Today, Michael Riedel reports in his column that CBS has made the decision to ax out of it’s telecast the awards for Best Costume Design, Best Set Design, Best Lighting Design, it’s not mentioned, but I’m assuming Best Sound Design; Best Choreography, Best Book of a Musical (poor Hunter Bell), and Best Revival of a Play.

Let me say that again to make it sink into your minds: The award for Best Revival of a Play will be cut from the Tony Award telecast.

Now, why would they decide to do that? Well, it’s to accommodate for performances from touring shows such as “Jersey Boys,” “Mamma Mia!,” and “Legally Blond.” There’s also supposed to be more performances from things that aren’t nominated for the award for Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, but none of it is actually confirmed.

Here’s something for you to chew on: according to the Broadway League, of the 43 shows that opened on Broadway in the 2008-2009 season, a majority of them were revivals of plays.

And here’s something else. “Equus,” which received attention due to its star, was a revival. “All My Sons” and “Speed-the-Plow,” which also received attention due to celebrities in the shows, were also revivals. The praised production of “The Seagull” was a revival. The play that the Obamas saw Saturday night is a revival.

The decision by Leslie Moonves to not air the giving out of the award for Best Revival of a Play is a decision to not recognize a major part of the past Broadway season.

And what for? To maybe get higher ratings for the telecast? Does anyone think that teenage girls who just saw “Legally Blond” at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts are going to go “Ooh, ‘Legally Blond’ is performing on the Tony Awards. I should watch that.”? I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Granted the decision to do things to possibly draw a larger audience than just the theater savvy is not new. Last year I remember seeing ads for the Tony Awards while watching coverage of the Iowa floods on my local CBS affiliate, KGAN. The ads emphasized a performance from “The Lion King”, “Rent” and the host, Whoopi Goldberg.

Thankfully, due to the flood coverage, KGAN cut in during the segment on the musicals not nominated. Which was good, because I really didn’t want to hear a number from “Young Frankenstein”.

I also remember reading a week later a piece by Charles Isherwood addressing various elements of the Tony Award broadcast last year that seem to be occurring this year.

Among the various interesting points made in that piece, such as the fact that the twelve awards not handed out during the telecast was the most number not handed out, is a discussion of the appearance of Julie Chen as a presenter. (I recommend you read the entire thing.)

He writes:

I also learned that she happens to be married to Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of CBS. It is hard to avoid concluding that Ms. Chen’s presence was primarily a way of currying favor with the man who can snap his fingers and exile the Tony Awards to the Siberian wasteland of PBS. But, really, would that be such a bad thing? The pleasure of the Tony Awards, for me and probably for most theater lovers (and, seriously, who else watches?) is a chance to see artists we admire rewarded for their work, to see them acting joyous, excited, flustered, grateful, maybe a little foolish — in short, human, divorced from the stage personality, without the mask of character to obscure them. The glow of that kind of happiness is always touching.[…] Stage actors, directors and designers — heck, even producers — earn a fraction of what their counterparts do in film and television (or what they themselves earn when working in those mediums), so it is rather cruel to deny them their moment of public acclaim in the fruitless hope that a more entertainment-oriented telecast will up the ratings.

There are two interesting things about that quote. One, it is very clear that Isherwood wields no power over the Tony telecast. Two, he makes the excellent point of whether or not more people are going to watch the Tony Awards if more stunts are pulled.

The answer to that seems to be no. The only people interested in the Tony Awards are those who love theater and those involved in theater in one way or another. I have several friends in theater who hold parties to watch the Tony Awards the night of the broadcast. I’m never invited, but that’s probably because I almost shot tea out of my nose when Raul Esparza didn’t win in 2007. I also mainly care about the plays.

But the Tony Awards aren’t going to draw new viewers by having musical numbers from musicals people are familiar with. If anything a decision such as the one in question may only alienate those that normally watch the Tony Awards.

For example, I’m rather repulsed by this decision because, as Riedel puts it, “Why call attention to the work of minor writers such as August Wilson (‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’), Alan Ayckbourn (‘The Norman Conquests’), Lee Hall (‘Billy Elliot’) and Samuel Beckett (‘Waiting for Godot’)?”

For those of you unfamiliar with sarcasm or who Wilson, Ayckbourn and Beckett are, they’re very major playwrights. “The Norman Conquests” is a trilogy of plays and the actors perform marathons of the three plays on certain days. That sounds like a walk in a park.

And thus the question comes, what has to be done to get the Tony Awards to be sent off to PBS, where we might finally get to see the entire thing? While the decision seems inevitable, I think that those who aren’t pleased with the decision should simply not watch the broadcast of the ceremony.

After all, you can find out the winners on the Tony Awards’ website, and isn’t the internet killing television as it is?


Broadway’s Not Stale, So Why Are the Tonys?” [New York Times]


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