rent live snafu

With Grease: Live and A Christmas Story, Fox can claim at least 50% credit for bringing the live musical back to TV. NBC has done their share of live musical heavy lifting too. However, Rent: Live was the first production that did not go according to plan. An injury prevented star Brennan Hunt from performing live, so a prerecorded dress rehearsal was aired instead.

Speaking with the Television Critics Association today, new Fox Entertainment president Charlie Collier stood by the Rent: Live production. A reporter asked if they’d consider understudies in future live musicals, but Collier said that wouldn’t be possible.

“I think it would’ve been impractical to have understudies for the entire cast,” Collier said. “What I loved when the live segment aired on Sunday nights, you could see this cast on stage but the show went on. That was live TV. I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Broadway shows use understudies, but also run for more than a single night to recoup their costs. An injury could be inevitable in any physical production. Rent just happened to be the first time it happened for a live TV show in the modern era.

“First of all, every broadway show is a long run,” Collier said. “This is really building to one weekend.”

Marc Platt produced Grease: Live and A Christmas Story: Live for Fox, both of which went off without a hitch. Collier chalks it up to the spontaneity of live TV.

“When you work with someone as smart as Marc Plactt, when you put your fate in his hands, he ‘s brilliant at that job,” Collier said. “When you take on a risk of live television, you also are taking on the excitement of live. Really I think, I don’t know how many of you have worked with or spoken with Marc, what’s remarkable about this production, it’s a pretty magical thing to not just note the choreography that comes with a Broadway play, but the choreography of the production that goes around it. It’s something we’re so proud of not just standing up, but staging so masterfully, the decisions they made not just before the injury, but to sustain and end live like they did.”

The injury did make Collier reflect on how quickly things can change on live TV. Over the weekend before it aired, everything was going smoothly for Rent: Live.

“The first thing it made me think was literally on Friday, right before the telecast I wrote handwritten notes to all the people who worked on the production and signed them break a leg,” Collier said. “That’s what you say. Sunday I came in and rewrote a lot of notes.  Saturday night, the rehearsal was going so well, I sent a note to Gary [Newman] and Dana [Walden] and Rupert Murdoch and told them how much they had to be proud of. No matter what happens, how remarkable we have a platform that can stand up something so meaningful. I think they executed beautifully.”

Live musicals are still on the table for Fox in the future, but Collier had nothing to announce today.

“I will say we love live musicals and it’s a very tough business,” he said. “These are amazing creative bets, and when you do it right, there’s something pretty magical happening. There are only a few places on the planet that can stand up something as meaningful as Rent and do it on their own property on the lot. We’ll take those types of swings but as part of a portfolio approach.”

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