Guess what? The Tonys aren’t about reaching new audiences.

The Tony Awards ratings dropped a disappointing 8% this year, despite one of our most celebrity-studded presentations ever.  We had Green Day and a NY Jet and more Hollywood stars than the Betty Ford clinic.

So why didn’t tons of new viewers tune in and get hooked on showtunes?

Because it’s still a three-hour presentation about the very nichey subject of theater.  And if you’re not a theater fan, most likely you are not tuning in, I don’t care who you dress up in a gown and teach an R&H song to.

Are my football-loving and Budweiser-drinking friends from suburban Massachusetts all of a sudden going to give up three hours of their lives because a NY Jet has a 45-second intro to a musical?

Is the JetBlue pilot who flew me from Tampa to JFK but lives in Houston and has never seen a show in his life gonna feel so compelled to turn on the Tonys just because he loved Sean Hayes’s character from Will & Grace?

Or is my Brooklyn-based little brother, who works as a sound engineer mostly in the hip-hop scene (although he has worked a few sessions of Broadway musicals), gonna take time out from mixing beats to watch the number from Fela?

The answer is no, no, and whatever the word for ‘No’ is in Nigerian.

But don’t be depressed.  They were never the audience.  Sure, we’d all love it if millions of viewers turned on CBS just to catch a glimpse of Denzel in a tux, but that’s just not what happens.  Do a few more folks tune in because we’ve got a couple of folks from Glee?  Probably . . . but it’s not enough to make any noticeable difference.

And that fact has never been more noticeable than this year, with the almost double-digit drop in ratings.

But don’t be depressed, because IMHO, our mission with the Tony Awards isn’t about reaching new audiences (especially since it’s not working anyway).

Our marketing mission of the Tony Awards, should be energizing our core audience, the ones that tune in year after year, and to try to excite them so much that they . . .

  • See one more show per year than they usually do.
  • Bring a friend to a show who would not have gone on their own.

Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. Rather than focusing on trying to reach past our 20%, we should focus our efforts (and our awards shows) on that 20%, the faithful who are tuning in.  The show should whip them up into such a Broadway frenzy, that they go out and preach its importance as entertainment louder than the year before.

Because here’s what we know:

  • Word of Mouth is what sells everything.
  • People fall in love with the theater after being introduced to it by someone else.

New audiences don’t buy Broadway because they see a clip or a star on a Tony Award show.  They fall for what we do because they are dragged to it by someone else.  I didn’t have any clue what I was going to see when my Mom dragged me to Les Miz when I was 16, and I had been involved in the theater since I was 5.  But that performance changed my life.

I had never seen a Tony Awards before then.

And I’ve never missed one since.

My Top 5 Moments from Last Night’s Tony Telecast

Just like last year, here are five of my favorite things from last night’s Tony telecast.

1.  Sometimes the best speech is none at all.

Marian Seldes shocked (and scared) the crowd in the most classy way possible, by not saying one word after walking on stage to accept her Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.  It was a little odd, and a little awesome, all rolled into one legend.

2.  Neil Patrick who?

Sean Hayes tore up the stage as Annie, Spiderman, and as a straight guy making Kristin Chenoweth weak in the knees with that tongue-down of an opener. He was as good of a host as we could have asked for.  You’ve been raked through the ridiculous mud over the past couple of months, Sean.  But your gracious talents have made you even sexier to all sexes because of it.

3.  The straight play mashup.

You gotta give the Tonys some credit.  Every year they try a new way to include the straight plays in the telecast.  This year, it was a pair of starry performers from each play describing the plot to the audience (and if those descriptions were getting awards, then Next Fall would have won hands down), as well as remix mashup of straight play b-roll from all of the plays on Broadway this season.  If you didn’t see it, imagine a 17-year-old club kid who also loves straight plays making a three minute tribute to post to his YouTube account.  Was it successful?  I don’t know, but the effort deserves some applause.

4.  Watching a Tony Award audience try to clap in rhythm to Green Day.

Having Green Day on the show was like striking Radio City with a lightning bolt. Has there ever been that much pyro on a Tony Awards telecast?  It was awesome, and hopefully it got the younger crowds at home to tune in.  The older crowd that was in the audience at RCMH however, seemed to have a little trouble finding their punk-groove (did you see Michael Douglas trying to get into it with that head bob?).  The issue of this audience not naturally being in tune with this type of music was made much more obvious later, when American Idiot failed to win the Tony.  But thank you Green Day for bringing your passion and your popularity to our stage.

