The Tonys, set to be telecast on June 11, are Broadway’s biggest marketing moment. But the strike by the Writers Guild of America means the show might not go on.
The Tony nominations have been announced. Voters are scrambling to catch the shows they missed. And invitations are going out for the usual string of galas, receptions, panels and parties where nominees with dreams of statuettes can court the industry.
The strike by the union, which represents screenwriters, has thrown Tony planning into disarray because the Tonys are broadcast on CBS and streamed on Paramount+ and the striking workers are at odds with both broadcast and streaming channels. In normal years, members of the guild might write material for the awards show telecast. And members of the many other entertainment industry unions involved will want to demonstrate solidarity with the W.G.A.
This year’s ceremony is scheduled to take place June 11, but the entertainment industry is bracing for a prolonged strike. At the moment, the two sides are not even talking.
For Hollywood, the Tony Awards are not a front-burner issue — it is a niche ceremony watched last year by 3.9 million people, which is fewer than other awards ceremonies like the Oscars (18.7 million) or the Grammys (12.5 million).
But for Broadway, the stakes are enormous. The Tony Awards are the industry’s biggest marketing moment — a chance to introduce viewers to shows they have not heard of, and to remind them of the joys of musical theater — and that kind of reach is especially important now, with Broadway attendance yet to reach prepandemic levels. Four of the five nominees for best new musical are not selling enough tickets to cover their running costs many weeks, and all could use the box office boost that a win, or even a well-performed number on the awards show, often provides.
“Shucked,” which is also in contention for the best new musical Tony, is counting on getting national exposure at the Tony Awards ceremony, its lead producer said.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
“The Tony Awards is the biggest commercial for the industry at large, and for a show like mine, which is unbranded and just at the stage where we are finally starting to see some lifeblood, it would be devastating to not be able to be part of this,” said Mike Bosner, the lead producer of “Shucked,” one of the five shows vying for the coveted best new musical award.
“Our whole timing of when we opened the show was based on being part of the ramp-up to the awards season, when there are a lot of eyeballs on the show and there’s national exposure,” he said.
It is not clear what will happen next.
The best-case scenario, at least from the point of view of Broadway boosters, is that the W.G.A. will take pity on the theater industry, which was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and will allow the Tony Awards to go forward as planned. Broadway officials, according to multiple producers, have already asked the guild to issue some kind of waiver that would allow the show to proceed, arguing that the theater industry provides jobs for many union workers, and is not a party to a dispute between screenwriters and streaming services. (Playwrights and librettists are represented by the Dramatists Guild, but many also work in television and film and are members of the W.G.A.)
The Tony Awards are one of Broadway’s biggest marketing opportunities. Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo appeared on last year’s broadcast. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
But there are other possible scenarios. Organizers could scrap the broadcast ceremony and announce winners by news release or at a nontelevised event, which would significantly reduce the marketing value of the awards. They could elect to pretape musical numbers or segments without a live audience. Or the Tonys could postpone their ceremony, although no one knows how long the strike will last, and some money-losing Broadway shows would probably close rather than hang on in the hopes of an eventual award boost.
“My guess is that there won’t be a broadcast,” said Robert Greenblatt, one of the producers of “Some Like It Hot,” which is also a nominee for best new musical. Greenblatt is familiar with all sides of the issue — he is not only a frequent Broadway producer, but also a former chairman of NBC Entertainment and WarnerMedia.
If the Tonys are delayed or derailed, it will damage many shows. “Particularly this season, when we’re still recovering from the Covid shutdown, it would be especially devastating to not have that opportunity — to not be able to showcase how many great and diverse plays and musicals are on Broadway right now,” said Eva Price, a lead producer of “& Juliet,” another contender for best new musical.
The Tony Awards management committee, which oversees the broadcast, has called an emergency meeting for Monday morning to discuss next steps.
“Everybody’s trying to figure it out because it’s very tricky,” said Theodore S. Chapin, a member of the management committee and the former head of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. “This will be a busy weekend of telephone calls because this was a season that had a lot of life to it, but business is a little nervous, and a major celebration of Broadway is needed.”
Already, the W.G.A. strike has affected one awards show — last weekend’s MTV Movie & TV Awards. The host, Drew Barrymore, dropped out in solidarity with the union and the ceremony turned into a pretaped affair after the W.G.A. said it would picket.
On Wednesday, with the prospect of hundreds of demonstrators marching on picket lines, Netflix abruptly announced it was canceling a major in-person Manhattan showcase it was staging for advertisers next week, and turning it into a virtual event instead.
Ted Sarandos, the co-chief executive of Netflix, also said he would not attend the upcoming PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History, a marquee event for the literary world that was scheduled to honor him. In a statement, Mr. Sarandos said it was best if he pulled out “given the threat to disrupt this wonderful evening.”
In 2008, the last time the writers were on strike, organizers of the Golden Globes were forced to cancel the awards ceremony after the W.G.A. was actively organizing demonstrations and actors said they would not cross any picket lines. Winners were revealed in a news conference instead. But during that strike the W.G.A. did grant waivers to some televised ceremonies, including the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The organizations that present the Tony Awards, the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, declined to comment; they are said to be closely monitoring the situation but unsure of how to proceed. Representatives for the W.G.A., and CBS, the Tonys’ longtime broadcaster, also declined to comment.
Kate Shindle, the president of Actors’ Equity, said it was too soon to know what would happen.
“The Tonys are so important to our industry, especially while we’re still in recovery, but at the same time it feels a little early to be making predictions,” she said. “And our priority is always to support workers.”
Shindle said Equity officials were in communication with the W.G.A. and SAG-AFTRA, which represents performers in film, television and radio, about what happens next. “It does feel like, in the last couple days, everybody started talking about the Tony Awards,” she said. “The conversation is starting to get louder.”