Podcast Episode 85 Transcript – Craig Zadan and Neil Meron
Ken: Hello, Producer’s Perspective Podcast listeners! I’ve taken the podcast and gone on the road – I’m out on the west coast and I’ve brought you two guests for the price of one this week, and what a pair of guests they are. I’m very honored to welcome to the podcast producers in just about every form of entertainment there is, from TV to film to Broadway, Mr. Craig Zadan and Mr. Neil Meron. Welcome, guys!
Neil: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Craig: Yeah, we’ve wanted to do this. We think it’s really going to be fun.
Ken: Good. It’s going to be a blast. Craig and Neil run Storyline Entertainment which produces film, TV and Broadway shows. They’ve earned a total of – get this – six Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, 14 Emmy awards, two Peabodies, a Grammy, six GLAAD, four NAACP and two Tonys! Some of their projects are little-known stuff like the movie versions of Chicago and Hairspray, which helped reignite the movie musical movement, the Broadway revival of How to Succeed with Daniel Radcliffe and Promises, Promises. Not only have they won Academy awards they’ve actually produced the Academy awards three times, executive produced The Sound of Music: Live, The Wiz, the upcoming Hairspray: Live and A Few Good Men, the first live play, and, yes, they also produced Smash. Now there’s a resume, and something tells me these guys have a lot more up their sleeves in the years to come. So let’s start with how you started in this business.
Neil: I was a student at Brooklyn College and I’ve always had a lifelong dream of being in the theatre, first as an actor, and when I was going to Brooklyn College I decided I didn’t want the actor’s life and I wanted to be behind the scenes. I knew that I didn’t know anybody and I was going to be graduating soon so what I did was I organized a lecture series for my school and I sent out letters to anybody I ever wanted to meet in the professional theatre, thinking that I would be able to network myself – I didn’t use that word then but now that’s the word – and be charming and intelligent and available enough that somebody may give me the opportunity to work with them after I finished school. So I had invited everybody from Arthur Lawrence to Tom Hulce, who was doing Equus at the time, to publicists and costume designers and I invited Craig – this was in the mid-’70s – who had just written this terrific book about Stephen Sondheim called Sondheim & Co and I met Craig and we hit it off and then Craig asked me if I would like to work for him. He was then, at that point, after the book came out, doing a series of club acts with Broadway composers and lyricists at this cabaret called the Ballroom and he asked me if I would like to be his assistant and I had a car, the use of my family car, and that was very helpful to me so I said “Absolutely,” and that’s how we met and that’s how we started and we grew from there, that series of working with my heroes such as Charles Strauss and Sheldon Harnick and Harold Rome, even, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz and John Kander and Fred Ebb. I mean these are the people that we got to work with and, for me, who was a young theatre aficionado at that time, it was like I had gone to heaven.
Ken: So you hired him for his car.
Craig: Kinda. But then we were there, we did this series, it had been very successful and it was extended over and over and over again and we’re then finally at the end of it and at that moment in time we didn’t know what was next and out of the blue a shocking call came in from Joe Papp saying that he had been to the shows and seen them and he had read about them in the papers and he would like to meet and would we come in and have a meeting at the Public Theatre and it’s sort of like ‘You’ve got to be kidding, you don’t get a call from Joe Papp. So we indeed went over to the Public and sat with Joe and Joe explained what he wanted to do and thought that we would be a great addition and, to make a very long story short – because it is a very long story – he sort of asked us to come in and be there and work for him and basically develop and find plays and musicals that he could produce and we did, we developed a show called Getting My Act Together and taking it on the road, we developed a show called Runaways, we developed The Umbrellas of Cherbourg which was the Michel Legrand movie which was turned into a stage musical. What else?
Neil: The Water Engine by David Mamet. Craig went to Chicago to see it and endorsed it coming to the theatre cabaret which was in Martinson Hall upstairs, which he took a theatre and he converted it into a cabaret theatre and that’s we did most of these shows.
Craig: And I guess it was also John Guare’s ‘Landscape of the Body’ and a lot of other shows and we were there for three years working for Joe Papp and having the best time of our lives because we got to work with every single person that you could imagine wanting to meet and work with.
Neil: This was when the Public Theatre was flush with funds coming in from A Chorus Line. A Chorus Line had just opened on Broadway and so he also was at Lincoln Center, he had the mobile theatre, he had the theatre downtown, so he was basically the kind of New York theatre.
