How much does Broadway matter to TV viewers?

Posted 6/8/18

By Kevin McDonough

Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban host the 72nd Annual Tony Awards (8 p.m. Sunday, CBS), celebrating the best of Broadway over the past year. Both have been nominated for recent Tonys, Bareilles for the score to "Waitress" and …

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How much does Broadway matter to TV viewers?

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban host the 72nd Annual Tony Awards (8 p.m. Sunday, CBS), celebrating the best of Broadway over the past year. Both have been nominated for recent Tonys, Bareilles for the score to "Waitress" and Groban for his performance in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812."

Never a big ratings winner, the Tony Awards are very special for theater fans. But how much does Broadway matter to the rest of us? To popular culture? How many songs from Broadway musicals have topped the charts over the past half-century? How many times did "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell use the word "cabaret" as a pejorative?

A recent appreciation of the 75th anniversary of "Oklahoma!" by Todd S. Purdum in The New York Times called the musical the "Hamilton" of its time. I'm not sure the comparison is apt. He cites an anecdote by war correspondent John Hersey of American combat soldiers in Sicily in 1943 breaking into "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" in their foxholes. Are today's soldiers deployed around the globe humming tunes from "Hamilton" or "Dear Evan Hansen" in their barracks?

It's rather telling that the kinds of musicals that have been adapted for live TV events over the past several years tend to be old standards like "Grease" and "The Sound of Music." Next year, NBC will present a live version of "Hair," a musical that debuted a half-century ago.

This past season, NBC made a pointed effort to drag contemporary musical theater into prime time. Ultimately, "Rise" and its tale of a high school drama club's production of "Spring Awakening" sank under the weight of its own self-importance. "Smash," NBC's sudsy 2012 backstage tale of the making of a Broadway musical, never really thrived.

Perhaps TV's healthiest relationship to "new" musicals is in the musical episodes that long-running series produce, particularly toward the end of their run when the talent seem to have done everything else. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Ally McBeal," "Grey's Anatomy," "How I Met Your Mother," "Scrubs," "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Psych" have all presented musical episodes, often as cheeky send-ups. Those efforts parallel the rise of musicals like "The Producers" from Mel Brooks and "The Book of Mormon" from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, both hit Broadway shows from non-Broadway talent, affectionate parodies of musical theater tradition.

Arguably, television's greatest contribution to contemporary Broadway can be summed up in two words and an ampersand. Bit parts and cameos on the New York-based "Law & Order" franchise have kept hundreds, if not thousands, of actors employed between shows.

• A&E continues to revive its "Biography" franchise with "GOTTI: Godfather & Son" (10 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday, TV-14), a four-hour two-night profile of several generations of the notorious headline-grabbing Gambino crime family. It puts special focus on the relationship between convicted gangster John Gotti and his son and namesake and features conversations between John Jr. and his dying father at a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Missouri.

Touted as "unprecedented," this is the latest in Gotti-centric programming from the channel once known as the "Arts & Entertainment Network." In 2004, A&E aired the reality series "Growing Up Gotti," featuring the mobster's daughter Victoria and her wacky brood. In 2014, the network broadcast a reunion special, "Growing Up Gotti: Ten Years Later." I'm holding out for "A Very Gotti Wedding." The movie "Gotti," starring John Travolta, hits theaters on June 15.

• Next to clips of cute puppies or kittens, footage of people being nice to animals is catnip for some viewers. Animal Planet teams up with the digital content company Dodo to present "Dodo Heroes" (9:02 p.m. Saturday, Animal Planet, TV-PG), profiles of individuals who go to great lengths to help out critters great and small.

First up is Derrick Campana, who runs Animal OrthoCare, a company that creates prosthetics for pets and larger animals. He's seen traveling the world, helping a quadriplegic dog in Arizona and then jetting to Botswana, where he fits a large animal named Jabu with the world's first elephant orthotic leg brace.

"Claws" (9 p.m. Sunday, TNT, TV-MA) enters its second season in a beauty salon knee-deep in criminal intrigue. Filled with larger-than-life characters, this is a classic case of cluttering up a potentially likable series with layers of mob intrigue and violence.

It's hardly alone. "Barry" did a great comedic job of sending up the pretenses of an actors' studio. Why did its central character need to be a mob hitman, a psychopathic killer? "Succession" (10 p.m. Sunday, HBO, TV-MA) concerns an ailing patriarch and his insecure brood eager for his attention and blessing. In short, the stuff of great drama. Why does HBO think we'll only watch if it concerns billionaires?

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• On back-to-back episodes of "The Crossing" (ABC, TV-PG), a plan for escape (8 p.m.), unlikely allies (9 p.m.). The second is the series finale.

• A daughter uses an unsuspecting friend to get back at her stepfather in the 2018 thriller "A Daughter's Revenge" (8 p.m., Lifetime).

• A sober Patrick comes to terms with his late mother on the finale of "Patrick Melrose" (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): an interview with Brad Parscale, digital media director for the Trump campaign; a profile of international street artist "JR."

• If necessary, the Washington Capitals host the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m., NBC).

• The series conclusion of "Carriers at War" (8 p.m., Smithsonian) showcases the new USS Ford, noted for its technology and infamous price tag.

• Emma discovers the bar's real worth on the season finale of "Vida" (8:30 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

"Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" (9 p.m., CNN) visits Berlin.

• Madison takes a stand on "Fear the Walking Dead" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

• Bianca is refused service at a gay bar serving only "real" men on "Pose" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

CULT CHOICE

A magic spell bonds a New York publisher (Jimmy Stewart) with a fetching witch (Kim Novak) and her eccentric circle (Jack Lemmon, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester) in the 1958 romantic comedy "Bell, Book & Candle" (8 p.m. Saturday, TCM).

SATURDAY SERIES

A very expensive Dutch treat on "Ransom" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Bryan's cousin becomes a target on "Taken" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

SUNDAY SERIES

The Kardashians play "Celebrity Family Feud" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * A future Lisa recalls forgettable birthdays on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) * On two helpings of "Ghosted" (Fox, TV-PG), bugging out (8:30 p.m.), cold water from the top (9:30 p.m.) * Comics face off on "The $100,000 Pyramid" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) * Three cinematic takes on Peter's termination on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) * Celebrities are asked "To Tell the Truth" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

© 2018, United Feature Syndicate