Q & A with Gunnar Larson

NetworkGlobal.tv, Inc. President and CEO Gunnar Larson

NetworkGlobal.tv, Inc. President and CEO Gunnar Larson

ZAMM.com’s Martin Grove spoke recently to Gunnar Larson, president and CEO of NetworkGlobal.tv, Inc., whose online sites include www.Broadway.tv, which provides in-depth text and video coverage of the New York theater world.

Larson, in that conversation, pointed out that movie stars are the hottest ticket on Broadway this year. A partial list of Hollywood names who have appeared, are appearing or will be appearing soon on Broadway includes (in no particular order): Jude Law (Hamlet), Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman (Oleanna), John Stamos and Gina Gershon (Bye Bye Birdie), Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman (A Steady Rain - 12 week run starting Sept. 10) and Sienna Miller (After Miss Julie).

Also, Anne Hathaway (Twelfth Night), Rupert Everett (Blithe Spirit), Evan Rachel Wood (Spider-Man), Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis (God of Carnage), Geoffrey Rush (Exit the King — best actor in a play Tony winner), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still), James Spader and Richard Thomas (Race), Carrie Fisher (Wishful Drinking), Jane Fonda (33 Variations) and Katie Holmes (All My Sons).

There also are a number of plays this season that don’t boast movie stars but do have their roots in hit movies — including “Shrek the Musical”, “Mary Poppins”, “Billy Elliot”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The 39 Steps” and the long running “The Lion King”.

For some insights into why Broadway has turned to Hollywood stars, I spoke recently to Gunnar Larson.

Q: There really are a lot of big Hollywood names on Broadway this year.
A: That is true. Hugh Jackman’s coming to Broadway. We actually had an opportunity to interview him just recently. And we just had a season where Daniel Radcliffe was on Broadway (in Equus). It’s been rumored that Ashton Kutcher’s coming to Broadway, as well, next season in Fat Pig. Last season Dolly Parton brought 9 to 5 to Broadway. There’s been some really great Hollywood names coming to Broadway.
Q: What accounts for this?
A: I think Broadway producers are realizing that they can get a lot of attention for a show by attaching a Hollywood name. Broadway is the heart of acting. When a Hollywood star does a movie there’s 15 takes to get a scene right. But when they’re on a stage in front of a live audience, they have to get it the first time. Audiences are looking for them to show the spirit and magic of Broadway.
Q: Do Hollywood stars automatically know how to do that? Can they all do that?
A: No they can’t. For example, we interviewed Ludacris (recording artist Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) recently. We asked him if he’d ever come to Broadway. You know, he’s acted (in movies). He did Crash. He said he might not have the skills to come to Broadway. Not all actors are made for Broadway.
Q: And yet the temptation for Broadway producers must be great to snag the biggest Hollywood names they can get.
A: That is true. We just had Katie Holmes (starring in All My Sons). She was a huge name to come to that show. I think she did a great job on the stage. It was fantastic for her. We were there opening night at the theater and there was a huge amount of press and coverage of that show just because Katie Holmes was there. You know, Broadway audiences are a lot less forgiving than Hollywood audiences. You have to pull your weight — and she did.
Q: In terms of marketing these Broadway shows, having Hollywood star names must be a big help. Are we seeing changes in Broadway marketing because of this?
A: Yes, we are. Stars coming to Broadway definitely give shows added marketing appeal. It’s a lot easier to market a show with a huge name the public already knows than to market a cast that nobody knows. So using Katie Holmes as an example, when she said she was coming to Broadway right away the news (media) picked up on that. And that’s free publicity and free promotion for a show. But Broadway has come a long way. There’s a lot more that producers can do to market their shows effectively. I’m really excited that at Broadway.tv we’re innovating in giving producers an opportunity to market their shows. Broadway shows have been a little hesitant to jump on the (Internet) bandwagon, if you will. But, for example, shows are paying a huge amount of money for a full page ad, let’s say, in the New York Times. Right now Broadway.tv is giving shows a huge amount of reach (via advertising on the Internet that’s seen worldwide as well as) blanketing all of New York for far less than those full page ads in the Times would cost.
Q: But old marketing habits must die slowly.
A: They do. Marketing a show on Broadway is not like marketing a movie. What I think Broadway producers are starting to come to (realize) is that there are so many more great, exciting and innovative ways to market shows than just to have a newspaper ad. Broadway producers are just now getting to (see) that and that’s great. It’s an evolution, if you will.
Q: What kind of audience do you reach via Broadway.tv?
A: In July we’ll be reaching a significant amount of people — in the millions of impressions a month. That’s really exciting and something that we’re very looking forward to. There’s something magical about Broadway theater. We’re trying to give shows the opportunity to market themselves in a way never before possible. In July and August we will be in the millions of streams (of Internet video) a month. We want to help everyone experience the magic of Broadway.
Q: Does having movie stars in a show automatically translate into boxoffice success?
A: New York audiences are tough. You can have a star in a show, but if it’s not a good story, it’s not going to matter that you have a star. I use Hair as an example. There’s no big Hollywood name in Hair, but it’s one of the most successful shows on Broadway right now because of that story — and it almost didn’t come to Broadway until (producer) Jeffrey Richards (made it happen).

