The Future of TV Musicals Takes Flight

NBC executives were, no doubt, thinking warm, wonderful thoughts as the lights flooded the stage for the network’s second live telecast musical, Peter Pan Live! Chasing the shadow of the highly successful The Sound of Music Live! last year, Pan hoped to attract as many, if not more, live viewers than its predecessor. While Peter Pan didn’t come close to the ratings of its forerunner, it managed to elicit nearly as many emotional reactions on Twitter. Now with curtains closed and cameras no longer rolling, we took to Canvs, Mashwork’s social TV platform, to understand the context behind the numbers and see exactly how Twitter users felt about these live musical renditions.

Reactions Reach Higher Notes for Sound

Whether from sheer novelty or a long-standing devotion to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, The Sound of Music Live! drew in an astounding 18.6 million viewers and pulled audiences larger than most other live events of 2013. On Twitter alone, it inspired 171,753 reactions out of 449,536 total Tweets, a remarkable 318 reactions/minute in our nine-hour time frame of analysis. (Reactions defined as relevant Tweets captured from three hours before, during, and three hours after an episode’s initial broadcast, local time).

Although Peter Pan Live! only drew half the viewers of Sound of Music,9.1 million, it received only 25% fewer Twitter reactions than Sound, a still-impressive 238 reactions/minute. As shown below, “love” reactions led the pack in both productions.

Breakdown of Emotional Reactions
Breakdown of Emotional Reactions

Underwood Steals Reactions

While Broadway veterans Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Christian Borle helped pull in viewership for Sound of Music Live!, the production clearly revolved around the Idol alumna, Carrie Underwood, who alone elicited almost 67,000 reactions from Twitter users. McDonald, Benanti, and Borle, combined, drew just over 16,000. Perhaps inevitably, within Underwood reactions, 57% also mentioned legendary Dame Julie Andrews, who popularized the role of Maria in the hit 1965 film adaptation of The Sound of Music.

Comparatively, neither Allison Williams nor Christopher Walken in Pan prevailed over Underwood’s star-power. Williams and Walken combined only inspired 23,270 reactions from Twitter users, while Broadway mavens Kelli O’Hara and Christian Borle together garnered almost 7,000 reactions.

A Few Favorite Things

We know people are fond of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, but we dug deeper to uncover what Twitter users loved about each production.

In Sound, fans didn’t find too much to criticize about record-breaking, six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, who played Mother Abbess, head of Nonnberg Abbey. In our analysis, she elicited the highest percentage of reactions expressing “love” of any actor in either musical: “love” and “beautiful” comprised 71% of all reactions to McDonald. Less than 3% expressed “hate” or “dislike,” and even then, unsatisfied Twitter users primarily expressed grief that Sound of Music didn’t have enough Audra McDonald.

Audra’s rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was so powerful, it was her most loved moment of the night. Of reactions mentioning the song (including its reprise) 62% expressed some form of “love” and “beautiful.”

For Pan viewers, tap-dancing Christopher Walken and his ensemble of pirates rocked the boat from 8:45-8:50PM with the most reacted-to moment.  With over 4,000 emotional reactions, 48% of which expressed “love,” the dance number not only delighted Twitter users, but also provoked existential crises in some.

And with their high kicking, crush-inducing abilities, the Lost Boys were, unsurprisingly, the most popular topic on Twitter after the show’s title and principal players. Half of all reactions for the boys expressed some form of “love” or “beautiful.” And on similar footing, “dancing,” with over 3,000 reactions over the telecast, was mentioned more times than “acting,” “singing,” or even “flying,” making it a clear entertainment value point.

Hate-Watching Goes Overboard

Despite the hate-watching from journalists, bloggers, and critics, only 11% of Sound of Music reactions actually expressed “hate.” Criticism referred primarily to Underwood’s acting, the production as a whole, or a sorely missed Julie Andrews. Sometimes even all three:

Comedian Amy Schumer’s derisive Tweets, Retweeted collectively over 400 times during our analysis window, accounted for 2% of all Sound of Music “hate” reactions.

Inevitably, some users didn’t hesitate to change the channel, saying “auf Wiedersehen, good night” to Sound of Music as it aired.

Negative social media reactions to Sound precipitated an early publicity campaign for Peter Pan Live! focused on discouraging “hate-watching,” including an oft-quoted interview with Allison Williams on the topic. Despite, or perhaps because of, NBC’s active anti-snark mission, Pan elicited 2% more “hate” conversation than Sound of Music Live!

Within conversation about Williams, 15% expressed “hate” toward her hate-watching comment, while another 7.5% just hated her accent.

Christopher Walken didn’t get off the hook so easily, either. Out of all Christopher Walken reactions, 9% expressed “hate,” geared mainly toward his overall performance as the slimy Captain Hook.

Hate-watching didn’t stop with criticizing the actors: it also spilled over to the Walmart commercials that aired during the telecast. Higher than Williams and Walken, 22% of all reactions toward the Walmart commercials expressed some form of “hate.”

DiGiorno Pizza didn’t suffer the same fate, however. “@DiGiornopizza” was the 5th most reacted-to handle of the night, appearing in 649 reactions. Eighty-two (82%) of all reactions to Digiorno expressed “love” for their clever Tweets.

A Rosy End

As networks continue to struggle in an age of DVRs and streaming services, NBC has perhaps unlocked a way to attract those lucrative live viewers, accepting that maybe even hate-watching is better than not watching. A recent addition to the Oxford online dictionary, “hate-watching” is a social TV behavior we’ll keep a close eye on here at Mashwork. Whether loving-to-hate or hating-to-love becomes the trend with The Music Man, NBC’s third live musical installment slated for 2015, or with Grease, FOX’s first attempt at a live musical, it looks like the future of TV musicals is already soaring.

A portion of this analysis appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.



Tweet Source: Nielsen. Relevant Tweets captured from three hours before, during, and three hours after an episode’s initial broadcast, local time. Reaction Source: Canvs. Mashwork’s Canvs analyzes Tweets about TV to capture emotions within conversation and organizes them into themes called reactions.