UPDATE: Do Tony Nominators & Voters Forget The Fall? Part II

Yesterday we proved (again) that there is a statistical advantage to opening your show in the spring should you want a Tony nomination, and a win.  And, in fact, over the last six years, that advantage has grown.

So why do these spring shows get a leg up on the fall?  And what can we do about it?

Well, first, it’s important to acknowledge that there is no “fault” here . . . no collusion.  No one is deliberately choosing shows from one season or another.  It just happens . . . and the reason it happens is the same reason that advertising and marketing work. Let me explain:

The first and most obvious reason as to why these shows are remembered most come nomination and voting time is that they were just seen by those nominators and those voters.  The experience, the performances, the designs, etc. are fresher in their minds, compared to the shows from months and months ago which may have blown them away at the time, but have since faded.  The old show tune says, “Time heals everything,” right?  That’s because time makes you forget.  And in some shows’ cases, that’s unfortunate, because I don’t believe the nominators or voters want to forget.  They just do.  And hey, I’m one of those voters too.  It happens!  It’s why when I see a show, no matter what the season, I keep notes and give it and the elements (performances, designs, etc.) a grade (A-, B+, C) so I can have an “in-the-moment” quantitative score to compare it to the others when I have to cast my vote.

The second and more specific reason as to why the shows in the spring get more awards love is that nominators and voters, just like consumers, respond to advertising.  Shows that open in the spring are in the peak of their advertising campaigns, which means nominators and voters are more likely to be served with more impressions for a spring show than a fall show . . . and that’s if the fall show is still open!  If the fall show has closed, well, shoot, is it any wonder that a spring show is more top of mind when the nominator or voter sits down to make those important choices?  Hours before that individual checks the box, they may have seen an email blast, a billboard, an article in the paper, a TV ad, the theater marquee itself, etc., etc.  And whether we know it or not, advertising, publicity, etc. does affect us.  It just happens.  That’s why all businesses do it.  But fall shows that are no longer around just can’t do it.  They are closed.  And since winning an award can’t affect the box office of a closed show, it doesn’t make sense to actually advertise the way movie companies do to try and win that Oscar (movies have DVDs, Netflix, extended runs, etc. which we just don’t have . . . yet).  (One of the reasons the Best Musical Tony Award is one of the few categories that are more evenly distributed between fall and spring shows is because those musicals are more likely than the plays and revivals to be around . . .  and to be advertising heavily.)

So while yesterday’s stats are certainly alarming, they are not surprising.

What can we do about it?

Well, the first and most obvious thing would be to try and open your show in the spring, right?  Unfortunately, Broadway Producers can’t program like TV networks, since theater availability is on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis these days.  If a theater owner gives you a theater, you take it.  Or you get back at the end of the line, it seems.  So that’s not an option.

Yes, we could advertise like I discussed above, but for most shows, that just doesn’t make sense.

Yes, we can look to the League to help provide fall shows more opportunities to be in front of the voters at events like the Spring Road Conference, or in other promotions events (although this is also tricky, because closed shows mean that the Actors and creative teams are often in the wind).

There has also been rumblings of changing the Tony deadlines, or changing the date of the awards themselves, but if the awards were in the fall, do people start forgetting the spring?

But the most important thing we can do about it is be aware of it.  Nominators, voters, all of us need to be aware that our minds are naturally gravitating towards the spring (again, me included).  Knowing that may help us put a little more time into remembering the experiences of the fall.  To use a more serious subject to illustrate what I mean . . . it’s just like when Lynn Ahrens called me out on my podcast asking me how many women guests I had on.  When I did the math, I realized women were under represented.  Lynn told me to just think about it before I went out to my next potential guests.  And now, because I’m aware of it, I take extra time to make sure I’m including more women.  (By the way, if you haven’t heard that podcast, click here, because it’s a master class in musical theater and in gender studies.)

It’s a tricky subject, because again, no one is doing anything wrong here.  It just happens.

But understanding there’s an issue is the quickest way we can even the seasonal playing field in the hopes that the nominations and the winners truly represent the best that each Broadway season has to offer.

Or to put it in a hashtag context . . . #ThisSpringDontForgetTheFall.


(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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  • Frank says:

    The fix here is pretty simple really with the addition of a couple of rules regarding Broadway shows openings and TONY eligibility.

    1) Only one show may open during any given week. (Currently 7 shows will open during the first 3 weeks of April this year.) This would allow the jury to ingest each show more leisurely without the need to see 10 shows in April every year.

    2) The cut off for TONY eligibility must occur no less than 2 full weeks prior to the nominations. The interim 2 weeks could then be used by jury members to revisit any shows that may warrant another viewing.

