Following up on the network’s successful live performance adaptation of The Sound of Music last year, NBC has announced that it will air Peter Pan Live! this December 4. The live theatrical production will star Alison Williams (Girls) as the title character and Christopher Walken as Captain Hook. It will feature more dancing than prior theatrical adaptations of Peter Pan.
Live productions were common in TV’s earliest years, of course, due to the high cost of filming TV programs in the years before videotaping became economically viable. Today, other than sports events and some talk shows, live TV is used largely to add a sense of specialness and excitement to programs that could easily be presented in a taped replay. Saturday Night Live has long benefited from viewers’ awareness that things just might go wrong at any time, and last year’s production of The Sound of Music was impressive in largely avoiding sour notes and missed camera shots, in addition to the quality of the performances.
The Peter Pan Live! production adds to the precarious nature of such projects by emphasizing dancing, which will likely increase the complexities of staging and camera placement and movement. It is impressive to see how the staff and crew of such productions overcome the difficulties associated with presenting such live performances, though advances in digital camera technology, especially the shrinking of the physical size and weight of the cameras, make things easier.
What no amount of technological advances and production expertise can overcome, however, is the fracturing of the TV audience over the past few decades. When the 1960 TV production of Peter Pan was broadcast, baby boomers and their families had few choices of what to watch, and that made it possible for such shows to become national events, with a substantial portion of the population watching the same thing at the same time.
That world is no more, and the Omniculture in which we now live is a place without a central, agreed-upon set of cultural values. As a consequence, Peter Pan Live! cannot possibly have the impact Peter Pan did. That may be a good thing, or it may not, but it is a fact that has vast consequences as the nation continues its splintering into a multitude of smaller interest groups and subcultures.