Fox boss addresses why 'Rent: Live' had no understudies following star's injury

Fox's heavily publicized Rent: Live turned out to be less live than taped on Jan. 27, following an injury to star Brennin Hunt, who broke his foot during the musical's dress rehearsal the day before the production was set to go live on television.

New Fox Entertainment president Charlie Collier addressed critiques over the production's decision not to use understudies, a normal theater practice for plays and musicals of every scale -- one of whom could have presumably filled in for Hunt, who played the lead role of Roger, after his unexpected injury. 

"I think it would have been impractical to have understudies for the entire cast," Collier told reporters on Wednesday at the Television Critics Association press tour. "These are Herculean investments and productions and what I loved was when the live segment aired Sunday night and you could see this cast onstage with the show [that] went on. That’s live TV and I’m really proud of what we accomplished and what the audiences got to enjoy."

Asked why producers didn't see value in having a feasible backup plan for such a "Herculean" effort in case something were to go wrong due to it being a live show, Collier defended the controversial decision. (Fox aired the dress rehearsal with a "previously recorded" tag onscreen, before breaking into the production's only actual live segment that Sunday, when a wheelchair-bound Hunt, along with the cast, performed "Seasons of Love" with the original Rent ensemble.) "Every Broadway show is a long run and this is really building to one weekend," he said, adding that he remains "proud" of "the decisions they made."

Collier confessed to feeling some guilt over Hunt's injury, sharing a story about how he wished the production good luck by signing a note with a typical theater phrase. 

"The first thing it made me think was, on Friday right before the telecast, I wrote handwritten notes to the incredible people who worked on the production and I signed them all, ‘Break a leg,'" he shared. "So Sunday morning, I came in early and rewrote a lot of notes."

"When you take on a risk with live television, you are also taking on the excitement of live," Collier continued. "No matter what happened, how remarkable that we have a platform that can stand up to something so meaningful, a story that generations loved and new generations should know well and I think they executed it beautifully."

11 PHOTOS
Celebs on Broadway
See Gallery
Celebs on Broadway
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 13: Jake Gyllenhaal during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call for The Manhattan Theatre Club's production of 'Constellations' at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on January 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 11: Emma Stone during the curtain call for her debut performance in Broadway's 'Cabaret' at Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54 on November 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Rumer Willis making her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in 'Chicago' at the Ambassador Theatre on September 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 04: Fran Drescher makes her debut in 'Broadway's 'Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella' at Broadway Theatre on February 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 04: Carly Rae Jepsen makes her debut in 'Broadway's 'Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella' at Broadway Theatre on February 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 01: Vanessa Williams poses backstage at "After Midnight" on Broadway at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 1, 2014 in New York City. Actress Vanessa Williams joined the cast tonight. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Jennifer Hudson during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call for 'The Color Purple' at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on December 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30: Brandy Norwood takes her curtain call as 'Roxie Hart' in 'Chicago' on Broadway at The Ambassador Theater on April 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 07: Bradley Cooper during the Curtain Call for the first Broadway preview performance of 'The Elephant Man' at The Booth Theatre on November 7, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Elisabeth Moss during the Broadway Opening Night Curtain Call for 'The Heidi Chronicles' at The Music Box Theatre on March 19, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Vanessa Hudgens and the cast of 'Gigi' perform onstage at the 2015 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Rent: Live averaged less than 4 million viewers that Sunday in January, the lowest audience turnout for a live musical and well behind Fox's previous production, A Christmas Story, in 2017. Collier discussed the disappointing ratings and if the live-ish factor was, well, a factor.

"On the ratings call the next day, which was pretty close to our estimates, I said to everyone, ‘There couldn’t have been someone at the moment of the greenlight who heard Rent and said that is a broad national sensation!’" he said.

As for what this means for the future of live musicals at Fox (especially after NBC canceled its live Hair musical), Collier remained mum on their plans, insisting that they are still very much a part of the network's desires.

"We love live musicals and it’s a very tough business. These are amazing creative bets and when you do it right, there’s something pretty magical happening and there are only a few places on the planet who could stand up something as meaningful as Rent, do it in such a high-profile and professional way," Collier said. "Looking for those moments to elevate the broadcast network and tell stories that should be told, that’s the business we’re going to be in for a long time. We’ll take those types of swings but I think we’ll take them as part of the portfolio approach."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Entertainment Insider by AOL to get the hottest pop culture news delivered straight to your inbox!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.