Fox Entertainment chairman Charlie Collier said Wednesday at TCA that he does not regret airing Rent and also does not see a future of live musicals in which lead characters all have understudies. Asked what he learned from the experience, Collier admitted he’d sent handwritten notes to everyone involved in the production before its airdate and signed them, “Break a leg.”
Rent, based on Jonathan Larson’s beloved ’90s Broadway musical, reverted to mostly rehearsal footage in its “live” broadcast last month after star Brennin Hunt, who played struggling musician Roger, broke his foot during a dress rehearsal. The show went on, but ratings hit a record low for a live-musical television program.
“On Sunday morning I rewrote a lot of notes, so I learned that,” Collier joked during his session at the winter press tour in Pasadena.
It would have been impractical to have understudies for the lead characters, Collier maintained, noting the “Herculean investment.” He also challenged critics who suggested the last-minute change of plans dampened the ratings, which one critic described as “not what we had hoped for.”
“I wasn’t there for the Rent greenlight,” said Collier, who was named Entertainment CEO in October. But on the ratings call the next day, he said, the ratings were “close to estimates.”
The project could not have been expected to be a “broad national sensation,” Collier insisted, but rather “an important story that only a few places could take a shot at.”
Rent, he said, was in keeping with “the diversity of stories we’re telling” at Fox, which he said is one of the things Fox does “really well.”
Fox’s broadcast of a not-really-live Rent finished with a 1.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic and 3.42 million viewers.
Of those people who were in on the greenlighting, Collier said he had send notes to former Fox chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman and “the Murdochs” and told them how much they had to be proud of, and how important it was a new generation would get to experience the groundbreaking musical.
“When the live segment aired on Sunday night … and viewers saw the live portion in which Hunt’s leg was in a cast. Collier said they were “proud of what we accomplished,” he added.
One network already has altered its live musical plans in wake of Rent’s record-low ratings. NBC decided not to go forward with Hair Live!, which had been scheduled to air May 19; it was to have been that network’s next live musical. There are no plans for the counterculture classic to air at a later date. NBC execs issued a statement assuring it is committed to live musicals but wanted to go back to doing broad-appeal, family-friendly productions that launched its franchise.
Rent tackled the AIDS epidemic, while Hair takes on the Vietnam War. The highest-rated live TV musicals to date is NBC’s The Sound of Music Live!, the first of the genre’s revival, which clocked a whopping 18.6 million viewers and a 4.6 demo rating in December 2013.