Tonys Awards 2015: Dramatists Guild Slams CBS for Telecast Snubs

Lisa Kron Jeanine Tesori Tony - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Lisa Kron Jeanine Tesori Tony - H 2015

In a letter to Les Moonves on behalf of the venerable organization representing American playwrights, lyricists and composers, president Doug Wright criticizes the decision to present major writing awards off-camera.

While Broadway celebrates this year's Tony Award wins, and best musical victor Fun Home is seeing a significant boost at the box office, not everybody is happy with the way Sunday night's telecast played out.

Amplifying complaints in the theater community in recent years over key writing and craft awards being relegated to the non-televised portion of the show, the Dramatists Guild of America has fired off a letter of protest to Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS, which has long been the broadcast home of the Tonys.

"We are increasingly dismayed that the awards in the major writing categories have been presented off-camera," writes Dramatists Guild president Doug Wright, on behalf of the century-old organization. "In doing so, the broadcast marginalizes the roles of playwrights, composers and lyricists in forging the American theater. And yet, theater begins with the dramatists who face down the blank page."

Categories excluded from this year's telecast included best book of a musical and best original score. Those awards both went to Fun Home, with Lisa Kron (who is also secretary of the Dramatists Guild) winning for her book, adapted from the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel; and composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Kron winning for score. The wins marked the first time in history that those honors had gone to an all-female team.

The Dramatists Guild membership includes such distinguished American playwrights as Edward Albee, Christopher Durang, Jules Feiffer, John Guare, Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally and Lynn Nottage, as well as composers such as Stephen Sondheim, William Finn and Stephen Schwartz.

"We understand that your mission is two-fold: to honor our art form, but also to create entertaining television," continues Wright in the Guild's letter. "Nevertheless, the omission of writers is patently arbitrary. Surely the names of many Broadway actors, directors and producers are no more familiar to the average viewer than those of our members."

Therein lies what many believe to be the central issue plaguing the Tonys telecast, viewership for which dropped this year to 6.35 million. While the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, the two trade organizations that present the Tonys, see the awards as a unique annual opportunity for promotional exposure on a national — and international — platform, many pundits believe the awards show would be better served by acknowledging its niche status as an event of primary interest to New York theatergoers and to the finite audience of stage fans beyond the tristate area.

Writer Mark Harris, who is married to playwright Kushner, on Monday penned an editorial for Entertainment Weekly urging the Tony Awards producers to show greater respect for the people who make New York theater possible. He pointed up not only the historic wins for the Fun Home writing team, but also the honors for women across all craft categories, including costumes, lighting, scenic design and direction. Only the latter award was televised.

The Broadway League and the American Theater Wing will no doubt be reluctant to scale back on their national primetime advertising splash by reducing the quantity of musical numbers featured on the televised portion of the show in order to make room for more awards. Some have even suggested over the years that the Tonys should just embrace its theater nerdiness and be aired in full on PBS, rather than being forced to compete on a commercial network.

Wright, who is a Pulitzer- and Tony-winner for I Am My Own Wife, points out that writing awards are presented on-air during the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Golden Globes.

"Ironically, it's the theater that most esteems writers; we are generally recognized as the principal artistic force behind new work, and we even retain ownership and control over the material we create," reads the Guild letter. "Yet on the very awards show intended to celebrate our craft, we are effectively negated."

CBS did not respond to The Hollywood Reporter's request for comment.