I am always impressed by how well network television presents pro sports. The action is covered effectively and the commercials are always inserted where there are breaks in the action. Network television has not provided equal time to the arts and so I especially welcomed the news that a live performance of The Sound of Music was coming to prime time network TV. And I was not disappointed by the performance. I was also not disappointed by the viewing statistics since there were more than 18 million viewers and most continued to watch from beginning to end.
The music was, as it has always been, beautiful and clearly musical theater at its best. The casting was also strong, though I must admit that Julie Andrews set a standard for Maria that may never be matched. On the other hand Audra McDonald as the Mother Superior set the new standard for brilliance in that role that will also likely never be matched. And, of course, a story that includes love but also defiance of the Nazis always resonates with me. By every measure, The Sound of Music is a classic and a perfect show to broadcast live on network TV. And I think it is important to give credit to NBC for making this a live broadcast. Certainly if this performance was on film, there would be the multiple opportunities as needed to reshoot what wasn’t up to standards. In a live performance, those opportunities are not there. The resulting work, which was terrific, is all the more impressive as a live performance
And yet, something didn’t work as it should have and as a result, the magic of theater at its best was diminished. That something was the commercials. During sports broadcasts, the commercials dovetail with lulls in the action. In The Sound of Music, the commercials were as regular as clockwork; they seem to take place every 10 or 15 minutes almost regardless of where we were in the story. To be fair, I should note none of these breaks were in the middle of a song or in the middle of the scene and yet the frequency and placement clearly interfered with the rhythm of the show. In the future, first and most importantly, we should have more productions like this on TV. The arts have a huge following and are a critical part of education. Presently live theater to the public is a much needed and much appreciated outreach. And I know commercials are necessary especially on network TV for commercial viability. But we need to do better in their placement. In summary, what I am looking for are the hills to be filled more with the sound of music while the commercials are less noticeable.
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