Guess which genre of source material hasn’t been adapted for the Broadway stage.

Bunches of books have been made into Broadway shows, from Phantom, to Tale of Two Cities, to Ragtime.

And, as is more and more the case, lots of movies have made the leap as well, from Billy Elliot, to Big, to Kinky Boots.

We’ve even had albums morph into musicals, like Tommy, and as well as the catalogs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys), ABBA (Mamma Mia), and many more.

Lastly, we’ve also had a ton of TV shows make it to the stage, like . . . er . . . uh . . . you know like . . . hmmmmm.

Books, movies, music, even a poem (Cats) . . . but how many TV shows have become Broadway musicals?

Seriously.  How many?

Can you find any?

We didn’t.

Ok, there’s the recent Addams Family . . . but the creators went out of their way (and rightly so) to state that they were using the original Charles Addams cartoons as their source material.  The brand of the TV show was just a bonus.

Any others?

I know about the Happy Days musical that’s played the regionals and a few tour stops.  And there’s a Lucy that’s been making the rounds.  Jerry Springer The Opera went up in London.  But like all the others, it never made it here to Broadway.  (Most recently, The Honeymooners was all set to make its pre-Broadway debut this fall at The Old Globe, but backed out at the last second).

So what is it?  Why don’t TV shows make strong source materials for Broadway musicals?

Is it because their story is told over seasons instead of a more finite arc?  Or conversely, is it because their plots are generally resolved in a 30 or 60 minute quick, simply structured wrap up?  Is it because they are generally conceived as “lighter” fare and musicals require a heavier theme?  Or frankly, is it just because we haven’t gotten around to them yet and the next decade will bring an onslaught?

Whatever the answer, the Dragnet-style “just the facts” are that TV shows don’t make successful Broadway musicals.  In fact, they just don’t make Broadway musicals period.  That seems to be the rule.

Of course, that’s the rule until someone breaks it.  And I look forward to writing that blog.

You have an idea as to why there hasn’t been more Broadway musicals based on TV shows?  Or do you have an idea for one?

 

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Comments
  • Iris says:

    It has been suggested, I think it’s a fun idea, to make a Pushing Daisies Musical. The quirky story, the fact that she show got canceled way to early and fans long for some sort of sequel/proper ending and the theater-experienced and even musically talented cast (understatement of the year), a Pushing Daisies Musical might actually work.

  • Donald says:

    In the world of children’s entertainment, there have been wildly successful touring programs based on TV shows: Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, Scooby, Sponge Bob, etc. So, the question is why them and not adult programs. I would contend that adults would likely want the original stars and live theatre, repeated nightly, is not what these stars want to do.

  • Kevin Morales says:

    Some factor must be the structure of television is too develope a story engine that can work over and over again for more than a hundred episodes. That same story engine used to make a two hour musical may seem trite. I’m pretty sure Glee could be and will be adapted into a stage show at some point in the future. When it’s audience has reached the age of the most popular theater goin demographic.
    Musicals of shows that would probably rake in cash from the Baby Boomers would be Cheers, Murphey Brown, and LA Law. Intimate family shows would be harder to pull off without some serious changes. Plus, how can one do say, The Cosby Show without Bill?

  • Bert says:

    I think there’s lots of material to mine from television. Lots! It will take one successful TV to Broadway transfer and then we’ll get more. Recently, my composer partner and I created a new musical that was inspired by A. Charlies Angels and B. Batman (the TV series). It is called “Glam Kitty Squad” and had a successful run in Connecticut. The show will soon be available through Steelespring!

  • Mark Briner says:

    I think the answer is similar to the reason sequel musicals never work. A musical is such a larger than life way to dramatize something that that the story of a musical has to depict by nature the most important event of a character’s history. Sequels don’t work because now you’re dealing with by default the second most important event. Great TV shows don’t generally deal with a singular story arc. They have a strong concept that can adapt to tell hundreds of different stories, each theoretically as important as the week before’s. In other words, they don’t generally have a single, determined story arc and closure, but instead dramatize a series of events that, like life, is constantly adapting and never ending. To adapt on to a musical would in ways cheat the spirit of the entire concept of the show and trivialize it to one facet of its experience.

  • W. Squier says:

    Television dramas that have self-contained story arcs might be candidates. I once toyed with the idea of adapting an episode of thirtysomething that chronicled the beginning and end of the characters’ ad agency because it had a “beginning” and an “end” and a middle that could accommodate material drawn from other episodes.

