It’s been one week since NBC was alive with the sound of Carrie Underwood. Whether you enjoyed The Sound of Music, hated it, or were on the fence, you have to admit that it’s the most talked-about television event since the Breaking Bad finale. 18.5 million people tuned in to watch Underwood under pressure, making it NBC’s most watched non-sports event of 2013.
While NBC has been reaping the rewards, Carrie Underwood has drawn fire for her lackluster acting skills. Since a lot of (justifiable) comparisons have been made between Underwood and Julie Andrews, I thought now would be a perfect time to revisit Julie Andrews’s own star turn in a live TV musical event, one that would make television history: the 1957 broadcast of Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Attend that magic ball after the jump
Side note: The show was actually broadcast in color, but the only surviving kinescopes are in black and white, so if you watch the full show (which I highly suggest), you’ll only be able to find the black and white version.
CBS broadcast the made-for-TV musical by Rogers and Hammerstein on March 31st, 1957, and the result was ratings gold. Cinderella was watched by an estimated 107 million people, making it the most-watched television event for 25 years. (It was eventually beaten by the finale of M*A*S*H.) Cinderella got a total 60.6 Nielsen rating, meaning that 60.6% of American TVs tuned in to at least six minutes of the show. Naysayers will point out that there were fewer stations at the time. But to give you an idea of how wildly successful Cinderella was: I Love Lucy, which was the #1 show in 1957, had a Nielsen rating of 43.7, almost 20 points less than Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fairytale.
A fair number of similarities can be found between The Sound of Music and Cinderella. Both had tacky sets (Cinderella's due to budget constraints). Both fought sound issues. Both co-starred fantastic supporting casts of established musical comedy performers. Both featured wooden male leads played by soap opera stars. However, the glaring difference between the two shows is this: Cinderella succeeded wildly without a major star at its helm. While Julie Andrews had just been a smash hit in My Fair Lady, she was still 7 years away from Mary Poppins and movie stardom. Think Megan Hilty as Maria instead of Carrie Underwood. Andrews had a recognizable-ish name, but more importantly she had a hell of a lot of talent. She could sing, she could act, and she could carry the weight of an entire R&H show with grace.
While The Sound Of Music may have been less than perfect, especially in comparison with Cinderella, I am glad to see it reviving the tradition of live musicals on TV. Many midcentury shows got their turn on the small screen and gave new audiences exposure to Broadway. So it is with The Sound Of Music; the show’s success has opened the door once again for musical theater on network television. The DVD is set to release next week and NBC already announced that another live musical is planned for next year. Who knows what 2014 has in store for theater lovers?
What would you like to see NBC broadcast?