Why NBC Pulled the Plug on Hair Live!, Which Was Originally Supposed to Air on Sunday

Execs blame Game of Thrones series finale, not Rent Live’s anemic ratings

In February, NBC said it would no longer be broadcasting Hair Live! on May 19. Getty Images
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Nearly one year ago, shortly after its upfront presentation, NBC announced to great fanfare that its next live musical would be Hair, airing in spring 2019. “This is the perfect live event,” said then-NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt in a statement. Two months later, in July, the network locked in a Sunday, May 19 air date for Hair Live!

But when Sunday rolls around, the musical will be nowhere to be found on NBC, or any other network. In February, NBC pulled the plug on Hair Live! and shelved it permanently.

Because the show was announced as last year’s upfront talks were already underway, Hair Live! was only sold in scatter, not as part of the upfront. The inventory that had been sold in scatter was reallocated to other NBC prime shows and specials.

While a variety of factors seemed to have caused the about-face—including the anemic viewership for Fox’s Rent Live! on Jan. 27 (which put up the lowest ratings ever for a live musical) and the September departure of Greenblatt, who had brought live musicals back to the network in 2013, to great success—the new network chiefs told Adweek that neither one was behind their decision.

Instead, NBC Entertainment chairman George Cheeks (who runs the network alongside Paul Telegdy) said that HBO was primarily responsible for scaring them off the May 19 date, once the premium cable network scheduled the series finale for a little show called Game of Thrones on the same night.

“As soon as we heard of the announcement of the Game of Thrones series finale, it gave us tremendous pause,” said Cheeks. “It’s always challenging when you have big events like that to move the date. So that was the first thing that made us think, maybe this is not the right move.”

Then, as the execs debated further, they came to the conclusion that the best course of action would be not to reschedule, but to scrap Hair Live! entirely. “The other thing we’ve learned, not just with Rent but with all the live musicals, is that the bigger, broader, four quadrant, family-friendly musicals are the ones that work,” said Cheeks.

However, Cheeks stressed that he and Telegdy “both are 100% behind” live musicals, and NBC’s commitment to the space hasn’t wavered, even with Greenblatt’s exit.

“I would give Bob Greenblatt a run for his money in terms of [being a] musical theater geek, I promise you that, but what we struggled with was, we didn’t want the perception to be that canceling Hair meant we were not in this space,” said Cheeks. “We are still very much in this space. We’re actually negotiating to acquire a couple titles that we feel are broader and will have more co-viewing opportunities. But this is not in any way us saying goodbye to that very important live musical franchise.”

NBC has zeroed in on a couple of musicals that satisfy Cheeks’ four-quadrant mandate, but it hasn’t yet decided which one it will broadcast next.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.