NBC has set its next live musical — “Bye Bye Birdie,” with Jennifer Lopez on board to star.
Lopez will executive produce with Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Benny Medina, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, and her company Nuyorican Productions will produce with Universal Television. Harvey Fierstein will write the television adaptation, with the special slated to air in December, 2017.
NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt announced the adaptation of the musical by Michael Stewart, Lee Adams, and Charles Strouse Thursday at the Paley Center for Media.
The original Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” won the Tony Award in 1961 for best musical. It starred Dick Van Dyke, who also won a Tony for best actor in a musical, as Albert Peterson, the manager of rock star Conrad Birdie, and Chita Rivera as Rosie Alvarez, Albert’s girlfriend and secretary. When Birdie is drafted into the Army, Albert and Rosie concoct a plan to have Birdie give “one last kiss” to a small-town high school girl live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” before heading off for induction. The show was adapted into a 1963 feature film starring Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. A short-lived 2010 Broadway revival starred John Stamos and Gina Gershon.
Under Greenblatt, NBC has made a tradition of airing live musicals in December, where the network believes the holiday time is a fertile ground for family-friendly co-viewing. The first, “Sound of Music Live!” starring Carrie Underwood, aired in 2013 and was watched by 18.6 million viewers. That effort was followed by “Peter Pan Live!” starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken, and “The Wiz Live!” starring Queen Latifah and Shanice Williams. Zadan and Meron have served as exec producers on all the NBC live musicals. Fierstein wrote the television adaptation for “The Wiz Live!” and the adaptation for NBC’s upcoming “Hairspray Live!” which will air Dec. 7.
The announcement came during a Paley Media Council conversation between Greenblatt and Jess Cagle of People and Entertainment Weekly.
Greenblatt said that the idea to do the show was pitched to the network by Lopez, who is currently in residency doing 40 performances a year at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
“She came to us and said ‘I love this show, I discovered the music,’” Greenblatt said. “She has a big show in Vegas where she does ‘Lot of Livin’,’ which is a song from ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’”
The conversation was a career retrospective for Greenblatt, focused on key shows he had a hand in from his time at Fox, Showtime, NBC and as an independent producer. Talking about NBC’s breakout new hit of the fall season, “This Is Us,” Greenblat compared it to “The X-Files,” which he developed at Fox, and which he said was of its time, when millennial conspiracy theories had begun to permeate mainstream culture.
Calling “This Is Us” “unabashedly human,” Greenblatt said, “It just is this antidote to the world we live in.” He added, “The great news is that people seem to love that show and the critics love it. It’s rare that you get both the ratings and the critics on your side.”
He also talked about the development of the live musical phenomenon at NBC, saying that “The Sound of Music” was initially a vanity project born of his longtime love of musical theater.
“I think for a while around the building it was known as Greenblatt’s Folly, until we woke up the net morning and saw that 18.5 million people had watched it,” he said.
He added, “I would have been thrilled if it had gotten eight or nine million viewers. That would have justified it. But it just kind of exploded.”