The Playgoer: Memo to CBS: Cancel the Tonys

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Memo to CBS: Cancel the Tonys

Last night proved an all too obvious point. There is no reason outside of either blind fandom or cruel schadenfreude to allow the Tony Awards to continue to be broadcast on national television.

If the theatre itself is a perpetual "invalid", what do you call a slapdash TV special so shoddily produced that it seems the charity case of an already dinosaur broadcast network. From the opening sound gaffes that muted Elton John (not necessarily a bad thing, I know) it seemed like CBS hardly even cares anymore. By the time "Rock of Ages" aged-rocker Brett Michaels was literally crushed by the very word "Broadway" emblazoned on a rapidly falling drop, such living metaphors were quite unnecessary.

(And who can forget those timeless words from Guys and Dolls shouted by that nefarious Runyonesque character I like to call Handheld Mike: "Wait, am I going on? Am I going on? I'm going on!" Actually sounds more like Beckett, come to think of it.)

How the CBS and ceremony producers managed to string an evening of nothing out to over three hours-- even with cutting those mere "Creative Arts" awards of design, choreography, and libretto--amazes me. At this point, when any charade of "celebrating theatrical excellence" has been thoroughly exposed, why bother? Why not just air a merciful 90-minute "highlight reel" Call it "Best of Broadway" or something.

This is clearly where the broadcast is heading, as indicated by ample air time devoted to road company performances of excerpts from shows from two or three seasons ago. So just drop the pretense already of celebrating this particular season. Broadway's only interest in a telecast is selling tickets to what's on Broadway now. (And what's out on the road now.)

I suppose we should be grateful that the sheer mention of dramatic play titles were allowed, and that they didn't cut away from any nonsinging actor's speech (who wasn't Angela Lansbury that is) for a commercial. But as glad as I am for the exposure given, say, Roger Robinson, how much of an impression could he have even made on a national tv audience without any explanation of who he is and what the hell he did to get that award? (Even the Oscars show "Oscar clips.) Yes, they showed clips of each nominated play. But they were literally 5 seconds, and poorly edited and framed excerpts from pre-shot publicity video. (The God of Carnage clip, inexplicably left Gandolfini completely out of frame, for instance.)

So I say enough with your pitying half-gestures, CBS. Put the Tonys out of their misery. And give the Broadway League a pure unadulterated informercial like they want.

And if this happened, you'd see that without television coverage, the Broadway community's actual commitment to any celebration of excellence would shrivel up and die.


Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree. I'm a theater fan and thought that (while there were lots of mishaps, and the abominable legally blonde performance) the Tonys were as entertaining as they've been in a long time. I thought Neil was a great host and the show moved swiftly. I was entertained--but maybe my expectations were a lot lower than yours! (frankly the quasi-beheading mishap was wildly entertaining too)

Heather said...

Yes, there were issues but that's the fun of live theatre. For some of us who can't afford to enjoy the Broadway season, the Tonys are our only peek into what's out there.

Tom Shea said...

Sound problems aside, the issue seemed to be mainly the dichotomy of the actors performing for the camera (Aaron Tveit in Next to normal, say) or for the room (Alice Ripley in Next to Normal, holy cow, stop that). Which, given that it's Radio City Motherfucking Music Hall, is like comparing a hot dog to Hercules. But I was more disappointed with the product. Legally Blonde was seriously the best-presented piece on the whole show( Hair was pretty good, too.)--concise, cleverly fit into camera frame, and well-suited to the "fore" stage and "aft" stage thing.

jeff said...

Good rant, but I thought it was the best Tonys telecast in years. The gaffes only made it more, well, theatre-like.

Anonymous said...

Ratings up from last year!

Still, I wonder if all the osteoporosis drug ads are telling me something.

[hits ENTER button, breaks finger]