It appears the age of Aquarius has passed at NBC.
The network announced Monday evening that it has canceled its scheduled live musical presentation of Hair, originally slated for May 19.
“Live musicals are a part of this network’s DNA and we are committed to continuing that tradition with the right show at the right time,” said Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks, co-chairmen of NBC Entertainment, in a statement. “Since these shows are such enormous undertakings, we need titles that have a wide appeal and we’re in the process of acquiring the rights to a couple of new shows that we’re really excited about.”
There’s much speculation about what led to Hair being cut from the NBC lineup, but many observers point to other major television events already scheduled that same night, including the finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The network could have chosen to simply postpone a live production of the Vietnam-era musical, which features pop crossover hits including “Age of Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine,” “Hair,” and “Good Morning Starshine.” However, it appears NBC has scrapped plans for the show altogether, perhaps because its depiction of nudity, drug use, and war protest has earned it a reputation as a less-than-family-friendly choice.
Rent, which recently aired live on Fox, was the most provocative musical chosen for live television yet, and its censored lyrics and adjustments to make it suitable for network TV drew the ire of many fans. Additionally, it was the lowest-rated of the modern live musicals thus far.
Hair was originally announced as a replacement in NBC’s live musical lineup for Bye Bye Birdie, which had been announced to feature Jennifer Lopez as Rosie Alvarez. Lopez’s schedule was the reason for that musical’s delay, so there is some chance it could still come to television, though likely not this spring.
Former NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt and producing partners Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ushered in the most recent era of live musicals on television with 2013’s The Sound of Music Live! With Greenblatt’s exit from NBC and Zadan’s unexpected death in late 2018, it’s possible the network has decided to move in a different direction.
NBC saw riotous success with last spring’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live, which earned Emmys for star John Legend and producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, making them all EGOTs as well. Other live outings such as Peter Pan, The Wiz, and Hairspray received more mixed receptions.
Fox has also taken up the live musical torch, even winning an Emmy for Grease Live, but Rent stumbled as the network was forced to air a taped dress rehearsal after a lead actor suffered an injury.
The live musical television renaissance, largely the concept of Greenblatt, Meron, and Zadan, has heralded a new level of access to Broadway for many fans and helped networks draw viewers in the age of streaming and DVRs. Let’s hope this doesn’t signal a swan song.