Craig: And the park.
Neil: And the park. So it was the best of times to be working for Joe Papp.
Ken: We’re going to talk a lot about this but you’re looking for shows that you think will go on to success or looking for ideas or artists – what do you think are those ingredients that make something successful that you’re looking for as you pan for gold, as I like to think about it?
Craig: It’s funny you should say that because if you said the word ‘success’, Joe’s not interested. Joe actually told us that if we found a show that we thought would be successful and make a lot of money he didn’t want to do it. He said “I want you to find shows that keep you up at night, that you can’t sleep and that you have to do or you’re going to die and if you don’t feel that way about the shows then don’t tell me about them,” and it was sort of like “Okay…” so it was a matter of seeing things that we loved and that we wanted to do without any regards for whether it would be commercial or not. Now, I’m sure that if A Chorus Line wasn’t running on Broadway and it wasn’t making all of that money at that time and he was sort of money he maybe wouldn’t have said that at that time but he did and it enabled us to do stuff that maybe we never would have done. We always forget this but no one knows that we had anything to do with this but we did – in our search for new things I was friendly with Barry Manilow at that point and Barry Manilow was friends with a guy by the name of Rupert Holmes and Rupert Holmes had just put out a bunch of records that we thought was brilliant, really brilliant, and we gave the records to Joe and Gail Papp and they listened to them and fell in love with them as much as we had and we brought Rupert in to meet Joe and Gail and he had some sort of idea about a musical that takes place in a recording studio and Joe was very brash about it and he said “That sounds terrible, I don’t want to do that,” and one thing led to another and the end result of that marriage that we put together between Rupert and Joe and Gail was Edwin Drood and that was the baby that came out of that marriage. So in our own weird way we were responsible for Edwin Drood.
Neil: The one thing that we did learn from Joe was that whatever we fell in love with we had to really analyze it and ask ourselves why would an audience of today, be it a period piece or something contemporary, why would an audience relate to it or how would they relate to it and how would it reflect the way they live their lives? And that’s always kind of the question that we’ve kept with us as we’ve proceeded and left the Public Theatre, is why would an audience care about this?
Craig: I would said the most important thing that Joe taught us in three years was the notion of colorblind casting. Joe was brilliant at it and other people had not been doing that. So for instance, years later when we did Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and we had Whitney Houston and Brandy and we had Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber and Paolo Montalban and…
Craig: Jason Alexander and Bernadette Peters and on and on and on. It was the most mixed cast, with a black wife and a white husband and a Filipino son and what we discovered was that people were panicked about it when we were going to produce it and they said “People are not going to accept this,” and we said “Yeah, they will.” Joe taught us that people will accept colorblind casting and it went on to become the highest rated movie in 14 years and it was as a result of having a cast of Asian, Latino, black, white, just everybody, and that’s why we had the audience we did and why it was a raging success.
Ken: So you’re working with Joe Papp and he says “Don’t worry about commercial success, just do what keeps you up at night,” and later you’re in Hollywood and I’m just going to guess that the executives here in Hollywood didn’t want you to just not worry about whether it’s a commercial success or not. Something tells me they didn’t say that. How did you go through that big change from one coast to the other?
Neil: I think we stick to our passion because even though they do care about success out here and they do care about money they also care about what you’re passionate about, even though it takes a lot longer to get those passion projects in front of people, but sometimes they offer rewards. So in terms of trying to play the Hollywood game, you play it to an extent but then you figure out how to do your passion the Hollywood way. For instance, nobody wanted to do a movie musical on TV but if we said “What if we got the biggest star, one of the biggest stars in the world at that time, to star in it, would that change your mind?” Absolutely it would, and that’s how we convinced Bette Midler to do Gypsy which kind of opened the door for this, I would say, movie musical renaissance. So it’s following your passion but figuring out how to sell it in this commercial world of Hollywood and that’s kind of something we have followed through in taking projects that nobody wants to do but putting it together in a way that it becomes undeniable.
Ken: I’m sure you’ve faced a lot of resistance through the years.
Neil: Oh, all the time.
Ken: Oh, I wish we had a camera!
Craig: I don’t think that we ever did anything that was easy.
Neil: Still to this day.
Craig: I don’t think that we ever did anything that was a normal production.
