Would you watch Broadway reruns?

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a hotel sports bar in Minneapolis having my favorite meal of wings with a side of Coke.  My dining partner was a television that was actually in the booth with me.

A baseball game was on.

But there was something odd about the uniforms, the advertising in the stadium, and the facial hair of the players.

They were dated . . . by about a decade.

Since I didn’t remember taking a DeLoreon from the airport to the hotel, I knew there had to be a logical explanation.  There was.

I was watching a “rerun” of a baseball game from about 10 years ago.

Watching “classic” games, fights, matches, etc. has become a big thing.  ESPN spun off its own channel, called ESPN classic, to deal with the demand. And, of course, on top of generating revenue, the distributors of these games, fights, and matches are able to give their customers something to whet their appetites when they don’t have current programming to offer them (e.g. a baseball game during Christmas, or a heavyweight fight between heavyweight fights).

This is just an extension of what television shows have been doing for years, right?  Rather than deliver a new, fresh sitcom every week of the year, the networks do it 13-20 times and fill in the rest with reruns.

So why can we do that in the theater?  Why don’t we show re-runs?

PBS has been doing it.  But what about commercially?  What about a Broadway channel?  We’ve got radio stations that play Broadway all day long, thanks to Sirius or my favorite AccuRadio. What if there were a television version?

Where does the content come from?

That’s the tough part.

Lincoln Center has been shooting shows for its library for years. Could we figure out a way to license those properties for television?  Maybe we work out a deal where they are only shown X number of years after a show closes.  (How cool would it be to be channel surfing and stumble across the Broadway production of Chess?  Or Carnival?)

Has the cost of shooting a show gone down enough because of digital video to work this into a show’s budget?  Certainly the subsidiary rights value of a show would shoot up if it were on television around the world.

It’s a contracting nightmare, of course, because everyone is going to want a piece.  Frankly, all of our players are going to have to realize this is a long term, insurance of the industry play, not a get-cash-quick scheme.  And if major league sports teams can do it, I’m sure there’s a way to figure it out.

Because frankly, we have to start figuring it out.

Using video to help promote the theater is probably the most important “to-do” item we’ve got on our list.  It’s an essential part of marketing in the 21st century.

So we better get out of the 20th century.

Oh – and how many of you got the connection of the photo in this blog to the topic?  Hmmmmm?



(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Barbara Dignan says:

    Good golly, Miss Molly! I’ve been saying this for YEARS!! There’s a huge market for this! Do you have any idea how much I’d pay to see Robert Cuccioli in Jekyll &Hyde? Or Ian McKellen in Amadeus? Wake up, Broadway and smell the coff… Money!!

  • Emily says:

    There have been a number of musicals & plays that did air on television at one time. Every so often PBS will put one in it’s rotation. That’s how I saw Into the Woods for the first time when I was 13. I’d be happy if they could just put one musical or play made for television in rotation a week. You’d have to have major funding and the copyright from the owners of the video (I know that is tough to locate) to show them on television. An entire channel might be asking too much. Dreaming big is great & if you ask for it you just might get it – but I’m afraid it might end up being a premium channel and I’d hate for someone flipping through the channels to keep on thinking Broadway or theater is too expensive.

  • Amyleigh1982 says:

    It’s Rerun from ‘What’s Happening’. What’s my prize? 😉
    We already have the Ovation channel. How ’bout throwing some more filmed productions into the schedule, eh?

  • Emma K. Harr says:

    I completely support the idea of a Broadway channel. Not only for the immense entertainment/cultural value, but maybe for a tad bit of quality control–maybe the Broadway moochers who tune in to the poorly and illegally filmed internet versions of shows will switch to the TV…

  • Jay Clark says:

    Hey hey hey hey (Rerun). I agree with Ken.

  • Betzy says:

    I agree it is a great idea, but I also understand how unlikely it is to happen with the way the unions handle contracts and talent. Plus, as I always say, live theatre does not transfer well onto the small screen. However, it would be an insanely beneficial marketing tool and I wish I were smart enough to figure out how to make it happen.

  • Bunny says:

    I couldn’t get tickets to see Kelli O’Hara in South Pacific and I was SO happy to see it on PBS. DVDs of the musical numbers done on the Tony Awards show are uber popular. And look at how many views there are of some of those grainy Broadway YouTubes? We can buy DVDs of Easter Bonnet and Broadway Backwards… same people……….. somebody PLEASE figure it out.

