The Tony Fallout Continues: the Times Lures Average Joes into the Conversation

A Donald Trump supporter films outside the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Flickr user Justin Norman.

TonyAwardsVery smart of Patrick Healy of the New York Times to write a short blogpost on the Tony-disenfranchisement matter, but the relative paucity of comments is telling: people aren’t jazzed by the removal of 100 first-night critics, including yours truly, from the august rolls of Tony voters. People don’t care but people know the Tonys are suspect at best in terms of integrity and quality and that Broadway is, well, Broadway, for good or ill.

Still, I found the comments on this topic fascinating — a mixture of deep ambivalence; constructive, if occasionally snarky ideas; and saber-rattling and truth-telling.

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Healy’s post reads:

One member of the First Night Press List, the group of about 100 (of 800 Tony voters) who were stripped of voting eligibility, wrote in an email this weekend:

“Are you going to write more about the Tony committee ditching the first-nighters? Here’s hoping. Those [expletive deleted] are so brazen. They know perfectly well they’re infinitely more conflicted than the crix are, and think no one’s going to lay it all bare.”

So I’d like to get a discussion going here on ArtsBeat: What logic or flaws do readers find in the Tony committee’s reasoning that journalists might have a conflict of interest in voting for Tony contenders when they also have a platform to champion a show in news and entertainment media?

And what more do you want to know about this decision and its implications for the Tony Awards?

In response, for example, a fellow named Frank wrote:

Doesn’t the press always complain about how lousy the Tonys are anyway? Isn’t the nominator committee made up of conflict-free people? Are the press the only Tony voters who are actually paid to see the shows? Don’t the press already have their own awards and numerous forums (sometimes!) – print, blogs, chat-rooms – to clearly express their thoughts and repeated attack (or praise) the theater? Weren’t the Tonys set up to be an industry award? Why would the objective press want to be involved in an industry promotion?

And he does have a point: Since the Tonys are a marketing scheme and not about excellence in the art and craft, why would critics wish to partake in it? (The answer, of course, is that critics are about excellence in the art and craft and best serve as a balance to commercial producers, who are generally about commerce first and second and aesthetics at some level after that.)

Later, a person named Sefton wrote:

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What should be the sole focus of concern where conflict of interest is concerned is a direct conflict between a vote and the potential financial reward for the individual. What existing protections does the TONY awards committee have in place for conflict of interest amongst the remaining voters?

That’s quite right as well. In my essay on the topic, I went a step further:

…the Tony Awards never offer any assurance that every voter actually sees every show they vote on – so the voters, the producers, the viewers at home, the theatergoers, the nominees and the winners never actually know if the voting fair or ethical. (Do the accountants vouch for more than the accuracy of their own tabulations? I think not.)

Some of the other comments are just destined for the jugular, such as TeriLyn’s “It has always reminded me of one large but private hot tub, with everyone scrubbing everyone’s back” and the apt comparison written by Michael T.:

This is like voting for the All-Star game in baseball- any inferior performer could win, depending on the special interest groups pushing his / her nomination. It thus becomes a glorified popularity contest, and the Tonys are thereby reduced to a certain meaningless value.

And this slam dunk by a fellow named William:

The Tony Awards as a measure for excellence in the American theatre lost its credibility a long time ago. It’s good for marketing and publicity for the elitests who still believe that New York City and Broadway represent this country’s finest theatrical endeavors. Those of us working in the field know it’s a myth. The future of the Tony Awards, regardless of who judges them, is about as bright as the newspaper field. Sorry, but that’s the reality.

So say us one, so say us all. But I think this post, finally, sums it up, courtesy of Anonymous:

I think we all grew up idolizing the Tony Awards because 1) they were our only connection to Broadway other than cast albums and 2) the Tony broadcast was the best entertainment on television. Unencumbered by time limitations, producer Alex Cohen really knew how to put on a great show with real stars and full length numbers. Everyone dressed up. Even the cameramen wore a tux. No one applauded until the last nominee was read and those who passed the previous year were remembered appropriately off-air with a moment of silence in whatever real life Broadway theatre was housing the awards that year. In those days the Tony Awards were 1) not in Radio City Music Hall (using the same set year after year after year) and 2) not open to the public. The Tony Awards were classy. The Tony Award had cache. And the recipients seemed genuinely thrilled to win. Now, the show is a mess technically and looks like glorified cable television. No one watches and those who do never seem to be impressed enough by the numbers to want to see the shows. Half the awards are given off-air. And many of the on-air winners seem bored. The ratings aren’t even equal to the number of people who attend Broadway each year. So perhaps the only reason to continue the charade long after the awards have outlived their importance is to continue to generate revenue for both the League and The American Theatre Wing.

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