Are there fewer long running shows on Broadway now than there used to be?

There was an interesting chart in last week’s Variety that listed all of the “long running shows” in Broadway history year by year (a “long run” by Variety standards is anything over 1,000 performances, or a little under 2.5 years).

Have you ever wondered if we’ve been producing the same number of 1000 show-runners as in previous years?

I did.

So, I broke it down by decade (since we’re almost at the end of another one), and here’s what I found out:

1910 – 1919    1 Long Runner
1920 – 1929    1
1930 – 1939    4
1940 – 1949    10
1950 – 1959    8
1960 – 1969    17
1970 – 1979    22
1980 – 1989    11
1990 – 1999    16
2000 – 2009    12*

*The actual count in our current decade is 11, but I’m going to predict that Billy Elliot will get added to the list and make it a perfect dozen.

You can see that Golden Age for the long running shows was in the 60s and 70s. So what did we lose in the 80s and beyond that took a bite out of these totals?

Well, here’s a hint . . .

In the 60s, 6 of the 17 long runners were plays.
In the 70s, 5 of the 22 long runners were plays.
In the 80s, 2 of the 11 long runners were plays.
In the 90s, there were ZERO long running plays.
In the 00s, there were ZERO long running plays.

The long running play is dead, and it has been for 20 years.

That doesn’t mean that plays can’t be successful.  The past two decades have produced financial and artistic successes like Doubt, Proof, and August.  But these unfortunate statistics should be used to help manage expectations for Producers and Investors when planning a production of a play.

The bigger question is what caused this shortened lifespan?  Is it the increase of our expenses? A change in our audience’s appetite?

Or is it simply the fact that Neil Simon isn’t writing new plays as often as he used to.

In the last five decades, 3 of those 13 long running plays or a whopping 1/3 of all the long running plays were by the master of two act comedies himself (and Mr. Simon also wrote one of the long running musicals as well).

Where is the next Neil when we need him/her?

The long running show faces significant challenges in the years ahead, thanks to our continued inflation of expenses, as well as the audience ceiling we’re smacking our head against.

My prediction is that the next decade will produce the lowest amount of long running shows since the 50s.

In the meantime, next season will see the revival of two of Mr. Simon’s best.

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“Recession? What Recession,” says movie biz. What says Broadway?

All those Wall St. folk that thought they were playing it safe by going into investment banking instead of movie-making are shaking their heads this week after Variety reported a 13% increase in Box Office grosses for ’09 versus the same period in ’08.
What the?
There are lots of arguments explaining the surge as discussed in this article, but one of the most common (but as yet unverified) is that people are going to movies as an economical escape.
Variety’s article led me to decide to take our own temperature as well.  How are we shaping up in ’09?  Could we be benefiting from the current climate, like we did in The Depression?
Here’s where we stand:
So far this year, the numbers are:

$149,741,807 gross sales
1,915,165  tickets sold

As of this time last year, the numbers were as follows:

$162,495,915 gross sales
2,243,473 tickets sold

That’s a 7.85% decrease in gross sales and a 14.63% decrease in tickets sold.
Not so good, my friends.  Not so good . . .
But wait.  There’s a silver-plated lining in there if you look deep enough.
Last year we had an average of 32.5 productions per week during this 10 week period.
This year we have an average of 24 productions per week.
The drop in gross and tickets sold makes more sense now, right?  Well, if you keep on doin’ some crunching you’ll see that the average gross of those 32.5 productions during the first 10 weeks of last year was $499,987.
The average gross of the 24 productions running in this year’s first 10 weeks?
So, if you were one of the fortunate few shows that made it through 1st of the year, put your head down and kept on going, chances are that the recession is paying off.
Now, what will happen when that 24 number gets back up into the 30s this Spring is another matter entirely . . .

Favorite Quotes Volume XVII: The buck stops. Period.

There are a number of great quotes in this Variety article about how Broadway Producers will go about building productions both physically and creatively during the economic mudslide we’re in, but my favorite is from Legally Blonde and Catch Me If You Can Producer Hal Luftig.

Hal also produced Thoroughly Modern Millie (which I company managed), and with his partners, staged one heck of a comeback to win the Tony Award for Best Musical, despite a poor NY Times review that had us all worried that the toe-tapper wouldn’t last the summer.
When discussing how he was keeping a tighter rein on the economics from day one, Hal had this to say to possible critics of his current policies:

“Inexpensive doesn’t mean cheap.”

Hal is right.

It’s easy to be cheap.  And it’s lazy to be lavish.
But finding a way of doing something of the same value for a lesser price is an art.  And in this climate, it’s a necessity.

Want a monster in the movie biz? You need a monster.

Variety just released their report on the the 250 top grossing films in the US in 2008.  Take a look at the top 10, and see if you notice some of the same trend that I did.

1.  The Dark Knight
2.  Iron Man
3.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
4.  Hancock
5.  Wall-E
6.  Kung Fu Panda
7.  Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
8.  Twilight
9.  Quantum of Solace
10.  Horton Hears a Who

Every single of one of these films, the biggest domestic blockbusters of 2008, is a fantasy.

And in every single one, the main character 1) is male and 2) possesses super-human abilities or isn’t even even human!

The regular people films, like Juno, don’t start to appear on the list until the next ten.

Interesting, no?

So if you want to make a lot of money in the movies, produce a super-hero type fantasy with a male lead, right?

Well, yes . . . and no. Remember, these are gross sales, not net profit after expenses.

Sure, Dark Knight took in $531 million domestically.  But it cost $185 million.  That’s a profit of $346 mill, or 187% domestically.

Juno, our darling #18 on the list, took in $112 million domestically at an initial budget of only 6.5 million.  That’s a profit of 105.5 million or 1623%.

One made a lot of cash.  One made a lot of profit.

Looking just at the Broadway productions, which would you rather have running on Broadway right now . . . Shrek or In The Heights?

Tomorrow we’ll look at the biggest grossing Broadway shows of 2008.  We’ll see if there are any of the same trends.

Critic-al about the revolution.

The aristocracy of theatrical society, our critics, have lost five of their members over the last five months, and that’s got them a little nervous and a little peeved, as this article from Variety states.

While word of mouth has always been the #1 reason why people buy tickets, online media and the internet in general (including the billions of people in the blogosphere), have sped up the spreading of that word like milk of magnesia speeds up you know what.

So what has happened?  Just like in revolutionary France or revolutionary anywhere . . . the people have grown tired of listening to the privileged few, so they’re taking the power for themselves and away from those who thought they were safe in their manors.

Unfortunately, manors aren’t much when they are built out of ‘papers’.

It’s a bit surprising that they’re so critical of what’s happening.  I would bet that most critics are pretty liberal ladies and gents, and it seems that how shows rise to the surface is becoming more democratic.