  • Randi says:

    Totally support this idea. I would love, and pay for, the chance to see all the shows I never got to see on Broadway.

  • Joe K says:

    PBS has done this from time to time (read pledge drive). i really do not see how this can be a contracting nightmare as it would be no different then a movie release or a simulcast that is done live from lincoln center.
    I would love to see them.
    I have a theater sort of near me during the day will run an old classice movie in the theater. It would be wonderful to see these musicals and plays taped “live” with all thier beuty and faults at home or on the big screen

  • Jesse says:

    This is necessary! For those who live outside of New York, this is a way to spread musical theatre and ignite the passion of those who haven’t seen a high quality broadway show.
    As a teenager, I lived outside of New York City. When plays that I wanted to see closed before I got to the city, the only option was to try and hunt down a bootleg. This was not only illegal, but also expensive and low quality. I desired high quality PBS style recordings (all of which I would buy). Whenever I went to the city, I would sit for hours in the Lincoln Center Archives.
    Why stop the spread of theatre? This is a way to get people excited!

  • WillV921 says:

    I think this is a BRILLIANT idea. I would pay big bucks for a channel utilizing the Lincoln Center databases. Even if it was subscription based, I think it could have the potential to be wildly successful!

  • Lou Ann K. Behan says:

    Would running old shows on television cut into community theatre/regional theater revenues? How would the publishers feel about this? Would the writers be compensated as they are from royalties when the theaters do their shows?

  • Mac McCarthy says:

    Great idea, really great.
    Seeing a classic helps interest people in seeing live theater – and when they come to New York, they’ll be interested in seeing today’s version of a classic they saw on TV. (I always make it a point to see ‘Funny Thing/Forum’ any time it plays locally — I like seeing how each new generation of actors handles it…)
    The added revenue for Broadway will be exactly like the added revenue the movie industry gets from DVD sales – which can double a film’s revenues and make profitable what would have been unprofitable solely in movie theaters. This idea could generate huge bucks for Broadway — and the lure of those huge bucks should help bring everyone to the table to negotiate – even though greed will make those negotiations a huge headache. But once it gets hammered out for the first few plays — it will get easier thereafter.

  • Jan says:

    In a word: YES! Long overdue! (OK, 3 words)

  • Mac McCarthy says:

    I think running old shows will boost local theater — by generating interest, and especially for old favorites. (One-shot wonders might not do so well, but maybe they shouldn’t.)
    Compensation for the participants in the original should be worked out similarly to the way they do it in film for DVD — various participants get or don’t get a piece of the action, depending on their level (screenwriter yes, extras probably not) and their negotiating power (stars yes, but how much is negotiated).

  • Walt Frasier says:

    It seems that TV and Internet are the wave of the future. Liscensing deals with cable, Netflix, Amazon etc will bring huge financial benifits. I argue a number of high-quality yet ill fated shows would find their audiences, make back their investment and spur interest in local, college and touring productions. I do not know the numbers but I saw both of Will Farrell’s and Colin Quinn’s one man shows on HBO. Sure there are many fewer people to please but I am sure a deal can be made. Similar deals are made for CD releases. There is most likely more than enough footage to fill a cable network if you include West End productions etc.
    Another thought, with all of the complaints of Broadway stars getting shadowed by Hollywood box names, what better way to expose the world to our top NYC talent.
    My only fear is that we would see more junk like Reality Shows as Casting Agents. Looked how well it served Grease. OUCH!

  • jery says:

    Okay, forgive my outburst, but HELL YEAH! I would totally watch a Broadway rerun! It would give me an opportunity to see all the things I’ve missed, or wanted to see again but couldn’t.
    I don’t know about the East Coast, but in California’s Bay Area, Comcast offers a channel called Ovation. It’s main programing is mostly Fine Arts related, but it shows performances as well on occasion.

