Dramatists Guild "Increasingly Dismayed" Tony Broadcast Excludes Best Book and Best Score Categories; Sends Letter to CBS Execs

News   Dramatists Guild "Increasingly Dismayed" Tony Broadcast Excludes Best Book and Best Score Categories; Sends Letter to CBS Execs Just weeks after taking over as president of the Dramatists Guild of America, Doug Wright has stepped into the controversy over who gets seen on the Tony Awards broadcast.

In a letter on union stationery addressed to Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS, which broadcasts the Tony  Awards, Wright formally requested that the awards in the categories of Best Score and Best Book of a Musical be henceforth presented on the live-televised portion of the ceremony, not in the untelevised Creative Arts Awards that precede them and can be seen live only by those in the theatre where the awards ceremony is taking place.

Speaking on behalf of the Dramatists Guild membership, Wright wrote "we are increasingly dismayed that the awards in the major writing categories have been presented off-camera. In doing so, the broadcast marginalizes the roles of playwrights, composers and lyricists in forging the American Theater."

He specifically cited the recently-broadcast 2015 Tony Awards broadcast, saying "Jeanine Tesori, Lisa Kron and Alison Bechdel made history when they became the first all-female writing team to take home awards for Best Score, Best Book and, ultimately, Best Musical [for Fun Home]. Yet audiences were not privy to this milestone, because two out of these three honors were supplanted by commercials."

Dated June 9, the letter was shared with Playbill.com by the Guild.

Wright is a Tony-winning Broadway playwright himself, having written I Am My Own Wife plus librettos to Grey Gardens, The Little Mermaid and Hands on a Hardbody. Wright concluded by writing to Moonves, "The Dramatists Guild strongly urges you to reconsider this policy in future years and, instead, make the Tony Awards truly reflective of the artists who create the magic that fills American stages."

Here is the full text of the letter, which was cc'd to American Theatre Wing President Heather A. Hitchens and Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin, co-presenters of the Tony Awards.

Dear Mr. Moonves:

Congratulations on the 2015 Tony Awards Telecast. As president of the Dramatists Guild, I applaud CBS for continuing to champion live theater on national television.

That said, we are we are increasingly dismayed that the awards in the major writing categories have been presented off-camera. In doing so, the broadcast marginalizes the roles of playwrights, composers and lyricists in forging the American Theater. And yet, theater begins with the dramatists who face down the blank page.

A list of great theater writers includes some of the most enduring names in popular culture: George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Stephen Sondheim. Exciting new writers are joining their ranks every season on Broadway, but by failing to grant them visibility; CBS is regrettably erasing them from the historical record. This is a shame not only for the telecast, but also for our national musical and literary heritage.

We understand that your mission is two-fold: to honor our art form, but also to create entertaining television. Nevertheless, the omission of writers is patently arbitrary. Surely the names of many Broadway actors, directors and producers are no more familiar to the average viewer than those of our members.

This year, arguably, the exclusion of authors made the event less thrilling. The “Best Book” category featured two legends: Craig Lucas (a librettist, screenwriter, and a three-time Tony nominee whose Broadway work includes the play Prelude to a Kiss and the musical The Light in the Piazza), and Terrence McNally (a seven-time nominee who won for Ragtime and Kiss of the Spider Woman, as well as a two-time Tony winner for “Best Play”). The “Best Score” contest boasted giants in our field: John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, with over a dozen nominations apiece for iconic works ranging from Cabaret to Chicago, and a certain globally renowned rock-star named Sting. Audiences would no doubt find this information educative and dramatically engaging; these figures are titans on Broadway and elsewhere. Shockingly, on the broadcast, they were rendered invisible.

In fact, Jeanine Tesori, Lisa Kron and Alison Bechdel made history when they became the first all-female writing team to take home awards for Best Score, Best Book and, ultimately, Best Musical. Yet audiences were not privy to this milestone, because two out of these three honors were supplanted by commercials.

Every year, the Academy Awards faithfully includes screenwriters in not one but two categories. And it’s not just the Oscars; the Grammys, Emmys and Golden Globes all award the writers in their respective industries on the air. Ironically it’s the theater that most esteems writers; we are generally recognized as the principal artistic force behind new work, and we even retain ownership and control over the material we create. Yet on the very awards show intended to celebrate our craft, we are effectively negated.

The Dramatists Guild strongly urges you to reconsider this policy in future years and, instead, make the Tony Awards truly reflective of the artists who create the magic that fills American stages.

Respectfully,

Doug Wright
President, Dramatists Guild of America

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