Neil: Everybody tells us no all the time.
Craig: After Gypsy we decided to do a drama and the next thing we did, it was just at the time when Clinton signed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and there was a big cover story in the New York Times about Grethe Cammermeyer, who was the highest ranking woman in the military, who, inadvertently, while she was going through a security check, mentioned that she was a lesbian and she was court martialed and thrown out and the story was absolutely riveting and we decided we were going to do it and what happened was everybody that we talked to said “Don’t do it. No one is going to produce this. No one is going to finance it. No one is going to put it on network television. You are wasting your time – go and do stuff that you can get made. This can’t be made.” So we thought to ourselves “Okay, let’s say they’re all right and we’re not right, we’re wrong. How do we conquer that?” and we did – we went to a friend of ours, Barbra Streisand, who had seen the same article in the New York Times, and we said “What do you think of the article?” and she said “It’s fantastic.” She said “Why, what are you thinking of?” and we said “Let’s do it as a television event,” and she said “Yeah, let’s do it together.” So we had Barbra Streisand and then we went to Glenn Close and we got her to agree to star in it and once we had Streisand and Close then, all of a sudden, everybody wanted the movie.
Neil: The project didn’t change – it was still the same project that everybody said no to.
Craig: But at that point everybody would kill to have those two women as our partners on the project – and it not only got made but it won a lot of awards and got great ratings and was a big success. So there is an example of something that was impossible to get done but we got it done by attaching and working with people who were able to push it over the top.
Ken: So I think one of a producer’s greatest skills is the ability to get people to do something you want them to do and you have been doing this tremendously for decades, getting people like this. Do you have a strategy? What do you do when you sit in these rooms, to talk to people like Barbra Streisand or Carrie Underwood or anyone that has bene involved with any of the number of shows you’ve done? How do you get them to do this stuff? What’s the secret?
Neil: I think, first of all, they’re drawn to the material and, secondly, I think that when we meet with the talent we listen to them and I think talent really likes to be heard. They don’t like to be totally told what to do, they want to make sure that they people they work with are going to listen to them so I think we had the ability to listen to the talent that we’ve worked with and so we create an environment where they feel like they’re part of creating what we’re creating.
Craig: But it also expands out to the material. Like, for instance, Serving in Silence, the movie we just mentioned, Glenn Close was closing her engagement in LA for Sunset Boulevard, she had a month off and then she was going to start rehearsals for Broadway, to do Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. So she said to us “I have a month off, I need to recover and rest because then I’m going to go and do a Broadway run. I don’t want to take that month and work, I want to recover.” We said “You can’t. You have to do this or it’s not going to get made.” So she said “I’ll tell you what, when is the script coming in?” and we said “The script is coming in this week,” and she said “Give me the script, I’ll read it and, based on how I feel about the script, I’ll make the decision.” So we sent the script over a couple of days later and she called us the next day and she said “So last night I had dinner and then I went to bed and I tucked myself in and put the pillows up and I opened the script and I thought to myself ‘Before I start at page one, I hope it’s terrible because I don’t want to do this’,” and she said “I turned the last page of the script and I said ‘Shit, I can’t believe how good this script is, I have to do it’.”
Neil: And cut to the Emmy awards.
Craig: Cut to the Emmy awards – she won the Emmy.
Neil: It was the first time she had won an award for anything that she had ever done on film.
Craig: And so it came down to it – if that script wasn’t there, she wasn’t going to do it.
Neil: And she said “I’d like Judy Davis to costar with me,” and so we went out and we got her Judy Davis.
Ken: Talk to me about the evolution of the live telecast. Bob Greenblatt actually did a podcast with us – which is great, by the way, so listeners, if you haven’t heard it, go check it out. What was the first one like for you? From the idea itself to the “Can we really pull this off?”
Craig: You have to start earlier because basically we did TV musical films on television, starting with Gypsy and then Cinderella and Annie and The Music Man and then, after that, we were able, because of the success on TV, to then move on and do feature musicals.
Neil: Because we met a man by the name of Rob Marshall when we hired him to do Cinderella.