  • Mirirai says:

    It’s rerun from Fat albert right? …something like that. But alas, I would definitely watch the Broadway Classics channel “[I’d] feel so hip!” << get the reference 😉

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    I understand the financial arguement. But I also have a lot of trepidation about this idea.
    Let’s face it, theatre on video is, at best, about one tenth as effective as it is live. If the vast majority of people have their first experience of theatre on their TVs (and that is what would happen,) how many of them are likely to ever shell-out for the price of a ticket? Aren’t they likely to think: “Well, that’s not so much. Why should I pay for that?”
    I have seen many tapes of shows that I loved in the theatre, and thought: “What was I thinking? This sucks.” Theatre is, by definition, a live art-form, that does not translate well to tape.
    Don’t get me wrong. I think that EVERY production should be preserved on tape, for future generations, and to document the work of theatre artists that would otherwise vanish. I think it is criminal that this wasn’t started decades before it was. But I am very leery of anything that might lead the public to conclude that seeing a production on TV is in any way equivalent to the experience of live theatre.
    What I have never understood is why this country doesn’t have a nationwide chain of subscription theatres that continually tour productions from Broadway and every other producing venue in this country. That would lower costs dramatically, while guaranteeing a profitable run for every worthy show. The theatres are there. The technology exists as never before. All that is needed is someone with the capital and vision to get the ball rolling!

  • Ron Wood says:

    I watched Jerry Zaks’ production of THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES many, many years ago on PBS. (starring Swoosie Kurtz, John Mahoney, Christine Baranski) Unforgettable! Even back then I asked myself, “Why aren’t more Broadway and Off-Broadway productions filmed for a wider audience?” (Wish I could find a video/DVD copy of this PBS show.)
    I definitely agree that there’s a huge, untapped market out there for Theatre films/DVDs/networks.

  • While I do not own a television, so television broadcasts of plays would be lost on me, I would love being able to own more Broadway productions on DVD. I think this would translate especially well for musicals (ie I so hope somebody filmed American Idiot). I do not think that having this sort of access would dissuade people from attending the theater at all. If anything it would prime an audience to snap up tickets to touring productions.

  • John Thomas Oaks says:

    Amy Leigh is right. Rerun was on What’s Happening!!

  • Dani says:

    How fantastic would that be!! I would love to be able to see some of the great performances that were “before my time” or that I just missed for one reason or another over the years. There must be so many wonderful shows in the Lincoln Center library that would attract a huge extended audience if only allowed to see the light of day. There are many productions that they did allow to be filmed and shown and, eventually, sold on DVD. There are several available under the Broadway Theatre Archive label — although they may have been TV adaptations.
    I have no idea what the licensing and legal issues might be for something like this. But, beyond that, it seems like the pros may outweigh the cons. And there are definitely cons. As Paul said earlier, a taped version of a live performance certainly can’t capture the experience, and very often falls way short of showing off the production in its best light. Sometimes, the result is downright dreadful. I saw Harry Connick on Broadway last year and had the BEST time. Then I watched the televised PBS version. It was painful. Granted, they chopped it up for time and cut out all his cute and clever patter, but it practically ruined the memory of the live show for me and I certainly couldn’t recommend the televised version to anyone — especially if I wanted them to understand even a fraction of the joy I had at that show. I would hope that most other productions, if filmed, would be captured in their entirety. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the show live and had nothing with which to compare it, I would have thought it was okay. On the other hand, South Pacific and The Pee Wee Herman Show translated very well. Maybe you just need the right director to film it.
    On the plus side . . . not everyone lives in or near New York or can afford to (or even has the desire to) visit. Not everyone even lives in or near a city that gets touring shows. How wonderful it would be for people to have access to the next best thing to the live performance. And it would be a great research tool for small local theatres looking for properties to produce. If they can see a well-taped performance of a show, it may give them a better idea of how it will fly in their theatre. It may even open up a world of choices to them that they’d never thought of before.

  • Eva says:

    We may not have reruns on TV but we do have revivals.
    How many Hedda Gabblers,Gypsys,and Seagulls do we need in a lifetime.
    Sorry I couldn’t resist. Personally I’d love watching plays all day on TV. Now that soaps are gone why not bring back Playhouse 91. Don’t forget that Museum of Televison and Radio is chockablock full of old plays.

  • Southern Sky says:

    Great idea!!! I would especially love to see Rock of Ages with the original Broadway cast! …and Lend Me a Tenor with LaPaglia, Bartha, and Shalhoub!

  • Jackie says:

    I think it would be a great idea. Whenever I’m visiting the Lincoln Center Archives, I realize how incredible it would be to allow anyone to access the footage from the comfort of their own home.
    One of the major issues would be copyright stuff, but I think it would also help lower the amount of bootleg videos out there. “Why settle for a shaky, illegal recording when you can watch it as it was meant to be!”

