Fox Entertainment’s Charlie Collier brought a bit of theatrics to his first TCA presentation as CEO, initially faking out journalists with a surprise appearance by “Better Call Saul” star Jonathan Banks (who wore a “Masked Singer” hippo mask). But it was the first live musical produced under his brand new reign at the network, “Rent,” which was a focus of his time on stage.
Collier said that he gets asked a lot about “the live musical business,” and “we love live musicals and it’s a very tough business.” In the case of “Rent,” it wasn’t technically all that live, due to an injury sustained by star Brennin Hunt during the show’s final dress rehearsal the day before. Because there were no understudies cast for the lead roles, the final broadcast featured the bulk of the dress rehearsal staging, cutting back to a live “concert” staging for the last act of the show.
While understudies are standard for Broadway musicals, Collier defended the “Rent Live” producers’ decision not to follow suit, calling it “impractical.” While both shows are artistically and technically complex, Broadway shows are designed for a long run while the Fox musical is a single night.
Collier, who had been on the job at Fox for less than three months when “Rent” aired, said he loved the energies of that final dress rehearsal and the brief live segment. “These are herculean investments and productions, and what I loved was when the live segment aired Sunday night and you could see this cast onstage with the show,” he said. “That’s live TV, and I’m really proud of what we accomplished and what the audiences got to enjoy.”
However, despite the effort demanded to create “Rent,” it was watched by fewer than four million viewers, the lowest audience yet for one of the network’s live theatricals. Collier also defended the low ratings, seeming to suggest that the network chose to move forward with the massive production while also believing it could find less than half of the audience who watched NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” (9.6 million) or Fox’s “Grease Live!” (12.2 million). Said Collier, “There couldn’t have been someone at the moment of the greenlight who heard ‘Rent’ and said ‘That is a broad national sensation.'”
Instead, he touted the power of having Fox as a platform to tell stories that might otherwise be underrepresented on broadcast television. “No matter what happened, how remarkable that we have a platform that can stand up to something so meaningful, a story that generations loved and new generations should know well and I think they executed it beautifully,” he said.
While Collier stood by “Rent” as an experience, he declined to announce plans for any future live musicals. With NBC’s recent decision not to go through with a live broadcast of “Hair” in May, this means there are no scheduled live television musicals on the horizon.