Following the Oliviers debut on ITV last year, which pulled in 1.3 million viewers on average, organisers of the awards would no doubt have been hoping to see a boost to the number of people tuning in this time round.
Julian Bird, the chief executive of the Society of London Theatre, has previously spoken about the importance of the ceremony building a “track record”, in the hope ITV may well consider giving the ceremony an earlier time slot in the future.
As it happens, there was a drop – a significant one too – for ITV’s coverage of the awards. 800,000 people tuned in. Well below the average of 1.1 million for the ITV Sunday night 10.15pm slot.
So what went wrong?
It didn’t help that host Gemma Arterton began the evening by welcoming the “women and gay men” who would be watching at home. So, let me get this right: if you’re interested in theatre, you’re either a woman or you’re gay? That will have gone down well with any heterosexual men who may have been tuning in. Immediately they were told the show wasn’t for them.
Anyone who watched the coverage on ITV would have been forgiven for thinking that all theatre is musical. Or at least, that all theatre worth celebrating is musical.
Of course, Arterton may have been referring to the number of gay men and women who like musicals. But the Oliviers isn’t just about musical theatre, is it? It’s about all theatre.
Not that you would have guessed it from ITV’s coverage. The awards themselves became secondary to performances from musicals. We had Wicked and Les Mis back to back, we also had The Book of Mormon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a number from Bernadette Peters, who, if we’re honest, was probably a stranger to most of ITV’s audience.
In short, anyone who watched the coverage on ITV would have been forgiven for thinking that all theatre is musical. Or at least, that all theatre worth celebrating is musical.
I enjoy a musical. In fact, I love them. But even I, 30 minutes into the highlights package, was suffering from droopy jazz hand syndrome.
Look at coverage of the BAFTA awards on the BBC. They are exactly that – awards. We have a good couple of hours of actors picking up accolades. ITV, on the other hand, seems to think the only way to sell the Oliviers is to ram musical theatre down people’s throats, while confining awards such as best new play to a “other winners tonight” section.
If – and, let’s face it, we don’t know what will happen after this year’s ratings – ITV do bring back the Oliviers in 2015, they need to seriously consider how to show people at home that the awards celebrate all aspects of theatre, not just musicals. The musical theatre extracts may work for those watching in the Royal Opera House itself, but it wears thin very quickly on TV.