  • Michael L. says:

    What made the HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES taping so effective was the multi-camera shoot — with a video director who knew the staging and impact of the play and when to go in for close-ups, medium shots, etc. If this kind of sophistication could be repeated for other shows, we’d have a potentially marketable product. Typically, in my experience, the archival footage at Lincoln Center was only shot for historical rather than general entertainment purposes (e.g., single camera shoots — for the older shows, anyway: I haven’t been to the archives in 20 years).

  • Mary Gannon says:

    Rerun I knew you well. But actually the little sister, Dee, who wisely foretold what fate might befall Dwayne and Rerun was my favorite character. Like a modern day Cassandra, no one listened to her, and guess what Mom did find out. Great idea. Educational, sparks interest in theater, allows for regional works to be shown, international plays from other countries. Let’s face it we don’t see everything that’s being done in London or Dublin. Maybe OWN (Oprah’s network) would consider it. Also shows on producing shows, behind the scenes, good example, OT Our Town, the documentary about the postive effect of producing Our Town on a school in California where jocks ruled.

  • WC says:

    I would definitely vote yes for Broadway reruns. It is the best way to ensure the longevity of the industry. Even with everyone’s social connections, it is hard to get your networks of friends, co-workers and family to get excited about something they have not seen. Seeing is believing! The legal paperwork would be pain. But, once the process gets started and becomes the norm, I believe it is highly doable.

  • Christine says:

    Cablevision had a Broadway channel a few years ago listing the current shows, with rehearsal footage, interviews & even a link to purchase tickets. It was a great way to generate business. I guess I was the only one who watched because it’s no longer available.

  • Barbara Beckley says:

    This is brilliant, Ken. And judging by the number of responses, a hot topic. Let’s hope you’ve started a movement!

  • Jovie says:

    Hey Ken,
    I actually told my friends years ago why there was not a theater channel. They laughed at me, but I still see it in my mind.
    Wouldn’t it be great to have a theater channel devote only to theater (kind of like what PBS does). We can call it the ATC American Theater Classics (like American Movie Classics). All shows will be taped and no shows will ever be broadcast while still on Broadway or off-Broadway. Once a show closes, then it can instantly be ready to show on ATC.
    I have been wanting to do something like this for years, and in fact, I even developed my own “pitch” for cable networks.
    I think it would be great to sit in a hotel and watch your favorite movie musical or play…
    Anyway, great idea. How can we make this happen???

  • Jayna says:

    And why not put the show at least on DVD? Is poke with producers of one show telling them there was definitely a market and it would increase sales and profit but they said making a video wouldn’t be cost effective. They already had it filmed as there were promo vids for it. There are people around the world as well as this country who can’t make a trip to Broadway and would pay for a video. What a promo for the play as well, like a catch 22. Not cost effective? Really?

  • Anna says:

    Theatrical shows have been televised in France for years.
    1/ Very few shows are good on TV. The “overplay” which is natural live to reach the audience seems totally fake when broadcasted.
    2/To film theatre is extremely difficult and requires lots of cameras to get the different angles and produce something that makes sense to watch on a small screen. Hence the choice to produce a feature film of the play rather than filming the play on stage (while expensive anyway).
    3/the audience is very small whether broadcasted on the main terrestrial networks or on cable channels and of course has the same demographics, if not older, than theatre itself.
    Now the upsights:
    – the right to capture and broadcast a show usually grants some money for production ufront.
    – the above licence is usually linked to a production partnership for the show, including spread of risks and communication for the show by the coproducing media.
    – the broadcast of a staged show has never proven taking audience away from the show, rather the contrary, specially in the case of touring the show.
    So, in short, if the risk is small and the money good, why not do it? Let’s just make sure that the shows get the better film producers to improve the outcome.

  • Steve Schaeffer says:

    From what I understand, the biggest problem with releasing videos of Broadway productions is that directors and choreographers (rightly) worry that their work will be copied across the country with no financial renumeration or credit. (It’s why you have to sign your name in blood if you try to see Michael Bennett’s work at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library.) Until this is worked out within licensing and royalty agreements, it will always be the exception rather than the rule to have shows on video widely seen.

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