An exuberant, inventive The Wiz Live on Thursday night breathed new life into the notion of full-scale musicals on live TV with a happy serving of ’70s soul and R&B, updated with a 2015 vibe. Starring a nice mix of pop music heavyweights, Hollywood stars and Broadway veterans, the show had a heart and playfulness that was missing from The Sound of Music Live with Carrie Underwood and Peter Pan Live. It even came in under three hours.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on NBC’s broadcast of The Wiz Live Thursday: “During this time of year, we’re reminded that everyone should have access to the joy of the season. That’s why it’s ‘genius’ that Comcast and NBC Universal will enable Americans with vision loss to enjoy a live broadcast show, The Wiz Live, through visual description technology. Now, Americans with visual impairments across the country will be able to fully experience a lion get his courage, a scarecrow get his brain, and a tinman find his heart through this technology. It’s a historic first for live TV entertainment.”
Two years ago, NBC’s The Sound of Music was alive for a huge audience of 19 million viewers. But last year, Peter Pan Live crashed with less than half that. So the pressure is on Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, producers of tonight’s The Wiz Live, to deliver.
NBC parent Comcast says this will be the first live entertainment program in U.S. history to be accessible in this way to those who are blind. The vocal description is a narration track interspersed between existing pauses in dialogue that describes the show’s visual elements such as facial expressions, settings, costumes and stage direction.
A new production to be broadcast live on NBC this week before hopping to Broadway will include a tweaked score and of-the-minute dance moves.
NBC on Thursday night will ease on down the road with Reddi-wip, as the ConAgra Foods brand will serve as a key sponsorship partner of the network’s primetime production of The Wiz Live! Devised as an extension of Reddi-Wip’s recently launched “Share the Joy” campaign, the dairy topping’s support of NBC’s third live Broadway musical adaptation in as many years will include branded content executions that are contextually relevant to the overarching Wiz narrative.
On Thursday night, Shanice Williams will be either a star or another casualty of the snark-infested waters of social media. Williams is the completely untested lead of The Wiz Live!, NBC’s third TV foray into live musical theater, airing at 8 p.m. We’re still thrilled by the live event, something TV has been good at since its birth. If it’s live, we still show up for the shared experience. More and more, networks are betting on the fascination of the event that happens as you watch, the tension of tightrope walking without a net.