Jeffrey Richards is a great Broadway producer. He has other shows on Broadway right now (with stars like) Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersol in Blithe Spirit. It’s a really good show. However, Jeffrey Richards also brought Hair to Broadway and there’s no big Hollywood name in that. It wasn’t going to come to Broadway. They were having trouble raising the money to bring that show to Broadway this season. Jeffrey came in (and got it financed).
Q: Does Broadway.tv reach an audience outside the New York area?
A: Yes. Actually, we have quite a large audience outside (the city). It’s very exciting when we see our statistics and we have people coming in from Japan. In our recent statistics we had a spike of people coming in from Iran. Our largest population of people who come to visit us are from New York and L.A.
Q: If you market a show with a full page ad in the New York Times you’re basically reaching a New York area audience only whereas on Broadway.tv you’ve got people from around the world who will see that advertising.
A: In the 2008 season approximately 65 percent of Broadway tickets were purchased by tourists. One of the unique options of advertising on the Internet with Broadway.tv, for example, is that we give shows broader exposure. And it’s media exposure, as well. You can attach a video with an ad with us. In the Times you can’t do that.
Q: In the past we’ve always heard that in London stars could appear in the West End to do plays, but they could also do movies and television in London at the same time because everything was centered there. Here because of geography if you’re making a movie in L.A. or elsewhere in the U.S. you can’t be appearing nightly on the stage in New York. What’s changed to allow movie and television stars to work as much as they are on Broadway?
A: We interviewed Chandra Wilson (who did a limited run on Broadway in the current revival of Chicago) in the Tony press room. She’s on Gray’s Anatomy. We asked her, “How are you able to do this? How are you able to be on Gray’s Anatomy and also be on Broadway?" She basically said that she was on hiatus from the show and she was able to come to Broadway now. Actors who really have a passion for Broadway theater (make time to do it). Geoffrey Rush, for example, was in Exit the King. We interviewed him (when he won the Tony for best actor in a play). Now he’s doing (the next movie episode of) Pirates of the Caribbean. Broadway is acting. It’s the heart of acting. Actors who really have a passion for Broadway just take some time off. Anne Hathaway, for example, was (recently) listed as one of the highest paid actresses in the world. She is in a show right now in the Park (having made time to do Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park opposite Broadway star Raul Esparza). We interviewed Anne Hathaway on the red carpet of the Tonys.
NetworkGlobal.tv, Inc. affiliate Broadway.tv

NetworkGlobal.tv, Inc. affiliate Broadway.tv

Q: What kind of salary differences do Hollywood stars find when they appear on Broadway?
A: Let’s be honest. I don’t sit there and ask Anne Hathaway, “Hey, how much are you getting paid?" Broadway is the heart of acting and she is not getting as much for a Broadway show as she is for a movie. But, again, I think you have to come back to the (fact that) for an actor or actress, Broadway is acting. Acting in a movie is not as intense or as exposing as Broadway is. So an actress or an actor can look at this and say, “I’m going to go to Broadway and I’m going to refine my skills as an actor or actress." But when they do go back to (their next) movie, they’ve gained something. They’re a better actor or actress.
Q: Does casting movie star names on Broadway drive up the cost of those shows’ budgets?
A: I would say so. I think it does run up the budget, but they’re also getting a lot more publicity for free. One of the most amazing sets on Broadway right now is Shrek. We interviewed (DreamWorks Animation chief) Jeffrey Katzenberg when that show opened. There’s no Hollywood star in that show. Sutton Foster and Brian D’Arcy James, who are in Shrek, are phenomenal (but they’re not Hollywood names). It’s a very good show (and is doing very well even without Hollywood stars).
Q: The Hollywoodization of Broadway is what we’re really talking about here — between big name stars and big name movie properties like Shrek. Is it harder to get a play mounted that’s an original with nothing to do with Hollywood and no movie stars in it?
A: I think it’s a bit of an evolution. You know, Spider-Man’s coming to Broadway. And we reported last week that there might be a (Michael Jackson tribute) Thriller Broadway show coming. There haven’t been a lot of original productions coming out recently like (there were) last season. I see what you’re saying about Hollywoodization. I think there’s room for all of it. If you have a great story and it’s an original play that’s coming out, you should go after that (audience). But if you’re able to cast a star that might help efforts, as well.
Q: What haven’t we talked about that’s important?
A: I’d like to stress that Broadway is very exciting. There’s something sincerely magical (about it). When it comes to marketing, it’s very exciting to see Broadway moving — a little bit slower than other markets — into the digital age of marketing. It’s a slow progression, but it’s there. And that’s something that we look forward to — to helping shows and to getting consumers excited about experiencing the magic of Broadway.
Q: How is Broadway faring in general this year?
A: The statistics haven’t been released yet. During the winter there was this huge (recession driven crisis when many) Broadway shows were closing. (People were saying) there was a cold, cold winter coming to Broadway. And then, all of a sudden, Broadway numbers were up. Business, I think, is better than what people were expecting at the start of this last season. There are some really good shows coming next season and I do have to say that these (Hollywood) stars coming to Broadway are helping Broadway quite a bit. Broadway is acting, but these stars coming to Broadway and doing a good show and telling a good story are helping the market for sure.