TV network NBC in the US are considering a live staging of Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men

Rob Lowe and cast of A Few Good Men at the Haymarket in 2005

Rob Lowe and cast of A Few Good Men at the Haymarket in 2005

Plays performed live on TV? Is this the next step for theatre-to-screen?

The success of a live production of The Sound of Music, screened over Christmas by NBC in the US, has set in motion a new trend for brodcasters to get in on the power of a live theatrical event.

The increasing pressure for TV networks to chase ever dwindling ratings has led to a renewed focus on “event TV”, boosted by live talent shows such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, and now spurred on by live productions of theatre musicals and plays.

Rob Ashford’s production of The Sound of Music Live proved so successful for NBC last Christmas (an audience of over 18 million) that the TV network has commissioned him to direct Peter Pan Live for this year’s festive season. The show airs live on NBC on 4 December 2014 starring Minnie Driver as the adult Wendy, Allison Williams as Peter Pan, Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, Christina Borle as Smee and Mr. Darling, Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling, Taylor Louderman as young Wendy and Alanna Saunders as Tiger Lily.

And now news comes in that NBC are considering filming a live staging of Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men.

An agreement is currently being worked out between Sorkin, Sony’s TV arm and producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron – who are also the producers of The Sound of Music Live and Peter Pan Live.

The play launched Sorkin’s career and was turned into a successful 1992 movie starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. The play last resurfaced in London in 2005 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in a production that starred Rob Lowe, Suranne Jones and John Barrowman.

Sorkin is believed to be reworking the play for the live TV staging, but there is no news yet on director or cast.

With initiatives such as the National Theatre’s NT Live, which broadcasts live performances of theatre to cinemas in the UK and around the world, TV could be the next logical step for the theatre industry.

NT Live has now more-or-less proved that broadcasting theatre live doesn’t reduce the audience for the live event, but rather acts as great platform to build buzz and advertise the show, and generates cash for both the theatre and the cinema chains.

The move by the producers of Billy Elliot  to broadcast a Live screening of the show through cinemas in September  (with the DVD released on 24 November) has been seen as a positive experience, and sets the scene for more screenings by other big West End shows to come.

No UK broadcaster has followed NBC’s lead yet in broadcasting a specially produced live staging, but rumours continue that both ITV and the BBC are looking into possible projects.

Of course, anyone old enough will remember that UK television has been here before. ABC’s Armchair Theatre, and the BBC’s The Wednesday Play and Play for Today, were doing this 50 years ago – and also often live! More recently Sky has experimented with live-to-air plays through its 2009 Sky Arts Theatre Live! initiative, broadcasting new plays live in half-hour slots.

Whether West End producers will make the leap and allow TV to broadcast their productions live, or whether TV will even want to do this, remains to be seen.