How to spin a story, brought to you by SVU.

I had a staycation over the holidays, which involved some great takeout, some new board games (big fan of this one), and a lot of Law & Order: SVU.

I learned a lot about cops and lawyers and what I would do if I was ever arrested . . . but, I learned a bit about press too.

And I didn’t learn this tidbit from the actual story on the show, but from the way the Network was selling me to watch.

See, the pre-New Year’s Eve marathon I channel surfed onto was pitched as “Commercial Free.”  And it really was!  There were no pee breaks, no pretzel breaks, no breaks of any kind.  Each seven-or-so-minute segment of the show (which always end with these dramatic chords) rolled into the next, which rolled into the next and eventually rolled into the next episode.

And while that type of SVU suspense was a bit overwhelming at times (especially when Andy Karl got shot in a season finale), the idea of no commercials kept the station on all day (including while my wife and I played this other great board game).

So it worked.

And when I finally had to hit pause so I could grab the Chinese food at the door, and give me and my dog a “bio break,” I realized something.

The network spun a negative story into a positive one.

The marathon I was watching started midday, during a holiday period when I’d bet most people were NOT watching TV.  And it started in the afternoon.

In other words, I bet the advertising time was a difficult sell.

So they didn’t sell it.

A business’s first instinct when facing a “down time,” is usually to get desperate and slash prices, offer deals and beg for any business any way you can get it (this is especially true in perishable inventory industries like media, restaurants and the theater).

But instead of getting desperate, and selling the time for pennies on the dollar, this network spun the story around.  And, in a brilliant example of how to control a story, they went public with the opposite tale .  . . that they were not even offering the advertising time for sale!

It was the perfect spin.

The next time you’re faced with a challenge on your show or your business and are going to take a hit no matter what, see if you can turn the story around and get a win out of it in your customer’s eyes.  (e.g. Can’t sell seats on Super Bowl Sunday?  Offer tickets to a charity.)

Because sometimes the best commercial for what you’re selling is no commercial at all.

 

WARNING to all underlying rights holders: Look at our history.

Last week, I talked about how we’re in what I call The Independent Theater Era on Broadway (and actually –  the embrace of Once On This Island by audiences and critics that I’m oh so grateful for, further proves the point).

It’s our audience’s current appetite for originality, as well as the history of our biggest hits, that have me a bit perplexed as of late when it comes to the demands I’m seeing from some underlying rights holders who have been approached about a musical adaptation of their work.

Let me back up.

In case you’ve never heard that term before, an “Underlying Rights Holder” is anyone who is in control of a property that is being adapted for (in our world) a theatrical treatment.  For example, the author of a novel, a movie company, the controller of a musical catalog, etc.

And when approaching one of these URHs, you cut deals for dollars, approvals, billing, etc.

Now, of course, the URH is in complete control and can, and should, ask for whatever he/she/it wants, especially if they could care less about a musical or play ever being made (Negotiating Tip! The best negotiators are the ones who don’t give a @#$% if the deal happens or not).

But if they do want a deal to happen, then they should take another look at the requests they’re making.

Because just look at some of the biggest hits of the last few years:

Dear Evan Hansen – based on an original story

Come From Away – based on history and interviews

Hamilton – yes, they did base this on a book, but there is an argument to be made that they didn’t have to . . . it’s a treatment of historical facts

And look at the longest running musicals of all time!

I count 50% of the musicals in this category that are either based on public domain material (Phantom, Les Miz) or on other unique source material (A Chorus Line, Disney’s movies – of which the subjects were public domain, and of course, the stage producer is the same as the movie producer, so there aren’t any URH roadblocks).

With a historical 50/50 shot at super-success with original or public domain material, and with the recent trend of what’s hot on Broadway, these URH (or more specifically, their lawyers) should tread lightly when asking for too much control if they want to participate in the current Broadway gold rush.

Because I’ve been hearing Producers grumble lately that adapting something not only costs more, but ties a creative noose around your neck (too many approvals, often from people who have never created a musical before), and it just takes a heck of a lot longer.

And as a result, more and more (including me) are just starting to walk away.

 

Are we in the Independent Theater Era on Broadway?

The mid to late 90s ushered in a new age of filmmaking.  It was the era of the “indie,” as movies outside the traditional studio model, many of which were lower budget, featured fewer stars and had more artsy themes, started to dominate the box office and the awards shows.

They were made for less but could gross just as much as a tentpole, making their profit margins higher while being more adventuresome than their big studio counterparts.

Many would say that it saved the art of filmmaking.

As I looked over the grosses for last week and thought about the shows on the boards, I couldn’t help but wonder (with a smile), are we at the onset of the Independent Era here on Broadway?

Just look at some of the shows that are crushing it . . .First, of course, we have Hamilton . . . a piece born entirely out of the brain of one individual.

But then we have the Best Musical winner, Dear Evan Hansen, doing $1.9mm, after its “star” left the building, and certainly not with typical Broadway subject matter.  Oh, and has anyone realized that there are only 8 people in that show?  They don’t even have enough for a 5-on-5 Basketball game, never mind a giant tap number.

Come From Away?  Yep.

And oh wait, what about this season’s The Band’s Visit, which just did $1.3mm!

Sure, sure, Disney is still crushing it, and the superstar-driven revivals will spit out their sliver of profit . . . but the real art AND commerce is in these independent shows.

You know what else about those shows I just mentioned above?  They are all produced by individuals, not by corporations (and I know all those people calling the shots on the shows . . . and they are strong, visionary, take-no-prisoners people who wouldn’t let a tank get in the way of what they want to do).

So yeah, we’re in the Independent Era. And it’s awesome.

You know what happened after the Independents started crushing it in Hollywood?  The big studios started to buy them out.

Could that happen here?

(Speaking of the Independent Era – subscribe to the blog here to make sure you get next week’s write-up delivered straight to your inbox – because I’ve got a warning for those who may have gotten too big for their britches.)

 

Broadway Grosses w/e 11/26/2017: Give Thanks for Thanksgiving.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending November 26, 2017.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Podcast Episode 140 – Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director, Mark Hoebee

WARNING:  The story that Mark Hoebee tells on this podcast will make you sweat.

It’s about when Paper Mill Playhouse, which costs well over $10 million to run every year, had only $6k left in the bank.

Ugh.  My stomach did a backflip just typing that.

And it was just about then that Mark took over the wheel as the captain of the ship.  Imagine being promoted to take over the Titanic after you hit the iceberg!  Who wants that job?!?

Well, Mark looked at that iceberg in the rear-view mirror and trudged forward.  And thanks to him and the good people of the Paper Mill community, Paper Mill turned it around, won a Tony Award, and has put multiple shows on Broadway with a bunch more circling the runway.

Tune in to this week’s podcast to hear what it’s like to run one of the most powerful regional theaters within kick-ball-change distance of Broadway as well as . . .

  • What Broadway had to do with the Paper Mill’s recession.
  • How he looked at himself as an audience member, not an Artistic Director, in order to program his seasons.
  • Working with commercial producers on out-of-town tryouts.
  • Why Cameron Mackintosh started stumping for Paper Mill.
  • The difference between the relationship with the consumer on Broadway versus the consumer at a Regional Theater, and how we can learn from each other.

Musicals are becoming more dependent on regional theaters to help launch our shows.  Listen in to hear why Paper Mill, under Mark’s leadership, has become such a wonderful launching pad for new shows . . . maybe even yours.

Click here for the link to my podcast with Mark!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

 

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