  • Jared says:

    I think you answered your own question, Ken. There are two types of TV shows: serialized and episodic. The heavily serialized shows have way too much material to squeeze into a two-and-a-half hour musical. The episodic ones are concepts that are difficult to expand into an entire evening.

    I also think there may be something said for trying to replace TV actors with stage counterparts. It’s hard enough to find stage actors to play iconic movie roles; can you imagine being the actor how has to make audiences forget Lucille Ball in an “I Love Lucy” musical, or Jon Hamm in a “Mad Men” adaptation?

  • Tom says:

    Gilligan’s Island- the musical
    http://www.gilligansislandthemusical.com/

    Golden Girls the unofficial musical
    http://www.goldengirlsthemusical.com/about

  • David says:

    I wrote “Bewitched, The Musical” with 2 collaborators which played in Chicago from 1992-1993. The show was a sold-out smash because it happened around the time of other TV show-based shows like “The Real Live Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island”. The great part was that it appealed to all ages: fans who remembered the show, families, kids, gays, because if you were a kid you could watch it on one level and if you were an adult, so much of the show took on a whole new meaning. And it wasn’t a spoof – it was a loving tribute to the show. The problem was when I tried to bring it to NYC there was lots of interest but ultimately everyone backed out. I have no idea why that was, considering the success of the show and tunes that you left the theatre humming. I’d be curious to know what other people think.

  • Kile Ozier says:

    another untapped source…video games! 😉 Lara Croft, Resident Evil, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, World of Warcraft, LOL…Pacman, the Musical!

  • RL Campbell says:

    I would love to adapt The Beverly Hillbillies for the stage.

  • I have an idea I have been kicking around for awhile to turn two specific episodes (molded into one story) of a long-running tv show into a musical, but I may just hold my tongue on that until I can get the rights. The show is still on television, and has been for double-digit years.

    I wonder if one of the issues for many could be the difficulty of making a succinct two-hour presentation about a property with such a vast span.

    I also have the outline worked out for an old 80’s sitcom turned musical, but it sits on my shelf until I am ready for a new project.

    Maybe other musical authors/songwriters have a few in the hatch as well, potentially proving the possible coming onslaught you theorize.

  • Kerry Zukus says:

    I wrote a Honeymooners musical a number of years ago, which attracted a lot of positive attention but we could never get the rights. This, essentially, is the problem. The networks simply don’t “get” Broadway. They are used to Hollywood, where they get a million dollars up front for film rights, and as you know, Broadway doesn’t work that way.

    That being said, I could write a thesis (and I have) on why episodic TV would be PERFECT for the musical stage. Unlike books and movies, you are not locked into one particular story that many audience members are already familiar (theatre is not much fun when you know exactly what’s going to happen next).

    You have beloved characters that audiences are already drawn to, and by using these characters, you have a plethora of new stories you can tell, so long as they are germane to the original concept.

    In this way, TV to Broadway is much like comic strips to Broadway (Annie, Spider Man, Lil Abner, It’s a Bird; It’s a Plane, etc …). The supply is endless as well as the possibilities.

    Ken, if you’re game, so am I!!

  • Joe Laub says:

    Hi, Ken,

    As always, your blog is great! My take on why more TV shows are not on Broadway might be because if the stars of the TV show are not in the Broadway version, most people might identify with the TV stars and not with the Broadway counterparts. It would be tough to do a Honeymooners show without Jackie Gleason, although, Richard Kind would probably be great at it.

    As always, just my thoughts!

    Joe

  • Ed from CT says:

    I know “Little House on the Prairie” didn’t make it to Broadway but it did record business at the Paper Mill Playhouse and sold millions worth of tickets on tour.
    They may have chosen the smarter path for that show by not going to Broadway but it was still a very big success.
    I saw “Happy Days,” which you mentioned, at Goodspeed. (Looong development period for that show.) We took our kids, who liked it a lot. That was also a show that did pretty well touring and did not need to go to Broadway. And the Jerry Springer opera did big business in London.
    There may come a time when a TV show does appear on Broadway. Curious which will try it first- though you might be able to say “Frost/Nixon” kind of did it. Almost. I know it was adapted from the movie- but the movie was adapted from the TV interviews. So that is at least close.
    Maybe “Downton Abbey”?

