This year’s Tony Awards ceremony, which has been in doubt since Hollywood’s screenwriters went on strike earlier this month, will go ahead as scheduled in an altered format after the writers’ union said Monday night it would not pick up the show.
“As they have stood by us, we stand with our colleagues on Broadway who have been impacted by our strike,” the Writers Guild of America, which represents screenwriters, said in a statement late Monday.
A disruption could have hurt Broadway, which sees the televised ceremony as a major marketing opportunity, especially as audiences have yet to return to prepandemic levels. Several nominated shows ran at a loss, hoping that a Tony win—or even broadcast exposure—could boost sales.
The union made it clear that the broadcast, scheduled to air on CBS on June 11, would be different from previous ceremonies.
“Tony Awards Productions (a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing) has communicated with us that they are modifying this year’s show to meet specific requests from the WGA, and therefore the WGA will not be taking the show. ” The union reports this in a statement. “The responsibility for having to make changes to the format of the 2023 Tony Awards rests entirely on Paramount/CBS and their allies. They continue to refuse to negotiate a fair contract for the writers represented by the WGA.
The union did not provide details about what those differences would be, and the Tony Awards administrators were not immediately commenting. But a person familiar with the plan, who was given anonymity to speak about circumstances not yet public, said the revised broadcast would include the presentation of major awards and live performances of songs from Broadway shows, but that no scripted material from screenwriters in the opening number or comedic banter.
The Tony Awards agreed that they would not use any portion of a draft script written before the screenwriters’ strike began, the person said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what role, if any, Ariana DeBose will play in the unscripted show. The Oscar-winning, Broadway-loving actress hosted the awards show last year and had agreed to host again this year.
Immediately after the screenwriters went on strike, it became clear that the labor stoppage could have implications for the Tony Awards, as the awards ceremony is televised (by CBS) and live-streamed (by Paramount +) and usually includes a script that is written by screenwriters.
Broadway is a highly unionized industry, and unionized theater workers, such as actors and musicians, would not participate in an awards show that another union protested. Tony Awards administrators, aware of those concerns, asked the WGA for an exemption that would have allowed the writers to work on the show, given the difficult circumstances of the theater industry; on Friday, the WGA denied that request, and on Monday night it reiterated that denial, saying the guild “will not negotiate an interim agreement or waiver for the Tony Awards.”
But the Tony Awards administrators didn’t give up and asked the guild if, even without an exemption to allow screenwriters to work on the show, the broadcast could go ahead without writers as long as it meets certain conditions.
Prominent Broadway theater performers associated with the writers’ guild also spoke on behalf of the Tonys, arguing that forcing the show off the air would be devastating to the art form and to the many artists it employs. The combination of the lobbying efforts and the new terms seems to have led the guild to say Monday night that it would not take the broadcast.
The standout screenwriters say their wages have stagnated and working conditions have deteriorated, despite the fact that television production has exploded over the past decade. Negotiations between the major Hollywood studios – represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers – and the WGA broke down three weeks ago. About 11,500 writers went on strike on May 2.
Over the past two weeks, the writers have been collecting picket lines outside major Los Angeles studios and New York production soundstages. But the writers have also moved further afield, with some participating in picket outside productions in more remote locations such as Maplewood, NJ, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
The threat of demonstrations forced Netflix to cancel a large in-person showcase for advertisers scheduled for Wednesday and turn it into a virtual format instead. The company also canceled an appearance for Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive, at the PEN America Literary Gala on Thursday.
CBS has broadcast the Tonys since the 1970s, making it one of the longest continuous relationships between a single broadcaster and an awards show. CBS has a deal to air the show through 2026. Because of the Tonys’ relatively low viewership, it has long been more of a prestige game for the network than a significant profit maker.