Craig: And he directed Annie for us, which was the first thing he ever directed. To make another long story short – because these are very long stories – basically we got to make Chicago, a movie that had been in development for ten years at Miramax, and what happened was we made it, it came out and it achieved everything a movie could achieve on two levels – one, it was the first movie musical in 34 years to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and the second thing was it was the highest grossing movie in the history of Miramax. So it was artistically successful and it was financially successful. That blew the gates off the obstruction of “No, no, no, you can’t do musicals,” and then we did Hairspray. But we went to that world and we did the feature film versions and then we came back to TV and Neil had said to me a couple of years before “I have an idea for something, you’re going to think this is really insane but I really think it’s a good idea.”
Neil: Sometimes you have to look backwards to have that inform what you want to do now, kind of in a new iteration, and so I was thinking about all the live musicals that were done in the ’50s, such as Peter Pan and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and, fortuitously, we got a call from Bob Greenblatt who asked us whether or not we’d like to do a new TV musical on film of Oklahoma! and we weren’t so excited about the idea and that’s when we pitched him and said “We have something better,” because we had already been exploring the idea of doing The Sound of Music live with Ted Chapin and we knew that he was very open to it, being as forward thinking as he is, so we pitched him what we thought could be a great event, in terms of doing The Sound of Music live, and without skipping a beat he said “Done.” He got it, he understood the potential, the event nature of this and the idea that it could be something that could attract a massive audience and, from that point on, it took about a year to secure Carrie Underwood and to go forward into actually doing it and what it was like was trying to reinvent something that you didn’t know how to do in the first place, so we were creating it as we went along, bumps and all, just trying to figure out the mechanics as to how to harness this idea, which was just an idea to begin with, without a roadmap, so we were building the roadmap as we went along and that’s kind of exciting and we were fortunate that our instincts about an audience wanting to tune in and see it live was there and even more so.
Craig: The next morning, when we woke up, after we’d broadcast the show, they gave us the ratings and they had to go back and check them because they thought they were wrong because they were too high. Usually they check them to see if they’re wrong because they’re too low. We reached 22 million people in a non-sports show. I mean sports you get those numbers, with the Super Bowl and all that, but in a non-sports show you don’t get those numbers. I mean the Oscars gets those numbers and stuff like that, but not programming. We realized that “Oh my God, we’ve touched a nerve,” and all the other networks were meeting and having discussions like “What happened? What went on last night? What are we going to do?” and there was buzz all over town about “Oh my God, what have they done?”
Neil: But we also had to contend with a lot of hate watching too and the negativity by a small amount of people that got on social media, which is also interesting because it’s one of the first TV events that kind of ignited this social media firestorm. We had a bit of that with Smash – there was hate watching with Smash – but it reached new levels with The Sound of Music in terms of the magnitude of the audience and the amount that people are thinking and engaged. So, to us, this hate tweeting was kind of a good sign that so many are actually engaged. You know, you had to put up with a bunch of sting but it was worth it. The person we felt the worst for was Carrie because she really had no idea of the amount of attention it was going to get and how much people owned Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and how they wouldn’t let her be who she is and we stood behind her performance and still stand behind her performance 100% and we really are very grateful to her because she agreed to do it and we’re sorry she experienced that but, in retrospect, she really set the standard and it’s the high bar to reach now in terms of an audience.
Craig: If Bette Midler had not done Gypsy that would never have been a hit and if Carrie Underwood had not done The Sound of Music it would have never been a hit and you would have seen one of them and never another one so we owe a debt of gratitude to those women who were brave enough to go out there and do this live – Carrie live, Bette Midler was doing it filmed but no one had done a TV movie musical and people were very quick to say “Oh, it’s going to fail. It’s going to die.”
Neil: But you know, in retrospect, NBC has run The Sound of Music for the past three years over Christmastime. There’s a little bit more dignity that it has achieved since that initial broadcast and so we’re hoping that it stands the test of time as something that created this window for there to be more live TV musicals.
Ken: You produce in all aspects of entertainment – movie, film, TV, Broadway – if you could only produce one for the rest of your life which one would you choose?
Craig: I think that it’s impossible to answer because it’s not an accident.
Neil: How do you want to make a living, though?
Ken: Let’s say that doesn’t matter.
Neil: Oh, it matters.
Craig: Are you Joe Papp?
Ken: I wish.
