Seriously, Why Even Broadcast the Tony Awards?

I think Neil Patrick Harris is a great choice for the Tony Awards host, but if they’re going to eliminate all the awards from the broadcast, I don’t know if I see the point of watching:

Tony officials announced this week that the awards for things such as lighting, sets and costumes — all insignificant components of a Broadway show, as anyone who works in the theater can attest — will not make the broadcast.

And that’s not all.

Also banned from prime time are the awards for choreography, book of a musical and revival of a play.

The article goes on to explain that CBS’s Les Moonves demanded “more entertainment and fewer speeches.” I know that awards for craftsmanship and design are not considered exciting on any awards show — the Oscars would probably cut most of those out if the networks could get away with it — but if the broadcast cuts out every award that involves people the audience hasn’t heard of (including, with musicals, the person who actually does most of the writing), then it turns into nothing but a variety show where most of the variety acts aren’t good enough to sustain interest.

The essence of a truly successful awards show is suspense and competition, as well as glamour. But without the suspense and competition, the glamour doesn’t really come off: stars at the Oscars, the Emmys and even the Golden Globes are playing out a story of beautiful people in competition with each other. The awards that don’t involve beautiful or famous people are used as a way of building suspense: the camera cuts to the stars during and after the craft awards, making the audience feel more and more anxious to see the next beautiful-people award. If they just jumped from one “big” award to the next, there would be no buildup and no suspense.

Which is to say that if the Tonys think they’re making things more interesting by cutting out all the non-famous people, they’re wrong. They just make the whole thing boring and repetitive, like a play that’s nothing but climaxes or a musical that’s nothing but production numbers. And they wonder why people don’t watch their show, despite the irresistible inducements of Shrek musical numbers.

I said something negative about Stephen Sondheim elsewhere, so I want to end this by noting that when he won his first Tony Award, he actually started his speech by talking about the essential people who should have been eligible for awards, but weren’t. That’s classy. Maybe a winner this week will give a shout-out to someone who did win but couldn’t be seen in the broadcast.

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