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."
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."