    These two rules alone would drastically help jury members to better vote for the TONY awards, and not feel so overwhelmed by the process.

  • Peter says:

    You don’t seem to consider the possibility that perhaps better shows open in the
    Spring as a general rule, lol. To use the Tony for best musical as an example, was there a better show than FUN HOME, KINKY BOOTS, THE BOOK OF MORMON, ONCE, etc, etc, that opened in the Fall and was cheated out of a win? I don’t think so. And HAMILTON will definitely win this year even though it opened in the dreaded summer. Back to the drawing board, young man!

  • Sean says:

    I think the entire theatre community cares far too much about the Tony Awards altogether. I don’t believe average ticket buyers are affected at all by who wins or who loses. Wicked lost and audiences didn’t care. Other shows have WON the award and still shuttered about a year later when they probably would have anyway.

    I get that award seasons are “fun” for fans, but we should stop pretending they mean anything serious. If you have a great show that people want to see it will run regardless of what awards it wins. No amount of awards love will help a show that doesn’t appeal to audiences for whatever reason. Let’s all just breath and enjoy theatre. (Often the best NY theatre is off Broadway and ineligible anyway- my favorite performance of this year was LaChuisa’s First Daughter Suite for example)

    • Neal says:

      Unlike the Oscars, which may give a slight “bump” to winners, The TONY most definitely has a cause/effect on the bottom line of a Broadway show!
      One only need go back one year; to “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder” – this show (coincidentally, opening in the aforementioned dreaded Fall season), as good as it was, was hanging on by it’s fingernails, and had it not been for the capital influx by Lead Producer Joey Parnes, the show would have most assuredly disappeared by the Spring. But they held on till June, and almost immediately after taking home the TONY for “Best New Musical”, saw the attendance number jump to 99%!
      This was not a fluke. Shows that were not necessarily “that good”, but won by default of a fallow year, also were able to last another couple of years, as opposed to possibly a few more months.
      Even though we’d like to think that it’s New Yorkers that keep the Broadway community afloat, it’s really the TOURISTS! And when they come to town, they don’t plan on seeing every show running. Sometimes, they will check a Times review, but most often, given the myriad of choices, will pick the show that won the TONY (and “nominated” is not even second best!)!
      Right or wrong, the TONY is still perceived by the public as the gold standard.
      So, yes, Sean – Winning (or losing) a TONY can make or break a production…big time! Just ask the folks at GGTLAM!

    • Jared W says:

      Winning the Tony definitely helps a show’s box office. Not a show like “Wicked,” which is a massive success and therefore an exception by definition. But a show like “Gentleman’s Guide?” Or “Fun Home?” Those shows definitely enjoy longer runs thanks to Tony wins, and with “Gentleman’s Guide” in particular I think the Best Musical win was the difference between turning a profit and closing at a loss.

      No, the Tonys aren’t the end-all be-all when it comes to determining quality or box office success. But they definitely have an affect, both in the moment and for a show’s future life.

  • Klay says:

    As a judge for the high school musical competition of more than 60 shows here in North Texas, we fill out a rather lengthy and somewhat harsh score card that’s organized by award category. We report our scores via the internet within three days of seeing the show. The tabulators do the math. The top eight are the nominees and the highest score wins. There’s no way to forget a show. The more judges the better. All judges scoring must fall within a 20 point range. Half points are used to break ties.

    Maybe it’s time to upgrade the evaluating and nominating process on Broadway. Seems like the possibility of merely forgetting a show because it opened six month ago is rather risky since there’s so much at $take on Broadway.

    • Neal says:

      Klay, you are absolutely correct!
      Currently, the TONY voting universe is 800-850 people. and many of them have shows up for consideration. First; anyone who has a show or category nominated, SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO VOTE IN THAT CATEGORY – it’s a conflict of interest…especially when you (sometimes) now have upwards of 25-30 voting Producers on any given show!
      Second; The voting universe, itself, should be expanded. The requirements of being a TONY voter currently have to do with investing a certain amount of Dollars into show, or shows, in a particular year. So, all those “little” investors/Producers who may have put “only” 250K into a production have no say.
      My solution is to let ANYONE, whose name appears in the Playbill, vote! This would increase the (voting) universe, make a more equitable playing field for the shows, AND help the Broadway community at the same time!
      I have promised myself to speak to the powers-that-be at both the Broadway League and the Theater Wing about such proposals, which I have thought about in great detail. As soon as I can find a few moments…as I am in the midst of a film release-going to TV, and TWO new Broadway-bound musicals.

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Ken Davenport
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