Craig: Basically, the reason we’re in everything is because we find it inspiring to go from one to the other. So it’s great to do a feature film and then to go from that to do a TV series and it’s great to go from a TV series to do a Broadway show and then from a Broadway show to the Oscars. So we basically have been inspired and never felt like we’ve gotten stale or cynical by moving around in all the mediums because they are so different and you’re always challenged. I actually think that if we did one of them and did it over and over and over again, we’d be bored, and I think that we’re never bored, ever. We’re sometimes saying to ourselves “What are we doing?” because the three Oscar shows we did were not only terrifying but talk about hate tweeting, I mean oh my God, there’s nothing, nothing that inspires nastiness like the Academy Awards.
Ken: Well the more people watch it – there’s a theme here – the more public eye you have on you, whether you’re the Oscars or the president, you’re going to have a lot of theatres out there. How do you deal with negative criticism?
Neil: Oh, I don’t think Craig really reads as much as I do and I have a pretty thick skin and I look upon it, I think a lot of it is really funny and the stuff that’s just really mean, it’s too much, but being somewhere perversely fascinated by people’s pathology in terms of what social media allows them to become always kind of interests me.
Craig: The only want to get past it is one way. Like I remember having a moment of extraordinary understanding of the work we do when we did Chicago. I remember that we made the movie and we’re sitting in a screening room and Rob Marshall was about to show us the director’s first cut – it was the first time that anyone would have seen the movie cut together – and we sat there and we watched it and our jaws were dropping onto the floor because we thought “This is one of the best things we’ve ever seen,” and we thought “If no one likes it, if it gets terrible reviews, if everyone attacks it, if it doesn’t get nominated for anything, it’s okay because right now we’re the first people to see it and now’s the time to decide whether we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish,” and we felt we did. We felt like this is the movie we wanted to make, we made it exactly the way we wanted to make it and we can feel like we accomplished what our goal was and if other people didn’t like it, well, then they don’t like it. You can’t do it for everybody else in the world, you have to do it for yourself. We, of course, at that moment didn’t know it was going to go on and win all of those awards which it did but the greatest, most satisfying moment was not when it won the Oscar but when we saw the first screening and went “Wow, this is really good!”
Ken: You’ve worked in these various areas – is there something that Broadway producers or the Broadway industry can learn from film or TV? Is there something that you learn when you do a series or a film that, when you go to Broadway, you’re like “You know, we should do this a little bit more in the theatre,”?
Craig: In terms of the way advertising is done.
Neil: Yeah, I think a lot of the ways a Broadway show is sold is so antiquated and in terms of the shops that do it on Broadway, since there are two or three shops that do the advertising and the publicity, it’s like they cannibalize one another and you kind of don’t feel like you can be special. They take some sort of model from some other thing and they put it on your show and there’s a similarity amongst all of it and it all kind of gets congealed into one big sameness and I think there are many more opportunities in terms of Hollywood, in terms of advertising agencies and marketing agencies, where you can get a little bit more of a broader point of view, as opposed to the insular nature of what the theatre community is like, just in terms of the marketing and selling of a Broadway show.
Craig: I think that all of the stuff you do, you learn stuff that helps the other stuff. I think that the single most impactful example that I can ever give ever is the Oscars because when we looked at the Oscars we thought “Okay, it’s a TV special, we do TV. It’s based on movies, we make movies. And it’s a live stage show, we do theatre. So it’s almost like taking our experience in movies, television and theatre and putting it into a blender and what comes out is the Oscars.” Now, that is not the case for other people who have produced the Oscars but that is the case for us because, if you look back at our shows, we have more entertainment and more music and more moments in between giving out all of those awards than almost any other Oscar shows, prior or after it, so we felt like that’s who we were and that’s what we contributed to those shows the three years we did it.
Ken: Speaking about the marketing of Broadway shows and the differences between Broadway and Hollywood – Hollywood does a lot of testing, lots of screenings and focus groups and recuts and screenings again; Broadway doesn’t do that so much. Do you think we should do more of it? Do you like the amount of testing that’s done out here?
Neil: Do you know what? I read all about shows that do testing and I don’t know if it’s really impacted the box office, whereas sometimes when you test a movie or a TV show it does impact how you make it for a broader audience, but I don’t know if it’s been that effective in the theatre. I know Harvey Weinstein tried to do it with ‘Finding Neverland’ and I think Garth Drabinski was one of the first people to do it with ‘Ragtime’ and all of that, but did it really have an impact? I didn’t see it.
Ken: I worked for Garth during those periods when he was doing that testing.
