"We were told we were not doing it," PBS' Thirteen/WNET president Dr. [William] Baker told Playbill On-Line Feb. 27. "We were told that wasn't going to be an option."
PBS first produced its "Launching the Tonys" program, which led up to the two-hour CBS ceremony, in 1997, and has done so ever since. (Many PBS affiliates around the country aired the PBS hour, though some did not.) The hour featured the presentation of 10 awards in fields from design to direction as well as short documentaries on the nominees, their crafts and the Broadway season in general. The arrangement was regarded as a solution to a cramped CBS event, where it had long proved difficult to fit in all the awards and musical numbers while keeping the show under the two-hour time limit.
"I know it was greatly loved by the theatre community," said Baker of the PBS program. "Channel 13 lost a great deal of money doing it. But this year CBS came around and said they wanted it all and didn't want to share it with anybody."
That CBS would want to broadcast a three-hour Tony ceremony would seem an about face for the network. In recent years, the fear in the theatre community has been that CBS would back out altogether as a broadcaster of the Tonys, which is typically a ratings loser but a huge PR opportunity for the Broadway theatre community. A spokesman for Leslie Moonves, president of CBS, could not confirm that CBS had signed on for a full three hours, saying the show had not even been scheduled yet. Elizabeth McCann, managing producer of Tony Awards Productions, had no comment. But several sources close to the Tony broadcast confirmed that Tony officials and CBS are aiming at a three-hour affair.
Baker indicated that CBS would not imitate the style of the PBS produced hour, which often felt less like a glitzy award ceremony than a tastefully cultural documentary. "They will not be doing what we did," said Baker. "It will be very different." Recent reports have mentioned that a "Tony Overhaul Committee" was in place to help address the problems of the Tony telecast and seek solutions.
Of an overhaul committee, Tony spokesman Keith Sherman previously explained to Playbill On-Line, "We are in the process of developing a long-range planning committee. This is at the instigation of the [American Theater] Wing, [but] this is very, very early in the process. The Wing is reaching out, hoping to put something like this together, but nothing is yet in place. It's all a work in progress."
The 57th Annual Tony Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, June 8 at Radio City Music Hall.