Monday, June 11, 2007

Broadway Tony Loses to Tony Soprano
and what the American Theatre Wing can do about it...

The Washington Post is reporting that this year's Tony Awards show (aired Sunday night, June 10) could be the least-watched Tony Awards ever. The American Theatre Wing (which co-produces the Tonys) blames The Sopranos finale over on HBO. I think it's because, for the majority of Americans, live theater (much less Broadway itself) is not relevant to their lives.

I propose that the awards be broadcast in an entirely different way, with grassroots support from those people across the world who are genuinely interested in the proceedings. The Tonys could take a lesson from Timothy Ferriss, who tells us on page 34 of his book The 4-Hour Work Week that we should "Emphasize Strengths, Don't Fix Weaknesses."

Broadway has a rabidly committed audience out there. The Tonys should stop playing to the general public.

Exactly how could they do this?

1. Broadcast the show in high definition not only nationwide, but to movie theaters in medium-large cities with active theater communities and to schools with good drama programs (as the Metropolitan Opera does now.)

2. Create "Throw Your Own Tony Awards" materials containing ideas (such as "gather people together and find a large-screen television to watch the show on") that will not only market the awards but show the fans that Broadway cares about their opinion (more on that below.) Include tips for everything - party theme, getting the best high definition signal, etc. Send it to anyone who wants it.

3. Hand out most of the awards before the curtain goes up on the actual ceremony itself.

4. Now for the big change: instead of mind-numbing presenter after presenter reading lists from cue cards, broadcast extended sections of the shows up for "Best Musical," as well as those with top actor/actress nominations. Give the audience background info in the toolkits. Let them know What The Story Is. The two musical excerpts I saw - from "Grey Gardens" and "Spring Awakening" - were energetic, but I can't tell you the most basic plot line for either of them.

5. Develop a new award category: America Votes for Tonys.

6. Allow the fans to vote, either by phone or online during the show, for their favorite musical (in each category) based on the scenes they've just seen (like on American Idol.)

7. Ignore the plays, at least for the telecast. In past shows, I've never seen an excerpt from a play work in generating my interest when shown on TV.

I'm sure the American Theatre Wing, home of the Tony Awards, struggles every year with making their awards telecast relevant to a national audience of non-theatergoers. But they're selling a product that most of us cannot purchase without committing a major amount of time and money to do so. In order to actually see a Broadway show, you have to reserve a hotel room (in advance, at least $250/night), travel to New York city (another outlay of at least $250), and purchase tickets (again, in advance, at around $100 per seat.) I've just spent over $500 and the orchestra hasn't even tuned up.

And while the American Theatre Wing may have data that shows an upturn in box office receipts for winning shows, have they ever tried to figure out if the awards telecast is responsible for developing interest in people who up until now have no interest in Broadway (or even just a little?)

I know they're trying to develop that interest. Last night's tag line was "There's a little bit of Broadway in everyone." But I didn't understand what they meant by that.

The show itself looked and felt just like any other awards show.

Support the audience that cares. Let them convert the masses.

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