Neil: Then you know. Because I read all about this and I’m going “Well why doesn’t it work? Why doesn’t this testing work for the theatre as well as it does for movies and TV?” but it doesn’t, so I think you just kind of have to trust your gut and see how your audiences react during out of town previews or previews in New York. It’s more about trusting your gut in the theatre.
Craig: I think what applies to everything is really watching the audience during the show because when you’re doing previews of a show on Broadway you sit there and you basically don’t look at the stage, you look at the audience, and if something that you thought was hilarious doesn’t get a laugh night after night and if something that you thought was okay all of a sudden brings the house down and you see that people are getting restless and going to the bathroom and shuffling around you start to realize that, boy, this doesn’t work because they’re bored – and the same thing applies for movies, I mean you can stare at the audience and watch them watch the movie. I don’t really pay attention that much to the testing. I think the testing screenings are very important for you to watch the audience, not to look at scores.
Neil: They are your previews.
Craig: Then, again, when you see something and you go “Okay, this is going to get a huge laugh,” and it’s silent, you go “That joke isn’t working,” and that’s happened time and time again. Especially in movies, when people are bored everybody gets up and goes to the bathroom or goes for popcorn or something and you know they’re going “Oh, this is a good time to go because this is boring,” so you learn so much about it.
Neil: We learned a couple of things during Chicago, because we originally tested it with a much darker ending and we made adjustments to make the ending seemingly a little bit more upbeat and satisfying and there were certain things that didn’t work that we experimented with. There was a cut of the film where we originally had Class in and it was interesting when we put Class back into the film – we tested it without Class first and then we put Class in and the numbers went down, then we took it out, the numbers went up. But we knew that, which is why we started off without it, because we knew that it didn’t quite work.
Craig: And not only did they not like the number but they turned on Catherine Zeta Jones.
Neil: And Queen Latifah.
Craig: And Queen Latifah, because they sang the number and they didn’t like the number.
Neil: Catherine was testing really high. When we put Class in, she went right down.
Craig: And then we took it out and tested it again and her numbers went way, way up again, so clearly they didn’t want to see Catherine sing that song. It really affected them in a very deep way.
Neil: And then the ending, you know, it was darker and one of Rob’s concepts for the ending was to give the illusion that our merry murderesses were back on stage performing but they had their comeuppance and you had the impression that there was some sort of violence at the end where they were shot, because it actually ended with a gunshot and a freeze-frame. We who have worked on the film know there’s a little bit of that left but you’d think that it was kind of a triumphant ending, a strange triumphant ending because they got away with murder, but actually they had their comeuppance in the original cut.
Ken: A question from one of my listeners now – feel free to give us the exclusive, when is Bombshell going to be on Broadway?
Neil: We actually are dealing with that probably every day. We are talking to book writers. Mark and Scott have been meeting with book writers, we haven’t settled on the entire creative team. Mark and Scott are extremely busy so we have to fit it into their schedule but it is very much on the present slate of things that we’re dealing with. I would imagine by the end of the year we would have a book writer secured and then they can actually start working but that’s just guessing.
Ken: Do you think we’ll see another Broadway-themed television show like Smash in the future? Anything in the works?
Craig: I don’t know that we will for a while. I mean I think we will but not immediately. I think that the unfortunate thing is the lack of success of the show, ending after a second season, was attributed to “Well, nobody’s interested in seeing something set in the world of Broadway.” We don’t think that was the case at all, we just don’t. We think that, especially because the pilot was a spectacular work and also it’s like one of those things where the ratings were huge so people don’t come and sample to that extent and give you those ratings if they’re not interested, so they were interested. What was the case is they decided that they didn’t really want to see the show and that was a number of factors that contributed to that – not one in particular, several – but it wasn’t that it was about Broadways and the world of Broadway, it was that the show didn’t accomplish what it accomplished in its pilot.
Neil: Yeah, Smash was interesting because what we loved about it was its ambitions. We can’t say that every episode was successful but every episode at least had something worthwhile in it, which is why there is probably more of a following of the show now that it’s cancelled than there was when the show was on the air, as demonstrated when we had the Bombshell concert which sold out in five minutes, which we were stunned by. We kind of thought that there was an audience that wanted to see it on stage but we were really stunned. That was one of the great nights. Were you there, by the way?
