers and jokes, unfettered by liking or not liking a particular production. I am happy for everyone who wins.


Anonymous said...

Theater is local. New York theater may be less local than most, but it's still a local affair. I think more shocking is that so many people DO care.

Anonymous said...

A tv broadcast about theatre is much less interesting than a dance about architecture.