  • George Rady says:

    Maybe for the same reason that “Glee” and “Smash” didn’t really hook in a large TV audience… different aesthetics, different expectations.

    But I think the “Too Short” vs “Too Long” description hits the mark. One might be tempted to think that the episodic nature of story telling might lead one to insert a “song” instead of “soap” but the five (eight?) minute Cliff Hanger is really just a good excuse to grab a snack and get back to the story… the Song is suppose to move the story along… build, intensify, deepen the story, not just “tag” it.

    And, as for successful series, it’s really about spinning plates… keeping the story going as long as possible – not toward any conclusion – but just to keep the audience engaged with as many storylines as possible (before it becomes a mess) to hits as many “audience points” as possible.

    IMHO – a good musical (like opera) must SIMPLIFY the story (to the point where most people don’t really care about the story (like opera) so long as they know it… because the enphasis is on how the MUSIC and SINGERS will bring New Life to a work that everyone (thoght) they knew…

    And – if they are lucky – the songs a GOOD! Making the Musical it’s own thing… “Hairspray” Musical vs Movie comes to mind – two completely separate works and easily enjoyed as such!

    g

  • George Rady says:

    That said, I would have like the see “The Partridge Family” as a Musical… but ONLY with Shirley Jones, David Cassidy and Danny Bonoducci (well, maybe we could recast him) and a bevy of teeney boppers chasing the Family on Tour… as the band breaks up over the inter-scene squables that plague every family… but they all come together… for a Grand Finale!

  • Werner says:

    I had always thought about two television shows that could be taken to the stage. I might be aging myself here, but “Quantum Leap” would make an excellent broadway show. Go watch it on Hulu. It could be molded into various story lines. The costume changes alone could be fun. The same goes for an old time traveler show called the “The Voyagers”. Both seem to have endless possibilities and could be great. Hope this sparks something for you, Ken; just let me audition though………..:)

    • Damon says:

      It’s very funny you should mention Quantum Leap because my girlfriend and I came up with an outline for a great idea I have to bring it back. She sent me the link to this article to show me that we’re not the only ones that have thought about bringing a popular TV series to the stage. What would make Quantum Leap ideal is the fact that Scott Bakula actually does musical theatre, and if he and Dean Stockwell were to get on board even for a limited run, the fans would come out in droves!

  • Rich says:

    I think you need to insert a twist to make this concept viable. On the minus side of the equation, the multitude of situational plots successful TV shows generate over their lifetime runs bring into question what Broadway could bring to its two-hour table that would seem new & compelling. However, many TV show characters generate an enduring quality perceived by viewers over lengthy runs and thus become “sticky” to viewers who would love to see them again. So, provide the TV characters with a new ‘Broadway’ context, while maintaining their tv personas. For example: a musical comedy version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, with all the regular characters plus a few zombies thrown in for good measure. What’s not to like?

  • L Krenicki says:

    I agree with Jared. Characters become synonymous with the actor playing the role on television. It is too hard for an audience to ‘buy-in’ when the original actor isn’t in the role.

    The only genre you could plausibly consider would be a soap opera, as the audience is okay with changing actors for characters, but who would want that on Broadway? It would have to be a spoof….

  • Bunny says:

    There’s a big space issue. Not many TV shows are set in a single space (like Honeymooners or Cheers) but shoot in and outdoors with a variety of perspectives. Moviemakers have always delighted in breaking stage shows out (West Side Story, Chicago, My Fair Lady… pick your favorite) but it’s hard when those characters from your very own living room were running on the beach in Hawaii or dodging exploding cars… The scale is tough. Now Star Trek as camp or L.A. Law as melodrama… A girl can dream.

  • Rebecca S says:

    I’m going to say the same thing I said when you posted about using children’s stories as inspiration for musicals. It’s what I call the “star wars” theory. Essentially, there is a reason why Star Wars works as movies, because it was originally conceived as such. You point out why TV shows might not have a format that adapts well to musicalization, so maybe it isn’t worth trying! Instead, conceive an original idea that works best as a musical, define the media alongside the concept. Function follows Form. So let’s see some ORIGINAL work making it to Broadway instead of some attempts to fit something else into a mold it wasn’t conceived to fit.

