When Hollywood finds something audiences respond to, it does its best to run it right into the ground.
If audiences like something in one movie, why wouldn’t it work in another, right? That’s the reasoning. Just look at the current superhero craze. Or have you ever wondered why the western died? Easy. Everyone was making them because they all thought they could cash in on the more popular features — and by the law of averages, most were just plain bad.
Now there’s the live television musical. Critics and audiences had adored this type of program up until ABC’s recent remake of the beloved ’80s classic, “Dirty Dancing,” starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.
Reviews of the remake were harsh, to say the least. “Together they [the leads Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes] dance like nobody’s watching, and kiss like strangers trying not to get mono,” wrote Entertainment Weekly. Its review also said, “Potatoes have more sexual dazzle than these two.” Only 20 percent of reviews Rotten Tomatoes collected for the television event were positive.
The viewer reaction wasn’t much better. An argument could be made that it was even worse.
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The live musical also only averaged 6.6 million viewers during its three-hour runtime. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t the stellar ones ABC was likely hoping for, considering the performance of past live musical remakes that dominated for other networks.
FOX’s “Grease: Live,” a remake of the film starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, drew in 12.18 million viewers last year. Even NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” did better than “Dancing” by drawing in over 11 million viewers in 2015. “Peter Pan Live!” and “Hairspray Live!” also brought in ratings that put “Dancing” to shame.
So why didn’t “Dancing” work? If Hollywood makes enough of something and begins worshipping at the altar of imitation, it’s the beginning of the end for whatever genre is up at bat. “Dancing” might spell the demise of live television-musical remakes, an odd genre that has revitalized live viewership numbers that had been dropping for television networks.
If your only reason for retelling a story and creating a three-hour production is because someone else was successful doing something similar — you’re going to fail. Plain and simple. Viewers have a keen eye for shallowness. Live musical remakes may be going the way of the western and spelling out the fate for big-budget comic book movies in the next 10 years or so.
NBC has already announced a postponement of its “Bye Bye Birdie” musical remake, to star Jennifer Lopez. It was set to drop in early December, but will not be revisited until 2018. It’s a decision some have speculated might be due to the underwhelming nature of “Dancing.”
It’s still too early to tell with certainty what will happen to the family-friendly genre. Despite the fate of “Dancing” and “Birdie,” there are plenty more singing remakes of brand-name products coming in the near future. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is due next Easter — and remakes of “A Christmas Story,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Rent” are also planned.
If any of them end up falling on their faces as hard as “Dancing” did, though, you can expect them to be the final nails in the coffin of live musical remakes.