- Viewership for live TV musicals peaked with NBC’s “The Sound of Music” in 2013, with nearly 19 million viewers.
- None after that have come close in ratings, and the latest, Fox’s “Rent,” was the lowest-rated live TV musical yet.
- NBC canceled what was to be its next musical, “Hair,” this week in favour of finding alternatives that would appeal to a wider audience.
Live TV musicals have become an expected event at least once a year since NBC’s “The Sound of Music” in 2013, but none since then have captured the same magnitude of audience.
“The Sound of Music,” starring Carrie Underwood, remains the highest-rated live TV musical ever with nearly 19 million viewers. The viewership has fluctuated since then for each telecast, but none have been able to reach the heights of “The Sound of Music” – and it’s not even close. The second-highest-rated live TV musical, Fox’s “Grease” in 2016, reached 12 million viewers.
Live TV musicals hit rock bottom last month with Fox’s presentation of “Rent,” which was the lowest-rated one yet with 3.4 million viewers. The “live” musical hit a speed bump when cast member Brennin Hunt broke his foot just hours before the show began, forcing Fox to use some pre-taped segments throughout.
“Rent” still beat out its broadcast competition that night during all three hours of its run time. But live televised events have been declining in ratings in recent years across the board, and not even the Super Bowl is immune (Sunday’s big game hit an 11-year low in ratings). So for a network to commit, the musical has to appeal to a wide audience.
That’s why NBC announced this week that it’s cancelling what was to be its next live musical, “Hair.” It was scheduled to air on May 19, but the network pulled the plug in the wake of “Rent” bombing on Fox.
“Live musicals are a part of this network’s DNA and we are committed to continuing that tradition with the right show at the right time,” NBC Entertainment cochairmen Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks said in a joint statement on Monday (via The Hollywood Reporter). “Since these shows are such enormous undertakings, we need titles that have a wide appeal and we’re in the process of acquiring the rights to a couple of new shows that we’re really excited about.”
Sources told THR that the air date was also an issue, as NBC did not want to compete against the series finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” on May 19, as well as the season finale of ABC’s “American Idol.” But cancelling the show in favour of looking for alternative musicals shows that networks don’t want to take a chance on a ratings disaster, regardless of the air date.
The chart below compares the viewership numbers of nine live TV musicals, from “The Sound of Music” in 2013 to “Rent” this year:
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