Ken: I wasn’t there, unfortunately.
Neil: Oh, it was a good night.
Ken: Tickets sold out too fast.
Neil: Five minutes.
Craig: Yeah, it was five minutes.
Ken: Okay, my last question, which is my Genie Questions. This is my James Lipton question so get ready for it, be prepared.
Neil: I want elm.
Ken: What’s your favorite curse word – that was my favorite bit. Now, so I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to see you and knocks on your door.
Neil: Disney’s Aladdin?
Ken: Disney’s Aladdin, yes, and says “I want to thank you for your incredible contributions to the theatre, to film, to television and I want to grant you both one wish.” What is the one thing that drives you crazy about Broadway, that gets you so frustrated, that would keep you up at night, that would make you pound the tables, that you would ask this genie to wish away with the snap of a finger?
Craig: One thing?
Ken: Just one thing.
Neil: The one thing I wish, currently, if I were to be granted that wish today is what makes me crazy is that there aren’t enough theatres to accommodate all of the shows that need to get produced.
Ken: I agree with that for sure. Craig?
Neil: So I wish there were more theatres.
Craig: I have one thing that literally drives me insane so I can answer this question completely obsessively – I despise the chat rooms. I think they are despicable, I think they take away the creative aspect of creating theatre in New York. If you go back and think about Michael Bennett when he created A Chorus Line, he was able to be at the Public Theatre in secrecy, making mistakes, doing things right, doing things wrong, experimenting, trying, all those talented people created that show. A Chorus Line couldn’t be created today because you would have people tweeting and Instagramming and Facebooking and saying horrible things before it was ready to be seen and they’ve stolen all the creative energy from the theatre. When people go to a show the first preview and they say “It’s absolutely terrible,” and maybe the first preview was a mess because they weren’t ready to start previews but there’s no opportunity given for you to fail and fix. Immediately you’re condemned and immediately you’re ripped to shreds and it’s dispiriting, it takes away your enjoyment and your passion. I find it to be so destructive and especially I’ve found it, in later years, to be even more destructive because we had a meal with a major theatre critic and we asked the theatre critic “Do you read the chat rooms?” and this guy said “Yes,” and we said “Does it inform your review?” and he said “I hate to admit it, but yes,” and when he said that I had this chill up my spine because I thought “Somebody is writing a review that maybe means life or death for your show and they’re going into the theatre not with an open mind but they’re going in there prejudiced based on stuff they read in the chat rooms,” and that, to me, is sad and unsettling. I know some people think it’s funny and it’s entertaining and all that – I don’t find it that way, I find it to be the one thing that really drives me insane.
Ken: I’m picturing if the chat rooms were around when A Chorus Line was created and Michael Bennett, or any of these great visionaries, some of whom were a little fragile, if they had read them would they have stopped doing what they were doing?
Neil: It didn’t seem to hurt the creation of Hamilton which kind of had the same trajectory.
Craig: Yeah, but I don’t think that it applies to every show. I think that shows that are starting out of thin air have to have the ability to fail and get up again and maybe you won’t get up again. Maybe the people who did Hamilton were more resilient. So I think that I just find it very destructive and very disappointed and also what I especially don’t like is what it does to actors – time and time again, previews start and actors read the chat rooms and they don’t want to go to work the next day. They feel like they failed, they like they’re terrible, because people said that they were terrible and it’s because it’s their first preview. I find that to be so upsetting because actors, more than anyone on the show, are more vulnerable and I’ve seen it time and time again, where people are devastated by the things that are said about them.
Neil: Carrie Underwood.
Ken: The difference between theatre and film and TV, of course, is Carrie didn’t have to do the show again the next night. These actors have to get there and do it over and over again. A very good wish. We’ll see what the genie can do. I’m not so sure.
Craig: I think the genie is not going to listen.
Ken: I want to thank you both for doing the podcast but, more importantly, I want to thank you. I’m no genie but I want to thank you for your contributions to the theatre. Everyone knows right now that Broadway is booming and I credit a huge part of that boom to what the two of you have done over the last two decades, starting with Gypsy and all the way up to everything you’re doing now, including the live telecasts. You’re exposing the theatre to millions and millions of people when you do this stuff and spreading the word and I thank you for that – and thank you, all of you, for listening. Until next time, I’m Ken Davenport, this is the Producer’s Perspective Podcast.