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Hein’s Picks: Can Annie Live! Rescue the Fledgling Live TV Musical?

PLUS: Baking It, Listening to Kenny G, and more.
  • Celina Smith stars in NBC's Annie Live! (Photo: Paul Gilmore/NBC)
    Celina Smith stars in NBC's Annie Live! (Photo: Paul Gilmore/NBC)

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    After a COVID imposed break, the live TV musical format is set to return this Thursday at 8pm when NBC gives it another go with Annie Live!, starring everyone's favorite orphan.

    My daughters are big Annie fans. When they were growing up, the soundtrack was a staple in our car as my wife and I drove them from activity to activity. So what better way to break down this new TV musical's chances then going song by song…

    Overture - The universal popularity of Annie should not be underestimated. Carol Burnett, Kathy Bates, Jamie Foxx, Audra McDonald and other A-Listers have appeared in different versions over the years. My first Broadway musical was Annie featuring Sarah Jessica Parker as one of those orphans living a hard knock life. Every school in America has staged this musical, so the familiarity is there.

    Maybe - Networks continue to contemplate putting musicals on television, but NBC simply will not give up. Ratings have consistently dropped for these performances, but a universally beloved story with theater geeks everywhere is too tempting to resist. Can they ever match the buzz Carrie Underwood generated when she starred in The Sound Of Music? Maybe.

    It's The Hard Knock Life - Peter Pan, Grease, The Wiz, Rent, The Little Mermaid… many of these stage musicals were more of a joke than an event. The intrigue is the live element. There should be constant reminders that this performance is live. Many tune in for the "car crash appeal." The potential for something to go wrong keeps viewers hooked. Sandy might have an accident… that should keep us on the edge of our seats!

    Tomorrow - The early showstopper, and eternal hope for success. Lead actress Celina Smith and Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan bring some much needed diversity to the show. Harry Connick Jr. was born to play Daddy Warbucks. Titus Burgess and Megan Hilty play our favorite farm animal and dumb hotel. The stars are out, and NBC has its sunglasses on hoping the sun will follow.

    I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here - Taraji P. Henson is one of few actresses who can truly own the TV screen and captivate an audience. She made her mark during the past decade in Person of Interest and Empire. She is a performer who should thrive on live TV and is perfectly cast as Miss Hannigan.

    You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile - Oh there will be plenty of smiling and dancing all over the screen. Some love the cheesiness of an old musical while others can't stand it. As long as viewers are smiling, NBC won't care about the reason why.

    Little Girls - Celina Smith has her work cut out for her. You need a great little orphan to carry the show. She needs to be cute, charming, and have one heck of a voice. It's a deceptively difficult part to excel at as all eyes are on you. Original Annie Andrea McArdle was set to play Eleanor Roosevelt, but she had to back out due to a family matter. Maybe Alicia Morton is available?

    NYC - This production should absolutely hit the streets of Manhattan for some live reactions. Special live elements like that can help set the show apart from its predecessors. And it's the greatest city in the world, so why not show it off?

    Easy Street - When classic Broadway musicals originally returned to television, execs assumed they would be sure things. Must-see events. There's nothing a network enjoys more than a bankable type of program, but the stunt casting and show title has started to run dry. They'd love to be back on Easy Street.

    Something Was Missing - The audience. Until Hamilton made its way to Disney Plus, viewers simply have not been tuning in. The combination of holiday spirits, a diverse cast, and plenty of promos is an attempt to bring them back.

    I Don't Need Anything But You - A final message from NBC. They will attempt to put a memorable production. But if no one watches, it could be the death knell for the TV musical. NBC needs an audience… but it's going to be tough on a Thursday night.

    Will Annie Live! be must see TV? As the famous little orphan loves to sing — "Maybe."

    THIS WEEK’S SPTIMNBAFOBYMB!

    (Shows Premiering That I Might Not Be A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

    Holiday Specials (ALL NETWORKS) – Brace yourself: Thanksgiving is over and the season of countless specials on every network has begun.

    That's My Jam (NBC) – Sneak peek of Jimmy Fallon's new celeb-packed game show – get ready for heartfelt wackiness! Monday at 10pm.

    Christmas At Rockefeller Center (NBC) – Annual reminder of why it's the most wonderful time of the year. Wednesday at 8pm.

    Lost In Space (NETFLIX) – The third and final season of a family that's out there. Wednesday

    Pen15 (HULU) – Part two of the second season of Maya and Anna grinning and bearing it. Friday.

    Money Heist (NETFLIX) – Part two of the fifth season as the gang contemplates surrender. Friday.

    THIS WEEK'S PICKS
    Pre-heated ovens and smooth jazz…

    Baking It (PEACOCK)
    Thursday, December 1st

    Just what we need… another heartfelt baking show. But this one is co-hosted by Andy Samberg and Maya Rudolph and produced by Amy Poehler. That guarantees some laughs.

    Teams of two compete is a baking competition judged by a panel of four grandmothers. The folks behind Making It clearly studied The Great British Baking Show and are banking on good food and big yuks.

    Listening To Kenny G (HBO)
    Thursday, December 1st 8pm

    Oh, that soprano sax. Goof on Kenny G all that you want… he's laughing all the way to the bank. Doesn't matter if you love him or hate him as long as you're paying attention to the music.

    This documentary weighs what makes "good" or "bad" music and why some of us care so much about soft jazz. Perhaps the joke is on us?

    If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

    Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Annie Live!, NBC, Baking It, Music Box, TV Musicals