Let me state upfront that I was in no way the target audience for this broadcast. I tuned in for about ten minutes, because I’m interested in these sorts of things as television experiments in a rapidly changing time period. It was TV-G, which is a rating I don’t remember seeing in recent history. I think the Nickelodeon TMNT cartoon is TV-PG, and that’s probably the softest thing I ever flip over to (it’s really not bad).
My initial reaction was that of a difficult-to-nail-down disconnect with the sound, which I believe stems from an overarching problem with the broadcast–is it theatre? Is it TV? Is it a TV movie? All of these things have different feels, and my brain was jumping around trying to figure out which slot this fit into. I mostly wanted it to be theatre, but the sound was quite intimate. I had no aural sense of the space they were filling, which seemed to be pretty large. No slight echo of their voices filling the space, which you would get in theatre. I’m guessing they were individually lav-mic’ed to avoid any boom issues, which was probably the only option due to technical restraints, but it just didn’t feel right to me.
I came in on a Captain Hook number, and saw the part when Tinkerbell encouraged one of the Lost Boys to shoot down Wendy and the ensuing song in the treehouse or whatever (again, not my show). It felt pretty lifeless. This could have been connected to the sound issue or the performances, I don’t know, but it was very flat. Christopher Walken had to hit a high note, and his voice just disappeared? I have no idea why he was cast. Well, I have some idea, but this is pretty much the exact opposite of the type of situation in which Walken flourishes. He’s not a go-to guy for live TV that has to run on rails. I love him, but he’s going to do his own thing. Martin McDonagh talked about having him in his show A Behanding in Spokane, which I saw. He said something to the effect of “He delivered lines in ways I didn’t really intend to write them, but that’s what you get with Christopher Walken.” I was fortunate enough to see the part where Walken apparently forgot a line and then started clearing his throat, and all the pirates joined in on the throat-clearing as someone offstage likely prompted Walken on his next line. I found this thrilling, not as a rubbernecker to a highway disaster but as a fan of and participant in live theatre watching an ensemble make sure the job gets done as well as possible. Kudos for that moment, gents.
I was also intrigued by the CGI Tinkerbell. My assumption is that someone in the booth had control of her position on screen and matched it to the actors’ eye lines, which in the small segment I watched worked very well. I fully expected the humans to wander all over the screen with their eyes chasing this thing they couldn’t see, but whatever system they’d settled on worked.
Back to that overarching problem of what exactly is this, I wonder if the lifelessness I was feeling would have been helped by some sort of audience. I imagine given the difficulties of staging this thing, they probably settled on the best option, but perhaps a Saturday Night Live-type approach would have worked. Stretch an audience out in front of the various stages being used, and give them monitors for the stuff happening far away. For the love of pete don’t put in a laugh track, but my ears wanted some sort of audience reaction after the songs or jokes. I imagine a live broadcast of an actual theatre production isn’t very effective; I’ve seen some decent recordings of Broadway shows but I think those are highly edited. I could be wrong about that.
The main takeaway is that this is certainly going to happen several more times. I haven’t seen any numbers, but a safe prediction is that this will be one of the best-rated programs of the week and/or month, behind maybe The Walking Dead and football. Broadcasters are crapping their pants trying to figure out how to make us watch Matthew McConaughey wax whatever about the new Lincoln and the nature of time, and/or find new ways to make us hate Wendy (this one, not this one), and live must-watch events like this and The Sound of Music are one of the few guaranteed ways to make that happen. It’s a water cooler thing, wherein the water cooler=Twitter. Hell, here I am talking about it and I never write about the stuff I watch.
But, you should really watch The Ultimate Fighter. Can I overstate how little this broadcast was intended for me?