Hey CBS, Do Better
Even as Broadway theaters sit eerily quiet and the Tony ceremony postponed, CBS — the network that has hosted the annual awards telecast since 1978 — has opted to fill the time slot with a showing of the (ironically also from) 1978 film version of Grease.
In what seemed like a Friday-news-dump, the Columbia Broadcasting Network announced it would air the movie-musical in sing-along form as a part of its Sunday Night Movies series.
Quickly after the decision came down the pipe, however, many in the Broadway community voiced strong opposition to the idea.
"Really, @cbs? You're going to air a Grease sing-a-long in place of the
@TheTonyAwards?" theatre and television star Jeremy Jordan wrote on Twitter. "Whose grandmother's idea was this? (no offense, Nana) Leave the sing-a-longs to Disney and give live theatre back the ONE NIGHT of respect it gets per year."
Jordan who appeared on Super Girl, a series carried in its first season by CBS, was also nominated for a Tony in 2012 for his work leading the company of Broadway's Newsies.
"We have thousands of artists out of work indefinitely," Jordan went on in a second Tweet, "millions of people who can't experience the magic of live theatre, and an entire national population that deserves more than their 500th viewing of a dated film literally singing the praises of social conformity."
Patti Murin, a Broadway and television actress who originated the role of Anna in Frozen on Broadway — a musical, by the way, that just announced it won't reopen due to the COVID 19 coronavirus pandemic — also spoke up about the network's decision.
"Not like, a retrospective of past great Tony performances and speeches and moments?" Murin wrote on Twitter. "Or something highlighting the amazing work that people in theatre do for their community? Or literally anything other than this?"
"Right?" responded well known Broadway actress, Jennifer Cody. "I was hoping we could see 4 hours of the best Tony performances hosted by Various Broadway peeps from their homes talking about their favorite Tony memories. #please#prettyplease."
The answer remains to be seen if the pressure from theatre and television stars will bring about a change in the network's decision, but CBS's choice to air the film instead of a Tony Award retrospective or content highlighting or celebrating a cultural institution like Broadway is the wrong choice.
Broadway, for New York City, is more than just a checkmark on a tourist's itinerary list, it stands as a billion-dollar economy that supports a thriving midtown Manhattan. It reflects a community of artists, craftspeople, laborers, employees, small businesses, hotels, bars, and countless restaurants, all of which staff workers reeling deeply from the pandemic's effects. An enormous, good-hearted, and hard-working industry of folks who depend on CBSs' annual Tony broadcast to remind the rest of the world that Broadway is still here, still kicking, and still breathtakingly amazing.
And, love Grease or hate it, it isn't what the nation needs to see right now. The annual Tony night timeslot is a perfect opportunity to celebrate, on the largest stage Broadway can, the fact that theatre has always come back and will, again, be here when it's safe to return.
CBS's betrayal of Broadway in a time like this leaves a distinct stain on the network's longtime support of the theatre community. Hopefully, they'll fix it.
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Michael Mahany serves as NYC Dance News & Culture’s founder and Editor-At-Large. Additionally, he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of 'Rock Of Ages' in New York City. He's also a co-host of the 'Pod De Deux' dance podcast. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or visit www.michaelmahany.com for more. Story tips? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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