Gary Smith will no longer serve as executive producer of the CBS-TV Tony Awards, as he has for five years. Instead, Walter C. Miller, who has directed the show for 11 years, will move up to the executive slot.
According to the Daily News (Nov. 19), the change isn't exactly voluntary on Smith's part, though his contract expires this year. He reportedly clashed with last year's Tony hostess, Rosie O'Donnell. O'Donnell's presence was an indisputable factor in the Tonys' significantly higher ratings last year -- not to mention its switch to Radio City Music Hall as opposed to the usual legit theatre.
Tony Award spokesperson Keith Sherman had told the Daily News that awards officials "have met with Gary, and a number of other potential producers. But nothing has been set yet. We don't have a producer yet, we haven't locked in a host or a venue. We don't even have a date [for the telecast]."
Michael Riedel's column in the News also quotes an unnamed Tony executive as saying of O'Donnell's power at the network, "Don't think for a minute she won't get everything she wants." O'Donnell's agent, Risa Shapiro, told the News that Smith and her client "clashed a little" but "really made a great product together."
Miller, whose contract runs for three years, is already the executive producer of CBS' People's Choice Awards, Country Music Awards and Grammy Awards. His directorial credits include "Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration" at Carnegie Hall, and the 1992 Emmy Awards. Said Miller of his appointment, "Having come up through the ranks first as director and then as producer of the Tony telecast, I've developed an overview about how to produce theatre on television. Now I face the challenge of creating a show from scratch that reflects the Broadway season."
Isabelle Stevenson, president of the American Theatre Wing, called Miller, "the logical successor to Gary Smith, who did a great job for five years."
Asked to comment on the negotiations that brought Miller to the top slot, spokesperson Keith Sherman said, "[Gary Smith's] contract was up. But he was by no means fired or let go. It was a mutual agreement. Remember, he's got an incredibly busy schedule; he's directing the American Film Institute Awards, the Disney Teacher Awards, plus a huge special about L.A.'s Getty Museum."
Continued Sherman, "T.A.P. (Tony Award Productions) had a search committee that was actively looking for other producers, but with Walter it was a natural step up. He's worked on 11 telecasts, all as director. He works so well with the creative talent in terms of translating shows from the legitimate arena to the television arena."
Miller will not direct the telecast, however. He's talking to various directors about the June gig. Such as...? "It would be irresponsible of me to comment on the people we're talking with regarding hosting," said Sherman.
And what of Smith v. O'Donnell? "As with every working relationship," said Sherman, "there were good days and days that were not so good. But ultimately they created a terrific, terrific show."
In other Tony news, twenty-eight theatre professionals will comprise the 1998 Tony Award Nominating Committee, a decrease by two from last season's group. New names on the list include playwrights Lanford Wilson and Romulus Linney, actress Maureen Anderman and lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes. New members serve a three-year term.
No longer on the Committee are Merle Debuskey (former press agent), Brendan Gill, Jay Harnick (Sheldon Harnick remains), David Ives (playwright), Ming Cho Lee (set designer), Robert McDonald, Dorothy Olim, George White and Edwin Wilson.
According to the Tony Awards Administration Committee (which is run by the American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers), here is the full list of 1998 nominators:
Billie Allen (actress/director)
Maureen Anderman (actress)
Price Berkley (publisher of Theatrical Index)
Donald Brooks (costumer)
Mary Schmidt Campbell (New York University dean)
Marge Champion (choreographer)
Betty L. Corwin (theatre archivist at NY Public Library of the Performing Arts)
Gretchen Cryer (composer, I'm Getting My Act Together...)
Tom Dillon (administrator)
Mallory Factor (entrepreneur)
Robert Fitzpatrick (educator)
Morton Gottlieb (producer)
Sheldon Harnick (lyricist, Fiddler On The Roof)
Geoffrey Holder (director/actor)
Charles Hollerith (producer)
Barnard Hughes (actor, Da)
Allen Lee Hughes (lighting designer)
Betty Jacobs (script consultant)
Robert Kamlot (general manager)
Jack Lee (musical director)
Romulus Linney (playwright)
Jon Nakagawa (managing director, Vineyard Theatre)
Peter Neufeld (general manager)
Polly Pen (author/composer, Bed & Sofa)
David Richards (writer/critic)
Douglas Watt (writer)
Franklin R. Weissberg (judge)
Lanford Wilson (playwright, Sympathetic Magic)
The 1997 Tony Awards telecast on CBS and PBS skyrocketed in the national ratings to 48 percent over the 1996 telecast on CBS. The awards posted their highest ratings in 10 years. CBS announced that the national rating for the telecast was 9.6 or a 16 share.
The Tony telecast on CBS was the second highest rated program of the night, coming in behind the NBC broadcast of game one of the NBA Championship between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. It won the night with 13.3 rating and a 22 share.
Monday, June 2, the day after the Tonys, the American Theatre Wing and League of American Theatres and Producers, who co-administer the Tonys, received the news that the overnight ratings in 37 major metropolitan markets for the CBS two-hour Tony telecast were up 36 percent over the 1996 telecast, which had posted one of the lowest ratings since national telecasts of the awards began in 1967.
-- By David Lefkowitz