The Trends of Ten Years of New York Times Broadway Reviews. An infographic.

What’s cool about creating stuff, is that sometimes you make something for one specific purpose . . . and then you find it has a whole other purpose later on.

It happens in the pharmaceutical industry all the time.  Did you know Viagra was originally made to treat hypertension?  Imagine the surprise when they conducted those clinical trials!

This phenomenon just happened to me.  And I think you’re going to get as excited as those Viagra patients when you see the results.

Here’s what happened:

About five years ago, I started the Broadway review website because I wanted to be the first to know whether the New York Times liked a show or not, without actually reading the review.  So we created this fun thumbs-up/thumbs-down guide and started emailing our subscribers a new review the moment a new show opened.  This site was an instant hit, got a ton of subscribers, and we recently released an app!

And a few weeks ago, after five years of running the site, and after filling out our archives to go further back, I realized that I was sitting on the largest bank of New York Times review data on the web (other than the Times themselves), and my data was also cataloged in a way (positive review, negative review, mixed review) that could be quantified.

Yeah, you see where I’m going, don’t you?

My mind instantly started spinning when I realized what I was sitting on!  Just think about the kind of things we could learn from analyzing that data.  You know, things like . . .

  • Everyone thinks the New York Times hates everything.  But what percentage of Broadway shows get positive reviews versus negative reviews?
  • Are the critics getting tougher over time, or are they more forgiving?
  • Do reviews affect recoupment?
  • Who gets better reviews . . . Sondheim or Mamet?
  • Are there theaters that get more positive reviews than other theaters?
  • If I’m producing a revival of a play, which critic is more likely to give it a positive review, Ben Brantley or Charles Isherwood?

So I put my infographic creatin’ assistant, Dylan, on counting up all the positive, negative and mixed reviews over the last ten years and putting it in an infographic, which I’ve pasted below, sponsored by

Ok, ok, I’m going to shut up now because I know you want to get to that data.  I’ll admit, it’s pretty hot.

Enjoy the infographic . . . share it and tweet it.  You know the drill.  Because the more people that read it, the better our industry will be.

Did They Like It- (2)



(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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  • I am a huge fan of your site – and this analysis is both useful and great fun. My company is in Toronto, where critics are given less and less space to print reviews – and with a single exception, critics here tend to see themselves as All Powerful – the truth is that endless web sites and blogs have served to diminish their ‘power’ – a rave from one of our two dailies will still serve to help a show build box office – in fact, one of our theatre’s recently decided to stop inviting critics until the latter part of a play’s run and the two major critics went wild with “How can you do this to us?”, “We are, after all. here to help build an audience” – pathetic.
    But enough of Toronto – please keep this site alive and filled with more of this kind of detailed information that makes theatre folks feel that we are still an enterprise worth the sweat and all else.

  • Robin D Gross says:

    Nice job on the inforgraphic. Besides being informative, it’s very easy to read and understand. Keep up the good work on the website — I always check out “did he like it” before making theater decisions. Thanks!

  • Ian Yue says:

    Fascinating infographic! I always love the data you provide for us to look at. 🙂

    If I may suggest something, though: As someone who utilizes statistics in research/professional work frequently, I would encourage you to be very careful with the semantics/language you use to describe statistical results — especially when abbreviating such results in an easily accessible and quickly read format, such as an infographic.

    For example: You’ve written in your infographic, “Brantley gave more negative reviews than Isherwood in every category examined.” I may be mistaken, but I think you are trying to say, “Brantley gave A HIGHER PERCENTAGE of negative reviews compared to Isherwood in every category examined”, yes? If I were to read that statement apart from its context (i.e. the bar charts preceding it), it seems as if you’re just talking about the raw number of reviews (not percentages). Yet, given the earlier-stated infographic fact that 70% of the 387 reviews were written by Brantley, if you WERE talking about raw numbers, the “more negative reviews” statistic may not actually be saying much. I’m pretty sure you’re wanting to compare “relativeness” of negative review-writing between the two critics, which is why I believe you are actually talking about percentages. As such, if you ARE talking in terms of percentages, you MUST state your statistical finding in terms of percentages so people don’t misconstrue your findings.

    I hope that makes sense. I hate being THAT person, but when it comes to statistics, it’s important to be careful how you’re stating the facts YOU want to convey!

  • clive hirschhorn says:

    Oh, for heaven’s sake! Get a life!

  • Jack Rengstorff says:

    Thanks for “10 years…” Good idea, sharp follow-through. And KUDOS
    to One of the best things that’s happened to/for Broadway
    in years. My guess is 90% of the reviews are Positive, 19% Mixed, 1% Negative.
    Here’s to a long run, Mr. Producer !

  • Rich Mc says:

    Ken, This is indeed interesting information, but why not go the xtra mile, since you obviously have the data? Just NAME the plays/musicals receiving positive, mixed & negative reviews from the NYT that actually recouped. For any grey areas (e.g., didn’t publicly announce recouping, or those subject to your subjective view of a ‘mixed’ review) just put them in a separate category. Not to do this reflects the appearance of fearing the backlash of the NYT, and is unfair to your blog readers.

  • Chuck Mull says:

    I’m a musical nut, having played in the band for 20 years at a local community theater, and love your reviews; great work on the graphic…well-written and easily understood! Keep up the good work on your site!

  • Mark Westerhaus says:

    The only thing of real significance here is the low percentage of shows that recouped regardless of the type of review. The public “reviews” with their dollars and the only way to improve those “reviews” is to produce shows the public wants to see. You can win awards and get all the great reviews you want but if the public is not impressed neither will your investors. A perfect analogy is a sports team. Lose too many games and you stare at empty seats. Win more games and all your problems go away. The formula is pretty simple. A great story plus great music (in the eyes of the public) equals a show that will run for years. Execution, of course, is a different matter, but if your Tony winner loses money the only place to look is in the mirror. (hopefully while holding your book and score)

  • Thanks for “10 years…” Good idea, sharp follow-through.The only thing of real significance here is the low percentage of shows that recouped regardless of the type of review.

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