For TV, it’s all in the “time-ing” . . . could that work for Broadway?

When American Idol hit the airwaves way back when, they crushed the competition.  No other show that was trying to get traction on competitive networks was put in the same “time slot.”

Makes sense, right?  If your competition is at the exact same time as you are, avoid that time at all costs.

I was reminded of this TV programming phenomenon last Sunday evening, as I was able to watch (ok, DVR) Game of Thrones at 9pm and the Mad Men season finale at 10pm.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Smart TV Executives know when to challenge their competition and when to get the eff out of the way.

And they also know when to hitch a ride with hit shows by putting new stuff right after (imagine getting a coveted post-Seinfeld spot in the 90s).

But what do we do?

All of our shows . . . are at 8pm.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. We’ve got a few shows at 7pm.  And some at 2pm and some at 3pm. And some do a Sunday night instead of a Monday.

But for the most part?  They all conflict.

Wicked is up against Hand to God is up against Clinton The Musical.

Guess which one wins when a customer has only one choice?

Now, Broadway and Off Broadway shows are at 8pm-ish for many reasons . . .

  • Leaves adequate time for dinner before.
  • Lets out at a reasonable time.
  • They can be long.
  • Etc.

. . . and we’ve spent fifty years branding these times.  But I can’t help but think what would happen if we took a clue from our TV brethren and programmed around some of our competition . . . especially for those newer or smaller shows just starting out.

I’ve had some success with this, especially around holidays.  I often look and see what other Broadway shows are doing for their holiday schedule . . . and if everyone is off on Thanksgiving?  I do a show.  There are usually plenty of people looking to see a show that night, and with my competition out of the way, I win.  The Sunday night/Monday night performance is similar.

But could we get more drastic?

Wicked itself is going against the grain this summer with several Friday performances at 2pm.  If it works, expect many other shows to follow, just like they did when Tuesdays at 7pm started a decade ago.

And I’m predicting a few more alternative times from shows in the next year or so.  Why?

Well, take a look at yesterday’s blog about the end-of-season results.  See that stat about how there were more shows on the boards than ever before?  That means the competition for customers is that much more intense.

And if you can’t crush your competition, you have to go around them.

And different, TV-like performance-time programming might be a way to do just that.


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  • R.J. Lowe says:

    I’ve been saying for years shows needed to vary their matinee days. When I lived in NYC and was a sub usher, I used to love working CATS because they had dark Thursday, leaving me an evening to go see other shows. And the last time I visited I saw PHANTOM for the 4 billionth time just because they were the only option on a Thursday afternoon! (That was an amazing trip – 10 shows in 5 days!!!) I would see a matinee every day if I could when I visit!!! And I loved a couple years back when on a Saturday I was able to do a 2 pm matinee, a 5 pm performance of MISS ABIGAIL…, and then an 8 pm performance. Best day ever!!!

  • Derek Miller says:

    William Goldman was pointing this out almost 50 years ago in *The Season*, his remarkable book about Broadway. Much has changed in how the industry conceives of itself (namely, as an industry). But much remains the same.

  • Jared says:

    I can get behind shows varying their matinee days, but I personally am not a fan of the early curtain times. I work until 7 most weekdays, so shows that start at 7 pm aren’t an option for me. Many of my New Yorker friends are the same way; just last week I had a friend opt to go see “American in Paris” because it was one of the few shows with an 8 pm start time the night he was free.

  • MichaelC says:

    Last year three shows (“Cinderella”, “Phantom” & “Mamma Mia”) switched to Thursday matinees. The switch allowed a tourist (such as me) to add a tenth show to my one week visit. The house, while maybe not sold out, was fuller for the Thursday matinee of “Cinderella” than most of the mid-week matinees I’ve attended. If I were running a show I’d give very serious consideration to 1) Thursday matinees, 2) Sunday evening instead of matinee (probably with an 8PM curtain in order to allow people catching a 3 PM matinee a chance to eat or stretch if they wanted an evening show and 3) very hard look at a Monday night 7 PM curtain and go dark on Tuesday. I watched people at the TKTS in Times Square trying to find a show to better suit their scheduled visit and those 3 options would seem appealing to many of them. Downside is that both Sunday and Monday evenings frequently offer great off-Broadway shows that otherwise might not receive consideration if there was wider Broadway scheduling on those nights.

  • Jay says:

    I remember once many years ago on a quick weekend visit to NYC in the late 90s I was able to catch a 2pm Broadway matinee; an 8pm Off-Broadway show; and a 10:30 Off-Broadway show all in one Saturday. It seems like those options are less and less these days — or maybe I’m not paying enough attention to my options these days.

  • Randall David Cook says:

    London has a lot of 7 and 7:30 start times, and I would prefer more of those on evenings other than Tuesdays. (Allows for dinners afterwards, especially for the 90-minute shows, and a chance to break bread and talk about what was just experienced.) And matinees other than on Wednesdays would be fantastic as well. So many friends visiting from out-of-town ask me about seeing matinees on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and they’re always disappointed when that option is not made available. Why compete with every other show when you can have all the possible theatergoers to yourself and maybe one or two other shows? Consumers are getting so used to obtaining their entertainment when and how they want it, so if theater doesn’t provide suitable options, other industries definitely will. Time for change.

  • Brad Duffy says:

    I remember being in London and seeing shows that started at 5! They would have 2 different start times for matinees and and evening show. Would you believe I sometimes saw 3 shows in the same day!

  • Clair Sedore says:

    When I first went to London in the mid 1960s, one could see three shows on some days, a matinee at around 2, an early evening performance around 5:00 and an evening performance at 8:00, also matinees were staggered, so it was much easier getting in a larger number of shows in a week. Mondays were dark then, and one could tour the countryside, and see places like Cambridge, Canterbury, etc.
    Now I rarely get to tour outside of London as there are shows on daily.

  • Richard Rizzo says:

    I am delighted that the Vinyard now does Minday evening rather than Sunday performance for the late spring and summer. I dong have to cut my weekend short.

  • Jeffrey says:

    I agree with this, but, for a different and selfish reason… I start work at 8pm, so many of the shows are an inconvenience for me… 7pm or 8pm shows are a “no” because I should be en route to or working; 2pm (or 3pm) is a little too early considering scheduling. So I often resort to off-broadway, off-off-broadway shows, or festivals because of the opportunity for 4pm or 5pm start times…. These alternate times can work for others as well: those who also have my schedule; one can catch a show and then their favorite prime time show; one can switch up the “dinner-and-a-show” tradition, to instead “show-and-a-dinner”; one can catch multiple Broadway shows in a day, if they choose to, etc. etc. etc. #WishfulThinking

  • Jennifer J says:

    I would welcome a Friday matinee option in NYC.
    If I try to fill a long weekend with performances, I’m going to fly in Thursday in time for an evening show.
    Then Friday? nothing til 8?!?! frustrating! (yes there are sites but I’m often just intersted show, show, show 🙂

    • MichaelC says:

      I think a Friday matinee is an even better idea than a Thursday matinee or possibly even a Monday evening performance. Friday matinee would truly add value to the “long weekend” idea and probably even help to fill a few more hotel rooms a folks arrive Thursday instead of early on Friday. Good suggestion.

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