The Co.’s Katherine Gougeon explores social and cultural details that have an outsized ripple effect.
Summer 1978: Grease is the word. In frilly bedrooms of the nation, trading cards are swapped, John Travolta is cut-and-pasted into scrapbooks, and Summer Lovin’ and Beauty School Dropout are lip-synched to perfection. When Halloween rolls around, I somehow convince my Greek Orthodox grandmother to sew me a PG-rated version of the leather catsuit Olivia Newton John wore in the final scene. My life is complete.
The memories came streaming back last Sunday night, when Fox aired Grease Live! Broadcast in real time, the production unfolded across the entire Warner Brothers’ film lot and featured an ensemble cast that included Vanessa Hudgins, Carly Rae Jepson, Joe Jonas and Boyz II Men. For added energy (and complexity), a live audience, who doubled as enthusiastic extras in crowd scenes, was woven into the mix.
Hailed as ambitious, daring, sweeping and energetic, the production was catnip for the Glee generation and nostalgic adults alike.
The show’s best trick, however, happened on the other side of the screen. In an era where appointment viewing is increasingly a thing of the past, the network found a wormhole. Taking back the reigns of scheduled programming, Fox made a case for the merits, no – the necessity, of watching a show as it happens. Putting its marketing and social media machines into high gear before, after and during the show, Fox turned Grease Live! into the social event of the season. According to Variety, the broadcast reeled in 12.2 million viewers and captured more than 1.6 million social actions (likes, shares, comments and retweets) across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, making it the highest socially engaged live musical performance in history.
While the emerging trend of live ‘must-see’ television (started by NBC in 2013 with The Sound of Music) is no doubt motivated by advertiser dollars, there is something to be said for real time media experiences that are as communal as they are cultural. Like a musical about the fifties that was written in the seventies, the live TV event is a blast from the past that can be reimagined to engage and unite a new generation of #superfans.