Tag Archives: television

Peter Pan-ned.

Let me start out with a fact about myself: I LOVE musical theater. I grew up doing musicals in high school and college, and I listened to every cast album I had access to. One of my favorites? Cats. No judgement. Many television reviewers don’t seem to get musical theatre, which is fine because they are television reviewers. They are not fond of NBC’s recent attempts to bring musical theater to the masses.

There is a reason for that.

Peter Pan was bad.

I didn’t watch The Sound of Music last year because I am a huge fan of the 1965 movie, and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to watch it without over-judging it. Carrie Underwood is very talented, but Julie Andrews / Mary Martin she is not. Many of the complaints I heard, aside from the issue of Underwood not being a great actor, were issues that live theater always deals with. Things fall. Curtains don’t go up. People make mistakes. IT’S LIVE!

I was hopeful for Peter Pan  because I thought Christopher Walken was a good choice for Hook, and I hoped my son would enjoy it because he loves Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Well, the movie lost me a few minutes in. It was Sslllllloooooowwwww. There was very little energy, except among members of the ensemble, and they dubbed the tap dancing, which didn’t even match up with the dubbed sounds.

However, I think NBC’s intent is lovely. Broadway musicals are not accessible to many, either because of price or distance. When schools need to make budget cuts, arts programs almost always go first. Event programming is fun too! Gathering around the TV with the whole family to watch something really special is a nice way to spend the holiday season.

Here are my ideas for future NBC live musicals:

1. Pick a musical that is known, but not overdone.

Peter Pan has been done a million ways from Sunday. There is a Disney treatment (without the same music) and the Mary Martin / Sandy Duncan / Cathy Rigby versions, all of which were parts of every musical kids’ childhood. There are ample chances for disappointment. While The Sound of Music has just the one movie version in addition to the stage show, the film won the Oscar for Best Picture (1965), and is one of the highest grossing films in America.

NBC is planning to air The Music Man next year (while Fox is going to produce Grease, which will probably sound like Glee). YES. THIS is the type of show it should try. People know it, since most high schools put it on every few years, but it can be easily made into a vehicle for someone.

2. Really do it live.

Don’t pre-record things. Find a way to make the tap dancing (or Marian the Librarian foot stomping) heard live. Encourage an energetic performance.

3. Cast Broadway stars

There are loads of people right in NYC (where NBC broadcasts these musicals from) who are full of real energy and talent and very accustomed to performing live 8 times a week. I feel like the ensembles come from this core, but cast more of the leads this way, please. Peter Pan‘s Smee / Mr. Darling is an alum of Legally Blonde, and it was evident in his performance.

4. Start at 7pm

11pm is late for most people, especially school age children. I realize the show will have to be three hours with commercials (and most musicals are kinda long), but you need to meet your audience half way. DVR’s work, but NBC is going for a live event.

5. Give people a reason to watch aside from hate-watching.

To be honest, most people without children who are watching are doing so only so they can bash it the next day at the Keurig machine. I don’t have a solution to this yet, but there has to be a way to increase expectations.

6. Film it like a movie or a live event, not both.

In live theatre, everyone’s expressions are exaggerated and movements are different than in film because the audience is so much further away. With a live TV event, energy is there with the camera right in the actors’ faces. It’s awkward.

There is another problem that NBC can’t really get around. Many of the classic musicals that are family friendly are also seriously outdated. Many articles have already noted the changes to Peter Pan to be more sensitive to Native Americans, but the gender relations are pretty pathetic, and kinda weird considering you have a young woman playing a perpetually young boy. For some reason, many of the “classics” take place between 1890 and 1914. 4 of the 5 high school musicals I did were set in that time period, including The Music Man. More modern “family friendly” musicals are just adaptations of movies (ElfShrek). Musicals that are compelling to the 18 – 49 demographic are too heavy for primetime network TV (see: AssassinsUrinetown, Company). It’s a complicated programming issue that has no single solution.

I want to see NBC continue this live musical idea, but they need to work on some of the core issues that made Peter Pan weak. Bringing more traditional forms of the arts to television is an important public service, in a way, and I hope NBC doesn’t lose their nerve.


Saturday Night Live Lives.

Every season, a flurry of editorials and articles proclaim the season as the “end of Saturday Night Live,” and that the show has lost its edge. They say the current cast just isn’t “x cast from 19xx” and that the show’s ratings spell disaster and cancellation.

First, the success of Saturday Night Live is an anomaly in itself. No show has ever succeeded this long at 11:35 on Saturday nights. It’s main competitors? Sleep and da club. If people aren’t watching SNL, the odds are good they aren’t watching anything on television. Perhaps they are binge watching The West Wing, which is what I am doing as I write this. One must place the ratings in context as well. This past week, the show earned a 1.8 Nielsen rating.  The Big Bang Theory, the only comedy among the top-ten shows, earned a 9.1. However, during its final season, Seinfeld earned an average rating of 21.7. The diversification of programming makes it difficult to even compare apples to apples.

Second, one of the biggest criticisms is that “SNL was funnier when so-and-so was on.” Let us consider a few points. Comedy is subjective. We live in a world where Louis C.K., Jeff Dunham, and Jim Gaffigan are all very popular, but very different, comedians. Fans of Gilda Radner are not necessarily going to be fans of Cecily Strong (although I am big fans of both ladies). That aside, and its an important point that I beg you not to ignore, every sketch is not a success. For example, last weeks episode (40.3 with Bill Hader) had a pretty lame cold open (Bobby Monihan as an injured Kim Jong Un), but also featured some very funny sketches with Hader reprising old characters and the “YA Trailer” digital short.

