If the show was good, why were ratings so low?

Talk about a Broadway buzz kill.

After last year’s raging success of a Tony show (everyone was so nervous about taking the show from Radio City to The Beacon – and then they realized that maybe a theater awards show would be better in an actual theater than in a Rockette-inhabited barn) this year the ratings took a post-Christmas-grosses-like nosedive, dropping a whopping 13%.

The LA Times reported that this was the least watched telecast since 1992.


But we’re not here to just bark and complain.  We’re here to figure out why.  (Or at least come up with some crazy theories.)

So why do I think we took a few steps back?  Here are three reasons why:

1.  There were no super stories.

2011 had Book of Mormon and Spider-Man eating up a lot of press ink all over the world.  I had people calling/emailing me that I hadn’t talked to in years asking me, “What’s up with that Spider-Man show?”  At every speaking engagement of mine last year, if it was going a little soft, I always knew I could loosen up the crowd with a quick Spider-Man joke.  Everyone knew about it.  And everyone was curious.  Same thing with the Mormon skit.  Talk about curious.  South Park + Mormons = what the @$%$?  Broadway is a business fueled by hits.  And when we’ve got ’em, all our boats rise.

2.  Was there enough advertising/marketing?

TV shows are like Broadway shows.  People don’t just come in droves on their own.  You’ve got to tell them to come.  And if  people don’t come, you have to ask yourself if you’re advertising enough, and to the right demo.  Could CBS promote it more?  Was there a pullback this year? (I honestly don’t know the answer to this question, but it deserves to be asked.)  Could we promote it more?  I don’t think we’re getting enough of the casual theatergoers to tune in . . . like how casual moviegoers tune into the Oscars.  And part of that reason may be that they just don’t know that it’s on, as simple as that sounds.

3.  We’re not creating new theatergoers.

I know, I know, I sound like a broken CD, but remember how our attendance stayed flat this year?   Do we really expect viewership of our very nichey inside-joke-filled award show to expand if we’re not expanding our audience?  People don’t watch the Tonys to fall in love with the theater.  They’re already in love.  They’ve already experienced it.  Then they tune in.  We’ve got to get more people seeing shows, and then they’ll watch the award show about the shows.

There could be a zillion other reasons why the ratings took a dive this year . . . some which we can control, and some which we can’t and/or shouldn’t.  Frankly, it’s probably a stew-like version of all of these reasons stirred together.  But even if there are a zillion reasons, we’ve got to identify at least a couple o’ thousand . . . because Broadway’s biggest night of the year is the Tony Awards.  It’s the biggest marketing weapon in our arsenal.  It’s a chance for us to reach people we can’t reach on our own, and that’s super important to the survival of what we do as an art form.

What other reasons do you think the show didn’t perform as well as previous years?


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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.