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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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.