Fox earlier this week announced that it will telecast a three-hour live production of the musical “Grease” sometime during 2015. If all goes well this will undoubtedly be one of the biggest television events of next year. A musical will certainly be a comfortable fit on Fox, home of “American Idol,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Glee,” and until recently, “The X Factor.”
It was only a matter of time before another broadcaster tried with a similar special of its own to duplicate the success NBC had last December with its live presentation of the stage musical “The Sound of Music.” “Music” was one of the most popular broadcast entertainment programs of 2014 and while it didn’t thrill every critic at every outlet, the public seemed to wholeheartedly embrace it, even during repeat telecasts.
Before its competitors could make plans for similar musical presentations of their own, NBC announced in January that it was already preparing a live version of “Peter Pan.” Like “Music,” it will premiere in December during the holiday season. That’s how significant broadcast traditions are made. It’s wonderful to see a new one take shape — at least at NBC, in an era when so many long-time broadcast traditions are either losing their appeal or at least some of their audiences. Broadcast networks have always thrived on traditional fare — sports events, award shows, holiday specials, annual telecasts of movie classics — which might be collectively classified as the ultimate appointment viewing.
As for Fox’s “Grease,” I have to admit that the first thing I thought about when I heard the news was the awful 2007 NBC reality competition series “Grease: You’re the One That I Want!,” in which extremely talented young men and women vigorously competed for starring roles in an eventual Broadway revival of the beloved musical by performing songs and dances from the production and surviving painful weekly eliminations. The show was inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit British competition series “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” which sought a leading lady for a West End production of “The Sound of Music.” It was so successful that Webber the following year produced “Any Dream Will Do,” in which young men competed for the starring role in a West End production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“GREASE: YTOTIW” was no “Maria” or “Dream.” It was, in fact, brutal to sit through. (Interestingly, Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly was president of NBC Entertainment at the time. So he is obviously a huge fan of “Grease.” I know that he expected more from “You’re the One That I Want.”) I bring it up only as a reminder that it’s easy to get excited about an idea that sounds so dynamic. The magic and the ratings results are always in the actual execution.
That said, a live “Grease” sounds great. Will it work on television? Why shouldn’t it? Many people thought “The Sound of Music” wouldn’t work, but it was a perfect (and perfectly unexpected) holiday treat. I tend to think that “Music” did as well as it did because it worked so well in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when the appeal of family-friendly programming is at its annual peak.
I don’t imagine “Grease” being looked upon as a Christmas present. It seems more like a spring thing. Actually, sometime during the final week of the February sweeps period feels right, when people are ready to put winter behind them and before daylight savings time compromises television viewing levels. “Grease” is the ideal summer entertainment, but given the amount of work and the costs involved, I don’t see Fox tossing it away during the low-rated months of June, July or August. (Personally, I’m hoping for a performance from “Grease” during Fox’s upfront presentation on May 12. Surely there is talent available from “Glee” or “Idol”? Maybe the Warblers could do “Greased Lightning?”)
The casting will be key. Entertainment writers and bloggers — and the Twitterverse — will be buzzing with speculation about which hotties should play Danny, Sandy, Rizzo and the rest of the iconic “Grease” characters for as long as Fox allows them to.
Regardless, a live telecast of “Grease” gives us something to look forward to on Fox, which in the year to come could use a few more must-see programs of any kind, given the issues the network has had this season with many long-running shows and the trouble it has had building audiences for its newer series. “Grease” — like the return of “24” and the crazy-sounding “I Wanna Marry Harry” — should be another step in the right direction.
by Ed Martin