  • Andrew Beck says:

    I suspect that a non-serialized comedy show would fare better as a musical, particularly some slightly far out that would lend itself to the conventions of the musical. To that end I would agree with a previous poster that “Gilligan’s Island” could make a potential show, as would, in my opinion, “Get Smart” or “I Dream of Jeannie” which could be written to be funny enough without worrying about becoming parody. I can’t quite envision shows like “All in the Family” or “Maude” or “Mary Tyler Moore” or “Seinfeld” or “Will and Grace” or either of the Newharts or “New Girl” working. Despite a musical episode now being de riguer at some point in every show’s run.

  • eva says:

    A few years ago at the Fringe they had a Brady vs. Partridge family musical with I think a Shakespearean bent only because I think a Lot of the characters died. It was pretty outrageous and funny. I think it might work if you take an iconic TV Character and make a separate musical
    about Lucy or Mary or Jack Bauer even.Very interesting point you made Ken

  • Elwood says:

    We recently adapted an old Twilight Zone episode into a musical. Took us years and it was very good, but in the end, we couldn’t get the rights.

  • Tanya says:

    We had Bad Girls The Musical in London a few years ago, which worked quite well. It was based solely around the first season and took elements from across several episodes to develop a new plot but one that had everyone’s favourite characters in. A couple of the cast from the tv show were in it, and I think it also helped that being set in a sole location (prison) made it more easily adaptable.

    Also, tv characters tend to be very realistic whilst on stage, especially in musicals, everyone has to be somewhat larger than life and the characters in Bad Girls were already extreme examples of people. For that reason, I agree that Pushing Daisies would work and I also think that Desperate Housewives might be in with a chance as well. As it has been mentioned, changing a source material’s medium won’t necessarily work because that’s not what the writers had in mind, so (although I am also fed up of adaptations and wish we could just get some good new original writing) you’d have to choose tv shows with a heightened sense of reality.

    Personally, I’m still waiting for the Buffy musical Once More With Feeling to be developed!

  • Matt Bell says:

    Hey Ken,

    I just wrote an article about this on my blog last week (which I started because I just enjoyed this blog so much!): http://standinginnovation.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/are-tv-shows-too-sacred-to-make-good-musicals/

    I think it might be because we invest such a great deal into these shows over many, many years that the characters and storylines are just too sacred. Also, I feel that audiences don’t like new musicals fiddling with these characters and seeing different actors playing them. It sort of transcends beyond nostalgia.

    Matt

  • Kerry Zukus says:

    The issue of “people will have trouble relating to someone else taking over an iconic role” is a common one. It’s also a straw man. Every time there’s a new James Bond, we’re told the franchise is doomed. And then the opposite happens. There are dozens of other examples, such as the annual “Gypsy” revival (they are annual, aren’t they?), where everyone is skeptical about the new Rose, yet they usually work out quite well.

    The truth is, if the actor and director are good, it works. If they are not, the show flops, which, of course, is true with any show.

  • Keni Fine says:

    It’s the Pee-Wee Herman Syndrome:
    Pee-Wee came from TV… then went to movies… then went to –um, a particular kind of movie theater, and, er– a holding cell, and then, presumably, a therapist’s office… and then… BROADWAY!!
    So maybe it’s that the path from TV to Broadway is just too arduous for those with less fortitude than Pee-Wee. :-)#respect

  • Judy says:

    There have been quite a few very successful films that originated as TV series. And based on the previous comments, there are some great TV show-based musicals out there. So it is not a matter of writing. I believe the problem is money. No one wants to invest in the first TV to Broadway flop. I agree that once there is a hit, we will see more of it.

  • Parnell says:

    Though not a tv show itself, I would LOVE to see Bombshell as an actual musical! Those original songs are what made SMASH so exciting. Hell, I’d even like to see Hit List!

  • Barry Reszel says:

    I love your blog. To me, Cheers or Seinfeld are possibilities…probably Cheers would be more accepted by audiences with casting outside the TV cast, which would be necessary. Some fun opportunities for cameos, though.

  • Steven Green says:

    Cheers would make a fabulous broadway play. Doesn’t need to be a musical. Show could end with cast and audience singing the theme, Everybody Knows Your Name. There are enough great and hilarious lines in the original first five years that could be adapted to different fresh story lines to easily fill up two hours of Great comedy. Important for the theme to match the original concept of the show. Just the site of the original set on stage would be thrilling. It would be like “home” for millions of patrons. The first entrance of Norm to the chorus of “Norm” would bring wild applause from the audience.

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