5.  The Tony for good sports goes to . . 

Bebe and Nathan.  No last names required.  They didn’t need to co-present. They didn’t need to poke fun at themselves.  They didn’t even need to be anywhere near the building.  But they did it all, and once again proved why they are the stars that they are.  This business is going to take us all on a ride.  You’ll be up one second, and down the next.  You’ll have your face on a billboard, and then you’ll be fighting for a bio in a program.  But maintaining a level head about it all is what makes people fall even more in love with what we do.

Other fave moments from the show included the LED wall (less sets, less expenses), Catherine Zeta’s acceptance speech, the Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele Glee-fest, and Daniel Radcliffe presenting with the 2-foot-taller Katie Holmes.

Overall, I’m giving the telecast a B+.  An A- would have been easy, if it weren’t for the many sound f-ups.  I mean, you found a way to bleep out “MIND F***” from American Idiot‘s performance, but you can’t get the mic to work for others?

What were your favorite moments from this year’s Tony Awards?

And stay tuned for the announcement of our Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool winner tomorrow!  Someone is getting an iPad!

The Top 5 Tony Nomination Surprises.

The 2010 Tony Award Nominations were announced just two-and-a-half hours ago and, as always, they included a few surprises.

Here are my top five head-shakers:

1.  The season’s biggest hit doesn’t get a shot at Best Musical.

Poor Addams Family.  On second thought, with their last week’s gross topping $1.3 million, I think the last word that we can use in the same sentence as Addams Family is “poor.”  However, for the 3rd year in a row, the Tony Nominators snubbed a big, fat (yet original), commercial show that steamrolled into town to less than enthusiastic critical acclaim, but a lot of popular love.  Legally Blonde, 9 To 5 and now The Family.  Honestly, this wasn’t much of a surprise.  What was a surprise was that the jukebox-y Million Dollar Quartet took the fourth spot over Come Fly Away . . . and frankly, I’m still surprised at how both of them were considered more of a contender for this slot than Family, considering that Family is more of a traditional musical than both of them combined.  Let’s face it . . . the nominators officially like the jukebox musical. They embraced Rock of Ages last year, and this year, MDQ.

So, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert . . . fear not.

Two questions come to mind as a result of this surprise:

– Will Addams Family get a number on the show?

– Will their grosses suffer an immediate drop as a result of the snub?

Answers?

– Yes.

– And no.

2.  Stars actually got nominations.

Sometimes the Tony nominators like to tell Hollywood stars to go back where they came from, by overlooking them for a possible Tony trophy.  Not this year. Denzel Washington (who was overlooked in 2005 for his Caesar), Catherine Zeta-Jones, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Kelsey Grammer, Jude Law, Christopher Walken, Linda Lavin, David Alan Grier, and Sean Hayes all got nods for their work on the boards this year.  (Left off the list were our usual favorites, Kristin Chenoweth, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, but their mantles are doing just fine, I’d say).  The fact that the nominations look like the invite list to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party is a good thing.  Most importantly, all of these stars did fantastic work this year and deserve the kudos.  Now let’s hope this will go a long way in getting more of their brothers and sisters from the Hollywood Hills to come join us for a “limited time only.”

3.  There are four nominees for best score.

We saw this one coming last week, when the Tony Admin Committee announced that both Enron and Fences would be eligible in the Best Score category.  It was a good move, IMHO, because Shubert Alley had been buzzing about the dearth of original scores this year.  I don’t think they need to seat those two scores too close to the podium on award night, but it’s nice to see the category rounded out. And the scores are unique, interesting, and definitely deserving of some love.

4.  Sherie Rene Scott owes Megan Mullally a drink.

Six weeks ago, SRS was looking at an uneventful spring.  Then, MM ups and walks from Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and now, SRS has two Tony nominations to keep her busy!  (Interesting side note:  Sherie Rene Scott replaced Megan Mullally in the Rosie O’Donnell Grease that I worked on back in ’94).  This surprise story isn’t over yet . . . because by my read, SRS has a good shot at taking home a trophy on Tony night.  And all this star-aligning-stuff couldn’t happen to a nicer gal.

5.  The British hit about an American company won’t be Best Play.

You know what the most difficult translation in the world is?  From English to American and American to English.  You’d think it’d be so much easier to predict what works in each of these markets based on the success in the other.  Alas, it ain’t that easy.  Unfortunately, Enron, a British play based on American subject matter, didn’t impress the nominators and failed get a Best Play nom.  Nine months ago, I would have bet big on this one not only getting a nomination but also taking home the top prize.  Just goes to show you, you never know what’s going to happen until that curtain goes up.

How did I do with my predictions?  I scored a 75% overall, missing one show in each of the three categories I predicted (which, coincidentally is exactly how I scored last year).

How did you do?

And stay tuned . . . The Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool will be announced shortly.  We’ve just got to figure out what the prizes are going to be . . .

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