Though all theatre-loving eyes were fixed on the stage of Radio City Music Hall from 8-11 PM Sunday night, June 3, since then all eyes have turned to the ratings. The event was televised live on PBS (8-9 PM) and CBS (9-11 PM), with the PBS telecast officially titled "The First Ten Awards: Tonys 2001."
Final national numbers released by CBS have the Tonys garnering a 6.3 rating and 10 share, up 2 percent from last year's 6.2 / 10. Though a minuscule increase, CBS does boast that the show improved significantly in several demographic areas, including a 21 percent boost in "boomers" and a 33 percent rise in adults 18-49.
The Tonys did well enough to help CBS win Sunday night, though "60 Minutes'" 10.5 / 20 was undoubtedly more of a factor.
Last year's 6.2 / 10 for the Tonys was down from 1999's 7.0 / 12 share (which, in turn, was down 17 percent from the previous year). For last year's numbers, a single rating point represented roughly one million households; a share shows the percentage of televisions being used at the time.
Awards for the CBS show had been sliding since the mid-1990s, causing much off-season finger-pointing between the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers, which, as "Tony Award Productions," co-produce the event. Though the theatre community generally agreed that the 2000 Tony Awards ceremony was a significant improvement over the previous year, television ratings for the CBS national broadcast were the lowest in years. Reasons for this year's improvement likely include the season boasting not one but two hot musicals, The Full Monty and The Producers, the latter proving the biggest hype and excitement-generating show since The Lion King. Co-stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick co hosted the Tony Awards, which was expected to be a Awards monster and didn't disappoint, taking home a record 12 Tonys (out of 15 nominations).
In 1996 B.R. (Before Rosie), the Tony rating was 8.3 with a 13 share. In 1997, the show leapt to an 11.2 rating and a 17 share, its best showing in 10 years. The following year, the Tonys registered a 10.3 rating and a 16 share.
This year's Tony broadcast competition was similar to last year's. NBC ran the Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks deciding Playoff game from approx. 7:30-10 PM. Fox offered an "X Files" repeat (4.4 / 6) followed by NASCAR racing, (5.1 / 10). ABC again countered the Tonys with two episodes of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (10.2 / 15) followed by a repeat of "The Practice" (7.9 / 13).
More competition came from cable, where HBO opens the fourth season of its wildly popular "Sex in the City" with two episodes (9-10 PM). A new episode of "Six Feet Under" followed at ten. Both programs scored big, according to the New York Post, with 4.4 million households tuning into "Sex" (a 13.2 pay cable rating — the show's highest ever) and 3.8 million watching "Six Feet Under." The Post added that more women aged 18-34 tuned in to "Sex in the City" than any program on ABC, NBC or CBS — this despite HBO being in only 32 million homes, as opposed to the 100 million households reached by the big three networks.
A draw for women viewers was also likely to be the Food Network's "Iron Chef 21st Century Battle," running 9-11 PM. On the movie front, TBS showed "Star Wars" followed by "Edward Scissorhands." Less likely to drain viewership were Nickelodeon's evening-long "Diff'rent Strokes" marathon, and the Learning Channel's "World's Weirdest Performers," which, according to TV Guide (June 2-8), boasted "a man [who] stuffs his body through a tennis racket."
While CBS and the Tony producers were looking for something of a resuscitation, PBS was likely hoping to build on last year's success — and it seems they've succeeded. According to a PBS spokesperson, the metered market average rating (for major markets) for the 2001 "First Ten Awards" show on PBS was 2.4, which translates into 3.4 million viewers. ("True" national ratings won't be available for a couple of weeks.) The spokesperson added that last year's "true" national rating for the Tony PBS broadcast was only 1.7 million (roughly 2.1 million viewers), so this year saw a significant increase. [Note: Preliminary ratings reported by PBOL just after the 2000 Tonys had the national rating at 2.1 (rather than 1.7), up 50 percent from the previous year's 1.4.]
Interviewed by the New York Times (May 20, 2001), Jeff Folmsbee, co executive producer of the PBS show, said of the 2000 broadcast, "We're now right up there with `Antiques Roadshow.' Look, if CBS ran a test pattern, they'd get a 3 rating. There's a built-in bigger audience for CBS... We give out ten awards live; they give out 12... People think, `Oh, it's PBS, it must be the minor awards, [but] we're not just showing you this song and-dance number. We are showing the song-and-dance number and how it was designed from the choreographer's point of view, the director's point of view, the lighting designer's point of view, the costume designer's point of view. All these people had a say."
As with last year, not all major PBS markets even broadcast the first Tony hour (e.g., all four San Francisco Bay Area stations declined to carry the show). A PBOL reader wrote in to say he had complained to the stations and received excuses ranging from Sunday being "pledge night" to the PBS show being "nothing more than a commercial for CBS."
Regarding the 2001 CBS broadcast, Tonys managing producer Elizabeth McCann had told the New York Times, "I think our ratings will be up this year. I'll be very surprised if there aren't... There should be a television show about Broadway every season, not just once a year."
— By David Lefkowitz