|Derek Hough and Maddie Baillio in NBC’s Hairspray Live! (Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC)|
When NBC decided to revive the tradition of presenting live musicals with The Sound of Music Live! in 2013, it hit upon a successful formula for drawing in viewers during the holiday doldrums. The Sound of Music Live! and its successor, Peter Pan Live! were deliberately old-fashioned affairs, presenting well-worn favorites performed on a soundstage devoid of audience members, just as productions featuring the likes of Mary Martin had done decades before. Granted, they were plagued by technical problems, and the celebrities whom network executives cast as the leads didn’t measure up to the Broadway veterans who were relegated to supporting roles, but for the most part audiences didn’t seem to care. Last year’s live performance of The Wiz suggested that NBC was starting to learn from its mistakes, starting with its choice to produce a show that, while not as well-known as its predecessors, gave a talented cast of African-American performers a chance to shine. It looked like NBC would slowly but steadily improve on its initial formula, year by year, for as long as it chose to continue its live musical revivals.