SNL also doesn’t have to be constantly funny. Upon the passing of both Jan Hooks in 2014 and Phil Hartman in 1998, the program showed a sketched called “Love is a Dream.” It’s certainly not funny, but it’s beautiful. “La Dolce Gilda” is another piece of social commentary that features Radner in a Fellini-like film. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is a look at an aged Belushi (who would never reach such a state) thinking back on his friends’ lives. All are Tom Schiller sketches, but they point out the larger importance of the show. MadTV or In Living Color would never present sketches like that. SNL has the social capital to experiment and live to see another day. That’s why it’s not always funny. Repeat sketches are winners. The Bees, Wayne’s World, the Cheerleaders, and the host of Weekend Update “editorial commenters” will always bring a laugh. However, audiences don’t want repeats every week. We expect them to experiment, and when they get it wrong, correct it. Most recently, Leslie Jones was finally made a featured cast member after some very funny guest appearances. Producer Lorne Michaels seeks course correction.

The show is important to television and comedy on both a global and local level. Each season is a commentary on the goings-on in the world, perhaps a little time capsule. However, the show also illustrates the long-term impact of changing boundaries on television and in comedy. Without the training ground of SNL (which is the finishing school for sketch comics out of the Groundlings, Second City, and the UCB), we might not have Bill Murray (heaven forbid), Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It allows us to watch these performers and writers grow and evolve, and eventually, fly away from the nest.

Or, in a more concise way, next time someone tells you that SNL isn’t “funny anymore,” just roll your eyes and move on from their uninformed opinion.

– The Lady Americanist.

The Lady Americanist Talks Fall TV.

It’s that time of year again.  Flowers are blooming, barbecues are being fired up, and the networks are announcing their fall schedules.


NBC is of special interest to me because I am looking at the network as part of my dissertation, and the peacock is certainly providing me with a lot of talking points.  The most striking to critics and viewers alike is the demise of “Must See TV.”  Since the 1980s, Thursday nights on NBC have been dedicated to half-hour sitcoms.  Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, Cheers, The Cosby Show, Will and Grace, 30 Rock, The Office, Mad About You… the list is extensive.  It was clear last season that the block was in trouble.  30 Rock and The Office ended in early 2013, and Parks & Rec and Community could simply not support the block alone.  The freshman offerings last year were weak, and it really spelled disaster.  They were too goofy, too cliche, and too lowbrow for a night that previously been awash with highbrow references (George Constanza = Willy Loman), topical commentary (see 30 Rock‘s episode 4.18 “Khonani”), and story lines that have changed the cultural zeitgeist (Seinfeld‘s “The Bet”).  While I was raised on “Must See TV,” NBC simply isn’t making shows like those anymore and is wise to let the block go.  Finally, this is the first season since the 2011-2012 season where NBC didn’t have an Olympic games to rely on to launch programming.  They used the London Games to launch the 2012 – 2013 season, peppering previews of the new shows throughout the end of the games.  Sochi 2014 allowed for midseason replacements to get a decent springboard in the 2013 – 2014 season.  It was very clear that NBC leaned on the games, and they now have to wait until summer 2016 to have such an opportunity again.


Shonda Rhimes is clearly the darling of ABC, since they consolidated her dramas, including a new offering starring Grey’s alum Katherine Heigel, into one night.  Perhaps they are creating their own version of “Must See TV,” but for those who enjoy intriguing dramas and scandalous romance.  I’m sure Rhimes’ fans will enjoy having all of their shows in one place.  ABC also has a great night of comedy on Wednesday nights (although the omission of Suburgatory makes me a little sad).  Modern Family seldom makes a misstep, The Goldbergs is both funny and nostalgic, and The Middle is relatable on so many levels.  I see success for them on Wednesday and Thursday nights.


Normally moving a huge hit around on the schedule would be detrimental, but considering that The Big Bang Theory gets the highest ratings on TV, I’m sure it will be OK.  It may even lay some audience foundation for 2 Broke Girls (which I can’t believe is still on the air).  Thursdays will see the end of Two and a Half Men (finally), and Mike and Molly is scheduled to return midseason.  I guess when Melissa McCarthy is one of the stars of a show, you have to give her some flexibility.  They also have Thursday night football this season, so CBS should do just fine.


The most interesting developments at Fox include the reduction of American Idol, the “rolling” pilot concept, and the end of Animation Domination on Sundays.  Starting with the latter, the Sunday night programming will begin at 7:30 with Bob’s Burgers, which is one of my favorite shows.  It has the humor we have come to expect on Fox (a little edgier), but the characters are some of the most lovable on TV.  They are using the other animated comedies (Simpsons and Family Guy) to help support critical darling Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the new Mulaney (starring former SNL writer John Mulaney and comedy vet Martin Short).  With American Idol, I’m hoping this is the beginning of the end for these “talent” reality shows.  Yes, Idol gave us Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and Carrie Underwood, who are all incredibly talented women, but the formula is just too played out.  There are versions on multiple channels, and I am simply tired of it.  Finally, the network has done away with a pilot season in order to just order shows as they see fit.  I think this model could work.  Rather than a mad rush to order shows and scripts, they can have a more civilized discussion about each show and evaluate the needs of the network as they emerge.  Head of entertainment Kevin Reilly might just be on to something.

As a concluding thought, while the schedule has a lot of new-ish programming to offer, it also has quite a few “long running” series.  It used to be exceptional for a show to run for 9, 10, or 11 seasons.  MASH, Cheers, Frasier, & Friends were wildly popular for their entire runs.  Kelsey Grammer played Frasier Crane for 20 seasons!  However, a lot of middle-of-the-road shows stay on for these sorts of runs.  Bones is entering season 10, The Simpsons is entering season 26, Family Guy has been running off and on since 1999, but steadily since 2005.  What does that say about TV today?  Well, that’s for another post.

– The Lady Americanist.